More than a decade ago, Boeing’s Sonic Cruiser was first proposed. After only a year or so in the works, the project for the plane that would “change the way the world flies” was scrapped to focus on more efficient aircraft. Or so we thought.
According to reports, the Sonic Cruiser program is not “entirely dead” after a new patent application was filed in April. According to Flight Global, the patent was posted on April 19, showing that “somewhere deep inside Boeing, a team of engineers is even now continuing to fiddle with the last decade’s most high-profile conceptual aerospace flop.”
In 2001 and 2002 when the project was still officially active, the Sonic Cruiser was expected to transport passengers close to the speed of sound. At the time it was abandoned, Fortune magazine reported several questions remained about the project:
The questions surrounding the ambitious project aren’t likely to die along with the airplane. Was the Sonic Cruiser ever seriously intended for production, or was it partly a paper plane aimed at keeping Airbus off balance? If it was for real, why didn’t Boeing grasp its shortcomings more quickly? And why has the company kept the project alive for the past several months when it was clear that the futuristic plane was on life support?
Here Boeing describes the onus for the Sonic Cruiser in the first place and reveals the first model design:
The new patent application, Flight Global describes, is probably not too indicative of things to come for the program in the near future — “just a project some engineers are fiddling around with” — but notes it calls up an “interesting approach to an old and fascinating concept”:
The new Sonic Cruiser appears to be just as fast as the original design unveiled by a beaming Alan Mullaly at the 2001 Paris Air Show. Improvements are focused on reducing the nearly supersonic aircraft’s noise and heat signatures. Rather than embedding the engines under the wing, high bypass turbofans are installed on top of the fuselage. Vertical stabilizers mounted outboard of each engine shields noise generated by the exhaust, while the long aft deck blocks sound waves aimed at the ground. In addition, Boeing’s engineers have proposed variable geometry chevrons on the exhaust nozzles of each engine, which soften the noisy mixing of very hot exhaust air with much cooler ambient air.
Besides the new engine locations, Boeing has also made several aerodynamic changes. The differences are clear by comparing the drawing above with the image shown below, which first appeared in a 2003 Boeing patent filing for the original Sonic Cruiser concept. Notice the differences in shaping in the fuselage, nose and wings.
In 2002, Fortune stated the Sonic Cruiser was a plane “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Is the industry’s atmosphere ripening to the more futuristic design now?