Aerion’s AS2 supersonic business jet (SBJ), the first privately-designed supersonic airplane in history, is taking the next major step towards flying passengers in quiet luxury at speeds well above 1,000 mph. The AS2 is filled with state-of-the-art technology and engineering, but to make this next leap, it will utilize technology dating back to 1871 — the wind tunnel.

Up to this point, the new supersonic jet’s performance has been modeled using special aerodynamic optimization tools developed in-house and run on scalable cloud computing technology to provide thousands of data points with incredible detail on how subsonic, transonic, and supersonic flight each impact the AS2’s airframe.

As Aerion EVP Alex Egeler explains, “Our Aerion Technologies design optimization process is built from a combination of NASA-developed analysis CFD software, commercial tools and our own internal framework to be highly scalable. This flexible framework allows us to simulate millions of parametric design scenarios on the cloud and determine robust solutions — all in the virtual world at a speed previously unseen in business jet development.”

You may be wondering why an innovative company like Aerion, using today’s most powerful technology to bring us closer together through the power of supersonic flight, would need to incorporate a relatively ancient technology like wind tunnel testing. But to build supersonic jets to Aerion’s exacting standards, such testing is unavoidable.

Aerion’s Director, System Test and Evaluation, Bob Lewis, explains: “While the onset of increasingly sophisticated computer modelling technology has greatly enhanced aerospace design, wind tunnel testing remains a key component in the development cycle. Certain aspects of aircraft design remain difficult to fully model virtually and still require validation through wind tunnel testing. We are working with the world’s best wind tunnel model builders and the global leaders in wind tunnel technology to validate our virtual findings and ensure the AS2 design exceeds expectations.”

With such validation in mind, wind tunnel testing puts scale models of airplanes to the test in a variety of lab-controlled conditions and speeds. Although the general principle of wind tunnel testing is the same, today’s test labs are a far cry from the rudimentary wind tunnel used by the Wright Brothers in Dayton, Ohio.

Aerion has recently created two models for wind tunnel tests. The company partnered with Tri Models Inc. of Huntington Beach, California, to build a low-speed model with a nine-foot wingspan. The low speed tests will be completed in Georgia during the month of October. By the way, don’t let the name fool you — the low speed tests will simulate speeds of less than 1 Mach.

The smaller high-speed model, on the other hand, is being built by the Dutch firm NLR which will be tested in France by aeronautical experts ONERA. (It should be noted, France has a rich history of wind tunnel testing since the early 1900’s, when Gustave Eiffel set up his first wind tunnel near the foot of the tower bearing his name.)

ONERA’s testing will reach speeds the AS2 will never fly passengers at but testing the supersonic jet’s design far beyond its flight profile will produce a wealth of crucial data for the team.

The wind tunnel testing held in Georgia and France will also provide Aerion’s team with a wide range of real-world data. It is expected to confirm the computer models in some ways but provide areas for future refinement in others. All of this vital information will come together in the AS2’s next step towards flying its first passenger, the Preliminary Design Review (PDR).

All of these efforts will coalesce in the next few key years. The company’s new supersonic airplane is on track to enter production in 2023. Accordingly, Aerion plans to build 300 planes in the first 10 years of production at the recently announced Aerion Park headquarters in Florida.

The state-of-the-art facility will not only be the production home of the supersonic business jet but will be used to complete the remainder of the design process. Last, as an important economic boon to the local and national economy, we are proud to announce Aerion’s new HQ on Florida’s Space Coast represents a $300 million investment, expected to create 675 high-paying jobs.

10 16 2020