Bill Lear’s vision of a new generation of business jets created in Reno remains alive — and it just got supercharged as Europe’s Airbus Group last week announced an agreement to collaborate with Reno’s Aerion Corp.
The small Reno company has developed technology that on the path to commercialization of a business jet that can travel at supersonic speeds.
Airbus initially is assigning about a half dozen senior engineers in key disciplines to work with Aerion in Reno, and the combined organization is expected to grow over time, said Jeff Miller, a spokesman for Aerion.
Aerion has been working with a staff of about 10 at its engineering offices near Reno-Tahoe International Airport.
Its goal: Certification of the world’s first supersonic business jet by 2021.
The Reno company gets a major boost toward that goal with the technology collaboration with Airbus, said Robert Bass, the Fort Worth billionaire who’s the chairman and principal investor in Aerion.
“Needless to say, we are thrilled with the resources Airbus Group will bring to the program,” Bass said.
Doug Nichols, the chief executive officer of Aerion, said the deal provides validation of the work that Aerion has accomplished during the last two decades, and it puts the project into high gear.
Among the work that Aerion has completed are development of proprietary design tools, creation of patented thin-wing designs and patented application of natural laminar-flow technology. The company also has developed expertise on propulsion integration technology.
Currently, the company is beginning a design phase. It will be writing specifications and developing sources for propulsion systems, structures, avionics and equipment. The first flight of the supersonic business jet is scheduled for 2019.
The plane is designed to travel at speeds up to Mach 1.6 — 1,216 miles an hour — over water. On international flights over land, the aircraft can reach speeds of Mach 1.1 or Mach 1.2 without creating a sonic boom. Over the United States, supersonic flight is forbidden by federal law.
The aircraft, dubbed the AS2, would have a range of 5,450 miles and seating for up to 12 passengers.
The price tag? Above $100 million in current dollars. Even at that, Aerion executives have projected a market for at least 600 supersonic business aircraft over 20 years.
For Airbus, the technology collaboration with the Reno company will provide assistance for its own development of high-performance aircraft.
Jean Botti, chief technical officer of Airbus Group, said the Aerion work “has broad applications for both performance and efficiency.” The engineering team assigned to Reno is part of the Airbus Group defence and space division.
Aerion’s pioneering work in the technology of business jets traces its roots to Bill Lear, creator of the Lear Jet.
Lear came to Reno in 1967 after he had sold Lear Jet Industries and was looking to conquer new worlds. Based at the property now known as Reno-Stead Airport, Lear invested $25 million in creation of the Lear Fan, a business jet that would operate with high fuel efficiency.
The team that Lear built in Reno became the heart of Aerion.
Most critically, Dr. Richard Tracy, the chief technology officer of Aerion, was the chief engineer for the LearAvia organization that developed the Lear Fan.
Other executives of the company have worked for companies that include Learjet Inc. (after its sale by its founder), Gulfstream Aerospace and Boeing.