Air Transport World

Second-generation SST gathers momentum. (Cover Story)

Success of the program could bring on many fundamental changes for entire commercial transport manufacturing industry. By James P. Woolsey.

A consensus appears to be growing among major airframe and engine manufacturers around the world that a second-generation supersonic transport, a follow-on to the Anglo/French Concorde, is inevitable. They feel that such an airplane not only is possible but that it will be environmentally and economically practical. Some believe that a 1999 program launch and a 2005 entry into airline service are possible.

These same people will be quick to add, however, that such a project will be very difficult, very expensive and will face many challenges. Also, a feeling is growing that before the new SST can be built, the manufacturing sector itself probably will undergo fundamental change in the way it does business, both in the way companies deal with each other and the way they deal with the government agencies that regulate them. This is especially apparent when considerations of an SST-or High Speed Civil Transport (HSCT) as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) likes to call it-cross international boundaries, as some feel they must.

The huge cost of a new SST program-some have estimated that as much as $20 billion will be needed for both engine and airframe development-probably will dictate that the program be international and spread among many aerospace firms. At this expense level, industry observers also feel that only one program is likely to be successful.

The last time that SST programs were embarked upon, the results were not very pleasant. The Concorde still is in service with Air France and British Airways, and still establishing impressive records as a technological triumph. Unfortunately, as a program, it still is considered an economic disaster. The U.S. SST effort was simply a disaster. At a cost of more than $1 billion, 90% government-supplied, it was terminated before a single transport was built.

Both the Concorde and the U.S. SST suffered from a changing world outside the immediate control of their producers. The tremendous rise in fuel prices that occurred just as the two transports were being developed in the early 1970s-both designs were predicated on 11 cts-a-gallon fuel-and the unforeseen growing public awareness of the environment and its fragility, were not considerations when the two programs were in their early stages. 30-year hiatus

Nearly 30 years have passed since Concorde and the U.S. SST were designed. At least, it will be about 30 years by the time definitive designs are prepared for the new SST. In aerospace, 30 years represent a lifetime. Only 27 years separated Lindbergh's landing in Paris and the first-flight of the Boeing 707. Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis and the 707 represent two very different ways of crossing the Atlantic.

The approach to developing a successful SST has changed dramatically in these 30 years. The environment and the economic practicality of an SST now are the first things considered, especially by NASA, where a comprehensive $284 million study project is under way, mostly just to determine the environmental aspects of a new HSCT.

NASA's role in the U.S. HSCT program, according to Dr. Robert Whitehead, acting director for aeronautics, transports and general-aviation work, is to make technology available to the industry. What is done with it, whether or not an SST is built, is up to the industry, he says, pointing out that NASA has no plans to run or direct an SST program. …

Log in to your account to read this article – and millions more.