Supersonic jet maker Aerion revealed a concrete timeline for the final stages in the development of its first supersonic business jet – the AS2 – saying it is “on track” for first test flight in 2023. To raise the stakes, the manufacturer also announced its plans now include a new engine variant and a new cockpit design from two major industry players. When the new faster-than-sound jet takes off for its first test flight, it will mark 20 years after the last flight of the Concorde, which took place on October 24, 2003.

General Electric’s GE Aviation unit, together with Aerion Supersonic, announced on October 15, 2018, that it had completed the initial design of the new Affinity turbofan that will power the $120 million worth 12-seat AS2 jet when it makes its first flight in five years’ time.

“We’re on track to fly in 2023, and before that year is out cross the Atlantic at supersonic speed, which will be the first supersonic crossing since the Concorde’s retirement 20 years earlier,” Aerion’s chief executive Tom Vice was quoted as saying on October 15, 2018, by Reuters, ahead of the National Business Aviation Association convention in Florida, the U.S.

The Affinity is described by GE as a new class of FADEC (Full Authority Digital Engine Control) controlled medium bypass ratio engines that will provide “exceptional and balanced performance” on both supersonic and subsonic flights.

But there is more to it than just an initial design. The underpinning issue for new and improved supersonic designs, put forward by startups including Aerion, Boom Supersonic and Spike Aerospace was meeting current noise regulations, according to which, their aircraft would be unable to fly over land in many countries worldwide, including the U.S.

According to Boom Supersonic, its 55-seat XB-1 jet will be made from carbon composites and use design features that will improve its aerodynamic qualities, the Business Insider writes. Spike Aerospace says its 18-seat S-512 jet should be capable of reducing its sonic boom to an acceptable level due to the jet's "cranked delta wing" shape, which resembles the Concorde with a lower portion of its wings removed. 

But how to minimize the sonic boom of a jet that is designed to have a range of 4,200 nautical miles at Mach 1.4? Aside of new engineering tools and lightweight materials at hand for today’s manufacturers, Aerion contracted GE Aviation to work on engine constraints.  The companies aim to develop the ability to fly supersonic up to Mach 1.2 over land without a sonic boom hitting the ground.

In what could be a major step in the development of a potential successor to the Concorde, GE said the Affinity, designed as a twin-shaft, twin-fan turbofan engine, will be able to meet the rigorous landing and takeoff noise requirements that are set to come into force at the end of 2022 in the U.S.

“It [Affinity] is purposefully designed to enable efficient supersonic flight over water and efficient subsonic flight over land, without requiring modifications to existing compliance regulations. The engine is designed to meet stringent Stage 5 subsonic noise requirements and beat current emissions standards,” an official statement from GE Aviation reads.

In the U.S., supersonic flight over land has been prohibited by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) since 1971. However, back in May, 2018, the agency announced on its website it is developing civil supersonic aircraft noise standards (the only noise standards in regulations to date apply to the Concorde). The FAA will begin collecting data as early as the end of 2020 to study permitting supersonic flight over land.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is drafting new regulations that would help advance the development of civil supersonic aircraft. 

GE is not the only big name to join the ranks on Aerion’s supersonic jet project. Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works has already been working with the Nevada, U.S.-based manufacturer to develop the 12-seat AS2. According to David Richardson, the director of air vehicle design at Skunk Works, finalization of the engine specifications allows the company to now move on from conceptual work to developing a preliminary design of the aircraft, Forbes reports.

Another industry giant – Honeywell Aerospace – was also revealed as Aerion’s design partner, set to develop the cockpit and major cabin systems for the AS2. All in all, supersonic plane maker’s chief Tom Vice believes that: “Aerion and our AS2 industry team, comprised of Lockheed Martin, GE Aviation, and Honeywell, have solved many of the tremendous challenges in creating a supersonic renaissance,” he was quoted as saying by Flight Global. The company is hoping to have its business jet certified by 2025. But is Aerion really “creating a renaissance of supersonic travel”? And will it beat its competitors to be the first to enter the market?