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Two stories to start the silly season

Official promotional ultra stretched image of Sonic Star

The silly season for media stories is now on, and the two launch entries are Odyssey Airlines, which says it will take on the bespoke British Airways London City to New York City service, and the further relaunching of the HyperMach SonicStar four times the speed of sound business jet.

Go explore the website for the Sonic Star (recently upgraded from mach 3.5 to 4.0 with no sonic boom audible at sea level) and after a bit of fluff about where were you when man walked the moon, or The Beatles blew us (and Buddy Holly) away, and you arrive here, where the promoters are selling £100 shares, to finance the revolutionary technology which will make its first flight in 2021.

The Today Show fell for this so badly on 7 August (with the now superseded mach 3.5 version which would take all of four hours to fly from Sydney to New York) that the interview is prominently archived on the SonicStar home page, a bit like the stuffed head of a trophy kill.

But now its back at mach 4.0 and the price of entry for punters, squeezing out the likes of Airbus and Boeing, whose engineers have somehow completely failed to crack the technological solutions, remains yours for an entry price of  £100. Sounds like they should talk to some of the defence proponents of the JSF Joint Strike Fighter who also did their backsides in the Firepower fuel pill con.  (The JSF doesn’t make the cut for a silly season story, since it is a real, damaging, nasty calamity, and it involves massive harm and cost in terms of our national interests.)

It should be noted that the Fairfax story about Odyssey Airlines is not itself  at all silly. It drills right down to the rabbit-in-the-spotlight moment where one of the claimed proponents knows nuffin’.  But it is a reminder that it ’tis the season for silly claims.

The existing British Airways service out of London City, the only London airport that could be considered civilised, is in an all business class 32 sleeper berth A318 which cannot takeoff  ‘heavy’ from the short runway, but turns this into a plus by landing at Shannon in Eire, where US border formalities are completed, meaning the target market, business flyers, can just walk off the jet on arrival in NYC. The return non-stop flight puts passengers within minutes of the London financial district.

The issues with Odyssey Airlines or Ody Air, its other registered name, are that it has no brand power, has apparently reluctant or incorrectly identified backing,  and will use a jet which hasn’t yet flown, the Bombardier C series, which uses an engine technology which is very promising but not yet commercially proven, and is an airliner with an order book so small it is fair to see the concept as vulnerable to bad economic times, and marginal in good times.

Very odd.

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  • 1
    Kennedy Leigh
    Posted December 20, 2011 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    Maybe I’m missing something, but the range maps I found don’t indicate these planes will reach New York From London.

    http://farnborough.aero.bombardier.com/pdf/CSeries_Range_Map.pdf

    While the A318 does..
    http://www.airbus.com/aircraftfamilies/passengeraircraft/a320family/a318/performance/

    Either this is out of date, or they will not be taking many passengers..

  • 2
    Ben Sandilands
    Posted December 20, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    You’re not missing a thing! The fit out would have to be very low density. The Ody story just doesn’t add up.

  • 3
    ianjohnno1
    Posted December 20, 2011 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    Did the Japanese really choose the JSF, or is that a silly season story?

  • 4
    LongTimeObserver
    Posted December 21, 2011 at 6:25 am | Permalink

    The Ody issue is CSeries nonstop range at maximum takeoff weight based on the short London City runway. Mostly a fuel weight issue, it limits the A318 to a one-stop on LCY-JFK.

    The superdupersonic bizjet issues are 1./ physics and 2./ plausibility itself.

    Silly season, indeed!

  • 5
    Fueldrum
    Posted December 21, 2011 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    Ianjohnno1,

    No, the Japanese didn’t choose the JSF; they just put themselves on the waiting list for it in exchange for some industrial participation in it. This participation will help considerably with the development of their ADT-X indigenous fighter.

    Japan has adopted a low-risk strategy which will retain a strong air defence system even if the F-35 program collapses entirely (which, lest we forget, remains entirely possible). They will suffer only slightly if the cost and schedule blowouts continue because they are scheduled to buy but 42 F-35s for a ~400 fighter Air Force.

    Australia, on the other hand….

    Japan has announced plans to replace their F-4EJs (which were built from 1968) with some 42 F-35s starting in 2016 (ie. one year after f-35 flight testing with the full weapons load is supposed to begin). Japan will retain over 250 F-15 and F-16 analogues for many years yet.

    True, this decision is a boost for the F-35 because it suggests that it’s a better fighter than the Super Hornet; this may be true but is hardly a ringing endorsement. It also strengthens the bilateral relationship between Tokyo and Washington (hence the non-selection of the EF Typhoon) This is hardly a substitute for a successful flight test program, a controlled cost base, a reliable delivery schedule and sufficient performance to match other frontline fighters in the region.

    All four of those have eluded the F-35 during its 16 year gestation so far.

  • 6
    Aidan Stanger
    Posted December 21, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    Ben -
    You seem to have missed the silliest claim on the Hypermach website:

    The greener way to travel: 100% reduction in jet emissions
    To make unprecedented travel times a reality, speed is, quite literally, of the essence. But with climate change a pressing global concern, our team of industry-leading innovators, in collaboration with our OEM engine partner, have put green technology at the heart of SonicStar’s development. In fact, our next generation electric gas turbine engine provides the power generation capability to reduce jet emissions by 100%.

    It makes me wonder whether it’s a hoax, but I suspect someone was told the numbers didn’t look imoressive enough and they should double them! Around Mach 2 it’s considerably more plausible, though whether that kipnd of engine is suited to supersonic speeds is another matter.

    What, if anything, do you think the future of supersonic aviation will be? I’ve previously predicted sub Mach2, and with STOL capability, as you’re right about LCY airport.

    And I wasn’t aware LCY’s current transatlantic service used sleeper berths. Could this be what’s planned for RedQ?

  • 7
    Ben Sandilands
    Posted December 21, 2011 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    Aidan,

    Interesting questions indeed. There have been a number of highly credentialed studies over the decades among the major makers that favoured something in the Mach 1.3 area, as I recollect with wings that resembled an arrowhead on each side of an area rule or ‘coke bottle’ fuselage.

    However Burt Rutan and Richard Branson have several times suggested that their rocket ride technology for Virgin Galactic contains elements of future large scale very fast intercontinental flight, but there are so many issues with that I’m not anywhere near convinced, other than to note that Rutan is a visionary designer who has also proved that he knows how to build things others regarded as too hard or quirky.

    I think sub Mach 2 is encouraging because we don’t face thermal barriers with the engines or frame and the sonic boom issue might be manageable. (Might!) At the right scale/cost it could generate viable demand for say an 8.5 hour trans Pacific flight. But I’ve read other papers that argue you must get a cruise speed of at least Mach 1.6 to halve existing flight times to be able to offer a marketable higher speed option.

    Whatever it will be, I think we can be confident it has to be non fossil carbon fuel burning, if not drastically improved electrical storage driven, something that is starting to figure more in Airbus and Boeing studies for regular subsonic designs. (You don’t refuel, you unclip one set of batteries and clip in another while the discharged units go into the recharging cycle.)

    The BA LCY-JFK flights have 32 sleepers arranged two by two in the A318. However the Qantas guidance on Red Q specified a flying paradox, with sleeper seats, but new intra-Asia routes, and Joyce once mentioned offering a high class Y seat too. If the plot was to baffle us it succeeded.

  • 8
    Nearlythere
    Posted December 23, 2011 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    Ben: Flightblogger is reporting that the Bombardier might be able to do the London City- JFK route, if configured in ultra-premium fashion: http://www.flightglobal.com/blogs/flightblogger/2011/12/analysis-a318-and-cseries-go-h.html

  • 9
    Ben Sandilands
    Posted December 23, 2011 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    True. But the word ‘might’ is rather dodgy in this situation.

    There are two certification hurdles for Ody to get over.

    1. ETOPS 180 for a new engine type. As all the engine makers, including P&W well know and respect, this isn’t handed out but earned, and it takes time and thousands of hours of real on the wing flying before this is approved, even before the issue of operator ETOPS 180 competency and approval is granted, as even the well established airlines know.

    BA did it with a type already ETOPS 180 approved.

    2 The new jet has to be approved for using London City, which is a short runway 6 degree approach facility with very demanding standards for operators that Ody will have to prove they can meet.

    This will not happen overnight. It took a very long time for Embraer E-jets and the A318 to become LCY approved. Even the step up from Dash-7s, the ultra short runway four engined precursor of the Dash-8s, to the BAe146s took time.

    These are formidable barriers based on notably high standards. It might be 2015 or 2016 before Ody, even with strong, determined, and no longer invisible backers, gets all of the aircraft and LCY approvals needed to begin the service.

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