Air Transport World

SST studies stepped up: the U.S. has moved into the technology-development phase of its program to produce the High Speed Civil Transport.(supersonic transport)

The U.S. is stepping up its efforts to develop the High Speed Civil Transport (HSCT), as the second-generation supersonic transport is called officially. In an unusual partnership for U.S. civil transport programs--between government and industry--the National Aeronautics and Space Admin. is teaming with major U.S. civil transport manufacturers to develop the technology for an HSCT that could see airline service by 2006.

Encouraged by findings in Phase I of NASA's High Speed Research (HSR) program that began in 1989 largely to study environmental issues for a supersonic transport, the agency decided last year to proceed into Phase II, an 8-year effort that actually will get into development of the technology needed to develop the transport. Louis J. Willlams, director-high speed research, emphasizes that NASA's role in this effort is to develop the technology needed for such a transport. "We are not funding the development of a prototype, nor trying to design the airplane. It is up to industry to do that, interacting with the airlines," Willlams says.

He and other NASA and manufacturer officials have been convinced for some time that there is a market for an HSCT, just based on long-haultraffic projections into the next century, especially in the Pacific region, where economies are growing at a faster rate than in other parts of the world. NASA figures show that traffic on routes of more than 1,500 nm will double to 2.47 trillion RPMs by 2005, and redouble by 2025. NASA believes that even with supersonic flight limited to over-water routes, the HSCT could be used in about 52% of these long-haul markets.

But throughout, there have been the requirements: First, that such an airplane would need to meet strict environmental standards and second, it would have to operate at cost levels dose to those of subsonic transports. NASA's HSCT effort has been substantial, so far. About $2 billion has been committed in Phases I & II, approximately two-thirds of which is going to manufacturers for research, the rest to fund its own studies. In addition, the manufacturers have pursued their own efforts. About 100 people have been working on HSCT projects at Boeing for several years.

NASA has let contracts worth about $1 billion--about half of the money invested so far--to manufacturers for the 8-year Phase II, that is to run until 2001. …

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