Natural laminar flow will play a large role in next-generation business jets, says Aerion Corp. Although best known for its own supersonic program, its technology is already being tapped to make business jets go farther or faster.
Aerion is working with a couple of manufacturers on near-term applications for natural laminar flow (NLF) on transonic platforms, “and for them, these will probably be stepping stones to a supersonic business jet,” Aerion vice chairman Bryan Barents and CEO Doug Nichols tell Aviation Week ShowNews.
These aircraft will feature low-sweep, thin wings with sharp leading edges, optimization of the wing-to-fuselage join to enable minimum drag and maximum efficiency, and cruise speeds in the order of mid-0.9 Mach. They will be optimized for greater efficiency and longer range at high speed for a given aircraft weight and fuel load, or lower speeds and even greater range improvements.
“We’re helping develop the next generation with Aerion technology,” they maintain. “To date, performance improvements have been driven by propulsion technology. We’re harnessing the power of aerodynamics as well as propulsion.”
Backed by Robert Bass, an entrepreneur with a $22 billion portfolio, Aerion is a viable company, the executives say. “We’re going to get where we said we were going to go” in developing a supersonic business jet to be built by as-yet unknown OEMs. “We’re intensely focused on moving the supersonic business jet forward and making it a commercial reality. There is a lot going on that we cannot disclose publicly.”
What Aerion can say is that it is growing. In late 2012 it acquired long-time strategic partner Desktop Aeronautics, bringing its computational fluid dynamics software in-house, and this year it has hired three more PhD-level aerodynamicists.
And in conjunction with NASA’s Dryden Flight Center, it completed tests in April on a natural laminar flow plate flown at up to Mach 2 beneath an F-15. Results will help qualify Aerion’s software and show that tolerance-critical natural laminar flow wings can be manufactured with today’s technology and maintained in service.