Washington state is among the candidates for a supersonic jet factory being planned by Boston-based Spike Aerospace, but it’s not the only one.
Seven other states are in the running for what could amount to a $500 million investment over five years, Pete Goldsmith, Spike’s vice president of manufacturing, told GeekWire today.
Goldsmith, who’s based in the Seattle area, is playing a key role in site selection for Spike’s manufacturing facility, which is expected to start taking shape in late 2017 and could be into full production by 2022 or so.
He said the eight states being considered are all aerospace hot spots with a coastal presence. In addition to Washington, there’s Oregon, California, Texas, Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina as well as Massachusetts, where privately held Spike is headquartered.
Aerospace plus coastline is a key combination, Goldsmith said. Why? Spike intends to test its scaled-down demonstrator jet over water, to show the Federal Aviation Administration that the company’s “quiet-boom” technology will keep the jet’s noise levels down over land as well.
Commercial supersonic overland flights have been banned in the United States since the 1970s, during the Concorde’s heyday, due to concerns about sonic booms. Recently, however, there’s been an upswing of interest in supersonic travel. This year NASA is budgeting millions of dollars for an experimental supersonic demonstrator jet project that’s being led by Lockheed Martin.
At least two other U.S. startups are working on supersonic jets: Colorado-based Boom Aerospace and Nevada-based Aerion Supersonic. Boom is partnering with British billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic venture, while Aerion is partnering with Airbus.
Goldsmith said Spike’s quiet-boom approach could be a key differentiator. Eventually, the company hopes to get the FAA’s regulations changed to clear the plane for overland flights at supersonic speeds. Spike is shooting for a cruising speed of Mach 1.6 (1,100 mph), which would enable three-hour flights between New York and London.
Spike has been working on its design for several years, and is well into the process of gathering bids for the manufacturing site. “Washington has only just submitted its bid,” Goldsmith said, “It is a very attractive bid.”
He said the current timetable calls for all bids to be received by the end of this month. The field is to be narrowed down to a few finalists by the end of this year, and the winning site will be selected by mid-2017. Construction work would begin as early as the third quarter of next year, Goldsmith said.
Spike plans to have its two-thirds-scale demonstrator ready by mid-2018. Initially, the manufacturing site would employ 100 to 200 people, but employment would ramp up to 1,000 to 2,000 over the course of 10 to 15 years, Goldsmith said.
Goldsmith said “we have a couple of different directions” under consideration for the production airplane.
One option would be a 18-passenger business jet. Another would be a jet that’s smaller than the 18-seat design but larger than the demonstrator, he said. That choice would be made based on the results of demonstrator flight testing as well as market considerations.
Spike estimates that the plane’s price tag would be in the range of $100 million, and that a ticket for a flight from New York to London would sell for about $5,000.
Goldsmith declined to identify Spike’s investors or potential partners. He said there have been discussions with some units within the Boeing Co. about providing services during aircraft development and testing. But he added that Spike hasn’t yet had formal talks with Boeing about corporate collaboration on the scale of the connection between Airbus and Aerion.
“I would never say no to that kind of assistance,” Goldsmith said.
Spike’s CEO and president, Vik Kachoria, is due to give a keynote address next month at the Governor’s Aerospace Summit in Lynnwood, Wash., presented by the Aerospace Futures Alliance of Washington. Boeing Commercial Airplanes’ vice president of product development, Mike Sinnett, will be giving a keynote as well.