General Electric has completed its initial design for the first commercial supersonic aircraft engine in decades, a major hurdle for developing private planes and, perhaps eventually, jetliners that fly faster than the speed of sound.
The twin-shaft, twin-fan design will slash travel times by hours after 50 years in which the average speed of private jets has increased only 10 percent, GE said in a statement Monday.
The engine – called Affinity – is being designed for Aerion, a startup backed by Texas billionaire Robert Bass, who has been trying to develop a supersonic business jet for more than a decade.
"Instead of going faster, cabins have increased in size and become more comfortable and range has become longer," Brad Mottier, GE vice president for business aviation, said in a statement. "The next step is speed."
The Affinity engine will be able to meet noise and emissions rules while flying faster than the speed of sound over water and decelerating to slower speeds over land.
Most countries still ban breaking the sound barrier because of sonic booms. The booms and loud engine noise hobbled flights of the Concorde, contributing to the demise of the last supersonic commercial plane.
The engine design bolsters Aerion’s goal of putting a supersonic plane in the sky next decade. Lockheed Martin is helping with design and production of Aerion’s AS2 plane, which will fly at 1.4 times the speed of sound and seat 12. Flexjet, which flies clients who buy fractional ownership of an aircraft, agreed in 2015 to buy 20 of the planes.
“Our mission is to enhance global mobility with supersonic speed, starting with business aviation, and following with successively faster and larger designs for business and commercial aviation," said Aerion CEO Tom Vice.
Aerion is targeting the aircraft’s first flight in 2023, followed by a commercial debut in 2025.
Aerion is hardly alone in the race to develop civilian planes that fly faster than the speed of sound. Boom Technology is developing a 45-to-55 seat plane capable of connecting New York and London in about three hours. Virgin Atlantic and Japan Airlines have said they intend to purchase the aircraft.