Boeing says it’s making a significant investment in Aerion to accelerate the development of the Nevada-based company’s supersonic business jet.
The partnership announced today appears to be a closer tie than the relationships Aerion once had with two of Boeing’s rivals, Airbus and Lockheed Martin.
Neither Aerion nor Boeing disclosed financial terms of the investment, but Boeing said it would provide Aerion with engineering, manufacturing and flight test resources, as well as strategic vertical content, to bring Aerion’s AS2 jet to market.
The AS2 is designed to fly at speeds as high as Mach 1.4, or about 1,000 mph. The companies said the AS2 could save about three hours on a transatlantic flight while meeting environmental performance requirements.
First flight is projected to take place in 2023, which roughly meshes with the timeline for establishing a new regulatory framework for supersonic flights. Federal authorities banned supersonic passenger flights over land in 1973, largely due to concerns about sonic booms.
Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg has frequently mentioned supersonic transport as one of the technological frontiers targeted by his company. The technology “could redefine aviation and connect the world faster than ever,” Muilenburg said last June.
Steve Nordlund, vice president and general manager of Boeing NeXt, said the Aerion partnership follows through on that vision.
“This is a strategic and disciplined leading-edge investment in further maturing supersonic technology,” Nordlund said in a news release. “Through this partnership that combines Aerion’s supersonic expertise with Boeing’s global industrial scale and commercial aviation experience, we have the right team to build the future of sustainable supersonic flight.”
Aerion was founded in 2003, and entered into a collaborative engineering relationship with Airbus in 2014 to develop the 12-passenger AS2. The focus of Aerion’s collaborations shifted to Lockheed in 2017, and the GE Affinity engine design for the AS2 was unveiled in 2018.
The company is reportedly on track to spend $4 billion to develop the AS2, with much of the financing provided by billionaire investor Robert Bass. Aerion’s chairman, president and CEO, Tom Vice, was quoted last year as saying that future phases of development could involve investments from suppliers.
“Aerion is the industry leader mapping out a successful, sustainable return to supersonic flight,” Vice said today. “The AS2 is the launch point for the future of regulatory-compliant and efficient supersonic flight. Together with Boeing, we’re creating a faster, more connected future with tremendous possibilities for enhancing humanity’s productivity and potential.”
The partnership gives a further boost to Boeing NeXt, which is playing a lead role in executing Boeing’s strategy for commercial air mobility. In addition to supersonic and hypersonic flight initiatives, Boeing NeXt is involved in the development of autonomous passenger air vehicles and next-generation air traffic management.
Aerion isn’t the only venture in the supersonic marketplace. Other players include Boom Supersonic, which recently closed a $100 million financing round; Spike Aerospace, which reported receiving its first orders this month; Lockheed Martin, which is developing a supersonic test plane for NASA; and Airbus, which has patented concepts for a rocket-powered supersonic aircraft. Looking further ahead, Virgin Galactic and SpaceX have talked about using rocket ships for supersonic point-to-point travel.