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September 2007 edition

Supersonic business jet designers need to overcome additional challenges

By Jason Matisheck

The design of a supersonic business jet (SBJ) presents several significant challenges over subsonic aircraft design. The optimal configurations for subsonic vs. supersonic flight differ significantly in such basic areas as fineness ratio, aspect ratio, wing thickness and wing sweep. Supersonic aircraft also suffer a significant reduc-tion in lift-to-drag ratio due to the presence of wave drag. In addition, the ideal engine cycle for supersonic cruise is inefficient and noisy at takeoff conditions. Supersonic aircraft also suffer from the environmental and political problem of sonic boom.

Traditional approaches to supersonic design use area rule and significant wing sweep to reduce wave drag. Cranked forward outer wing panels and/or high lift devices are then used to provide acceptable takeoff and low speed performance. This performance, while adequate, is far short of the performance of a similar weight subsonic aircraft. Turbojet or low bypass turbofan engines are used for good supersonic cruise at the expense of high takeoff noise and lower subsonic efficiency. In some cases, variable geometry is used at the expense of structural weight and maintenance complexity. Until recently, sonic boom was simply a given. New techniques for aircraft shaping to reduce sonic boom show promise, but such shaping necessarily increases the cruise drag and results in a heavier aircraft.


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