Washington, June 8 : Cutting through the sky sooner than the speed of sound is not a far-off dream anymore, for three big companies are developing private planes capable of supersonic flight. And to own one such supersonic jet, all you need to have is a good bank-balance. In 2003, Air France and British Airways retired their Concordes and many feared that this was the end of supersonic passenger flight. However, Lockheed's Skunkworks division is now developing the Quiet Supersonic Transport (QSST), which features a cool gull-wing design and a top speed of Mach 1.8. (Mach 1, about 770 mph, is the speed of sound.)
Also, Aerion Corporation's business jet will be flying at Mach 1.6 with a range of 4,600 miles. Already, more than 40 people have dished out 250,000 dollars as down payment on the eight-passenger, 80 million dollar plane. This will easily recover the plane's estimated 1.2 billion dollars development costs, while making profit at the same time.
While the jets are priced sky-high costs and are practically unaffordable to those of us who fly coach, it is the advances in aircraft design, materials and construction that make supersonic flight a viable and relatively affordable option.
In fact, Lockheed's airframe design will tone down the effect of sonic boom by breaking up the wave of pressure generated when the plane breaks the sound barrier, and Aerion ssaid that its jet wing and airframe minimize sonic boom to the point where it is inaudible on the ground.
With the increasing sales of business jets and top-of-the-line models already approaching Mach 1, there's growing demand for jets that move faster than the speed of sound.
Joining the line up will be Cessna Citation X, which hits Mach 0.92, making it the fastest thing in the sky that doesn't have missiles under its wings. Gulfstream Aerospace has goes further with the G650, which tops out at Mach 0.925 and is scheduled for delivery in 2012.
"The enormous response to the G650, at million, just validates our business case and shows that there is an appetite for a new model airplane in that general price segment," Wired News quoted Brian E. Barents, vice chairman of Aerion, as telling The New York Times.
The company's 10-year business plan calls for selling 300 jets. On the other hand, Cessna, one of the most established names in general aviation, is getting in on the action too. While it has not revealed much about its supersonic project, however, having a scheme is proof enough that how seriously the industry is considering to make money by selling supersonic business jets.
Despite being well capitalized and having generated plenty of customer interest, there are still hassles like fuel consumption and pollution. Supersonic jets burn lots of fuel and there are concerns that they pollute more than traditional passenger planes. R and D costs are another worry. Thus the plane makers have plenty of obstacles to overcome before supersonic becomes reality.