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Boeing and Sukhoi consider SBJ alliance
By Vovick Karnozov
AWN Moscow-based columnist

There is some evidence that Boeing and Sukhoi have been in negotiations on forming an alliance to develop a Supersonic Business Jet (SBJ). Initial talks took place over a year ago, shortly after Boeing had obtained the full package of the data from the joint US-Russian supersonic research effort on the Tu-144LL flying laboratory.

Leaders of both Boeing and Sukhoi say that if the current state of science proves sufficient to provide creation of an environmentally friendly and economically viable SBJ, then the airplane will sell in the hundreds of units.

Last week Boeing's vice-president for engineering Robert Spitzer gave an interview to AeroWorldNet during his visit to Moscow as part of a Boeing delegation. Spitzer said that the data obtained in 22 flights of the Tu-144LL flying lab and on special ground test facilities in TsAGI and Tupolev flight test station helped the US manufacturer to clarify some technical issues pertaining to supersonic transport aircraft of the future.

Spitzer said there are three major issues in developing such aircraft. They are the following: The technical ability to build such an airplane; the environmental issue, such us providing a bearable level of noise at takeoff and landing; and the economics of the plane, its ability to generate a profit.

Spitzer said that the feasibility studies on a large supersonic transport (SST-2) lead by NASA and the giants of the US aerospace industry have shown that at the moment the economics of the proposed supersonic transport does not look as suitable. The SST-2 has been found not as effective in operation as it had been expected earlier.

However, Spitzer carried on, technical studies on the matter continue, although at much lower pace than two years ago. Having understood that the SST-2's problems are too big to overcome at the current state of science, NASA and the industry have considerably decreased their research activities in the supersonic area.

The SBJ, which by its nature would be much smaller than the SST-2, is technically and economically easier to develop and build. If reaching the stage of operational service, it will help to solve some of the SST-2's technical problems and be a good experimental platform for testing new aerodynamic and power plant ideas.

At the same time, Spitzer said, the economic issue still remains, even thought the SBJ is destined for a selected group of people with the money. The problem to reconcile the requirements coming from the three main issues does not disappear with the transition from a large SST-2 to smaller SBJ. However, Spitzer said, Boeing carries out some work on the SBJ. "The feasibility studies would take a few years. I think that the creation of a supersonic transport is a matter of years, not centuries," he stated.

Spitzer's design team is being encouraged to carry on SBJ studies at a high pace by the Boeing/General Electric joint venture on corporate airliners. At MAKS '99 Borge Boeskov, president of Boeing Business Jets, told AeroWorldNet that the right time for the SBJ to be available on the market is 2009-2011, by which time technical problems can be sorted out.

Boeskov said, "We are definitely very interested in a supersonic business jet at Boeing. Obviously, there is lots of technology that makes sense to start on a smaller business jet. We are working with several other companies and doing a lot of work inside the company on potential supersonic business jets for the future. There are several technical issues to be solved still, but we have to work on these now to come to a successful program in the future."

According to Boeskov, it normally takes Boeing from five to six years to develop a new subsonic aircraft. In the case of a supersonic program the duration of development phase is "very hard to predict" because of the complication of the technical issues. However, with the requisite technologies mastered, SBJ development "can get into a kind of a normal five-year time flow."

The BBJ head supports the idea of cooperation with Russian companies on the SBJ. Russia has a considerable experience of developing and operating supersonic aircraft of all sizes, including those close in overall dimensions of the proposed SBJ. According to Boeskov, Boeing is looking at several Russian companies as possible partners on the SBJ. "In particular, we are talking to Sukhoi people," he said.

AWN also had a chance to speak to Sukhoi leaders on their vision of an SBJ. At the Paris Air Show, Sukhoi general designer Mikhail Simonov told AWN that the first prototype of the S-21 supersonic business jet might be rolled out from the Sukhoi experimental aircraft factory as early as 2002.

At MAKS '99, AWN spoke to Mikhail Pogosyan, general director of AVPK Sukhoi military industrial complex, and general director of the OKB Sukhoi design house. At one time, he acted as the S-21 project manager. Pogosyan said that the S-21 project is, among other things, is viewed by Sukhoi as a carrier of modern perspective technologies and also a vehicle to use high military technologies in the civil sphere. Sukhoi began working on the supersonic business jet over ten years ago, but it was not until very recently then the market turn his face to the SBJ.

Pogosyan said, "Today we can speak about a new situation on the market for business aircraft. When we began working on the S-21, our partners from Gulfstream company estimated the market demand in the S-21-class aircraft at 150 airframes. Today, we see a general tendency that the demand in expensive business jets is growing. Meeting the growing demand, Gulfstream has materialised the Gulfstream V project, while Boeing introduced the BBJ on the base of the 737. These facts say that the market is ready to accept expensive business jets featuring a long operational range. Recent assessments of the market done by US forecast agencies say that the SBJ market has grown to 300 units. The rise was promoted by the general situation in the world economy and foundation of special companies specializing in fractional ownership of business aviation aircraft. The latter allows to considerably increase the circle of companies and business people willing to have a big business jet at their disposal. Noting these new developments, we can say that supersonic business jets are in for a new, more favorable situation on the market. In particular, the unit price limitations on the SBJ and its development costs are being lifted."

There are different viewpoints inside Sukhoi on the prospects of possible cooperation with Western aircraft manufacturers on SBJ project. Simonov believes that Sukhoi and its industrial partners can build the S-21 and put it into production without help from the West. At the same time, he understands that to gain certification to FAR and JAR airworthiness requirements and to set up a global support system for the S-21 is a matter on which Sukhoi should work hand-in-hand with the leading Western companies.

Pogosyan has a viewpoint that cooperation with Sukhoi's western counterparts should be initiated earlier than the time the S-21 enters certification trials. According to him, a good basis for partnership with western aircraft manufacturer can be provided by the high technologies that Sukhoi worked out during the years of work on the S-21.

Speaking about the most possible candidates for partnership, Pogosyan said that Gulfstream is not on the list because of the latter company's choice in favor of Lockheed Martin as a strategic partner on a perspective SBJ. Pogosyan did not deny the fact of the repeated talks between Sukhoi and Boeing on SBJ. The Sukhoi head added that the most critical point in negotiations is to determine the shares of the two companies in a possible cooperative project.

"As the world's largest civil aircraft manufacturer Boeing will most certainly try to do the bulk of work on that project inside the company. This is not acceptable for us." Assessing the perspectives of the Boeing-Sukhoi alliance on SBJ, Pogosayn said that "it is questionable, but not at all impossible."

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