Japan wants to have a role in a Supersonic Transport. A consortium of leading aerospace companies and institutions wants to develop technology for an SST and have it available by 2030, it said on June 16. The initiative to get the Japanese aerospace industry behind an SST was formalized in an agreement signed on March 31 and the subsequent erection of a Japan Supersonic Research Council.

The initiative has support from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Japan Aircraft Development Association (JADC), Japan Aerospace Exploration Association (SJAC), Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), Kawasaki Heavy Industries (KHI), SUB Co., Ltd. ARU (Subaru), and IHI Co. (IHI).

The seven stakeholders in the Japan Supersonic Research Council will formulate a technical and industrial roadmap to develop technology for an SST. The aim is “of participating in the international joint development of supersonic aircraft that Japanese industry is expected to participate in around 2030.” This leaves the door open to either the development of an indigenous supersonic aircraft with the help of international partners or to the participation in an international project from another OEM.

An artist rendering that accompanied the press release leaves no doubts about Japan’s intention to have its own SST. The proposed aircraft looked identical to the one presented by JAXA before. It is a 30-50 seater with a maximum take-off weight of seventy tons, an overall length of 47.8 meters, with delta wings and tail-mounted engines. The range would be some 3.500 nautical miles.

The schedule sounds a bit optimistic

So that Japan wants to have a role in a supersonic transport is clear, but the schedule to have technology available in nine years is optimistic. Especially after taking into account that even after fourteen years, Mitsubishi has failed to bring the Regional Jet/SpaceJet with conventional technology into service. Mitsubishi said recently that it will assess this year whether to continue with the SpaceJet program.

The Japanese seem particularly keen to develop technology to reduce the air resistance that benefits fuel consumption as well as technology that reduces the effects of the supersonic boom. JAXA notes that already in 2005, an experiment on the former was tried with the Small Supersonic Experimental Aircraft NEXST-1 in Woomera (Australia).
In 2015, the Japanese participated in the Low Sonic Boom Design Proof-of-Concept Machine (D-SEND#2) experiment in Sweden on the aircraft shape to reduce the boom effect. Low-boom configurations have been tested by NASA and will continue with the X-59 demonstrator that will be funded again in the FY22 budget.

JAXA says supersonic travel would drastically reduce the flying time to Japan. It’s exactly this argument that Boom Supersonic and United Airlines have mentioned when they announced United’s commitment to up to fifty Overture SSTs recently. The Overture could reduce flight times from twelve to six hours, although the aircraft would make a fuel stop on its way.

In December 2017, Japan Airlines announced an investment of $10 million in Boom and placed a pre-order for twenty Overtures. Back in 1965, JAL placed options on three Concordes but canceled them again eight years later.  

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Richard Schuurman
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Active as journalist since 1987, starting with regional newspaper Zwolse Courant. Grand Prix reporter in 1997 at Dutch monthly Formule 1, general reporter Lelystad/Flevoland at De Stentor/Dagblad Flevoland, from 2002 until June 2021 radio/tv reporter/presentor with Omroep Flevoland.
Since mid-2016 freelance aviation journalist, since June 2021 fully dedicated to aviation. Reporter/editor AirInsight since December 2018. Contributor to Airliner World, Piloot & Vliegtuig. Twitter: @rschuur_aero.

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