Boeing Co. is joining with Aerion, a startup founded by Texas billionaire Robert Bass, to help build a supersonic business jet that would cut trans-Atlantic flight times by three hours.

The U.S. aerospace giant will make a “significant investment” in Aerion — its first from a planemaker — to accelerate design and development, according to a statement Tuesday. Boeing will replace Lockheed Martin Corp., which had announced a partnership with Aerion in 2017, a spokesman for the supersonic-jet company said.

Boeing’s investment buoys Bass’s dream of restoring supersonic civilian flight, which was discontinued in 2003 with the final voyage of Europe’s Concorde amid noise restrictions and high operating costs. General Electric Co. in October said it completed an initial engine design for Aerion’s AS2 aircraft to fly faster than the speed of sound while meeting noise and emissions rules.

“We have the right team to build the future of sustainable supersonic flight,” said Steve Nordlund, vice president of Boeing’s NeXt investment unit, citing Aerion’s supersonic expertise and his company’s scale and commercial-aviation experience.

First Flight

Boeing said it would provide engineering, manufacturing and flight-test resources to bring the AS2 to market. The amount of the investment wasn’t disclosed.

The first flight for the plane — which, at about 1,000 miles per hour, will cruise 70 percent faster than today’s quickest business jets — is scheduled for 2023. Launch customer Flexjet, a fractional aircraft operator, has ordered 20 of the planes. The 12-passenger aircraft has a list price of $120 million.

The investment is a reminder of Boeing’s roots in aircraft that travel well beyond the sound barrier. The Chicago-based manufacturer invested heavily in its own supersonic-transport program a half-century ago — the 747 jumbo jet was considered a side project to the so-called SST at the time — before the U.S. government ultimately canceled funding.

Boeing also is plowing funding into hypersonic aircraft that would travel faster than Mach 5, or more than five times the speed of sound. The company last year revealed development of a passenger prototype capable of cruising at 3,800 mph or more.

The company’s HorizonX venture capital arm also has invested in Reaction Engines, a U.K. company developing a hybrid engine capable of flying at Mach 25 for space flight.

For Aerion, the Boeing investment marks the first time an planemaker has committed funds to the project. Airbus SE joined as a partner in 2014 to help with design and possibly manufacturing. Aerion announced in December 2017 that Airbus had dropped out and Lockheed would take its place to help build the plane. Neither of those companies invested directly in Aerion.

 

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Photo Credit: Shown here is an illustration of the supersonic jet Aerion. Aerospace manufacturer Boeing will make a significant investment in the supersonic jet startup. Aerion