View Full Version : SonicCruiser Hologram Appears! A mirage?????

17th Jun 2001, 14:41
From today's New York Times. --One might think the reporter has been listening to the A. v. B. 'dialogues' on PPRune. Very lengthy full text of the article below, a public service as the online New York Times is a registration (free) site.

(Apologies to Danny et. al. on starting a new thread, given the earlier SonicCruiser posts, but I did so in the hope that someone might give a first-hand account of what the hologram is like.) Actually, if one could be surrounded by a hologram, would not that be the ultimate transpot?
<font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica" size="2">____________________________________
Boeing Plays an Aerial Wild Card
Copyright, New York Times Co. June 17, 2001

PARIS -- Vistors to this year's Paris Air Show, which opens here today, will be able to walk around, inside, and through Boeing's Sonic Cruiser, a futuristic new passenger jet that would fly just shy of the sound barrier. They can marvel at the sleek new twin-engine plane, with its tapered fuselage, delta-shaped wing and unusual front stabilizer.

At least they will have the illusion of doing so, for they will be looking at an elaborate hologram a perfect image, perhaps, for a plane that so far exists almost exclusively in the minds of Boeing executives and designers. The image alone, though, has been enough to add spice to the world's biggest aircraft rivalry. With it, Boeing has managed to steal the spotlight from its archrival, Airbus Industrie, on its home turf at the biggest aerospace event of the year.

"It will be neat," Alan Mulally, the always-chipper chief of Boeing's commercial airplane division, said of the hologram during a recent interview in New York.

The Boeing Web site states boldly that the twin-engine Sonic Cruiser "will change the way the world flies as dramatically as did the introduction of the jet age." But the flickering, ghostlike hologram may not be the image the company wants to project.

Since it stunned Airbus and the rest of the global aerospace industry in March by announcing its intention to build a new, faster plane and, on the same day, by canceling two proposed models that were not attracting orders competitors, partners, airlines and analysts have been wondering if the Sonic Cruiser is more than a mirage.

Without doubt, a faster plane can be built. The question is whether the new Boeing jet can make money for airlines and meet strict noise and pollution standards.

"Can they do it?" said Roy V. Harris, the former assistant director of research and engineering at NASA's Langley Research Center. "I can't say that for sure right now. I think it will be a challenge."

And there are questions about whether the Sonic Cruiser, an unofficial name coined by Boeing, will be as big a change for travelers as the company is advertising. The new plane is expected to fly only 12 to 16 percent faster than today's passenger jets. By contrast, the supersonic Concorde, built by the French and British in the late 1960's, can fly over twice as fast (though it has been grounded since a crash last summer).

The Sonic Cruiser is not yet even in its infancy. Boeing is not close to saying how many passengers it will carry, how far it will fly or what it will cost. Indeed, the company announced it at an earlier phase of development than other models and has put the tightest disclosure restraints in memory on engine makers, important collaborators on the project, several executives said.

The timing and secrecy have caused some experts to question whether the new jet is a chimera intended to freeze the market just as Airbus, the only other maker of large passenger jets in the world, is filling out its product line with the new A380 superjumbo. The same day it announced the Sonic Cruiser, Boeing shelved a bigger version of its venerable 747, known as the 747X and intended to combat the A380, after failing to persuade a single airline to buy it.

"Was this planned, or a reaction to the success of the A380?" wondered Byron K. Callan, an aerospace analyst at Merrill Lynch in New York. "Was Boeing headed down this path all along, or just playing a great game of poker?"

Now that the game of making large passenger jets is down to two players, the stakes on each side have soared. Having committed $10 billion to building the A380, Airbus would have a difficult time developing a new jet to match the Sonic Cruiser.

Since its founding in the early 1970's, Airbus has clawed its way to the point where it now splits the market for new airplane orders with Boeing each year. But should Boeing set itself apart from Airbus by successfully introducing a faster plane the first in what it says could be a family of faster aircraft of different sizes it would win a bigger share of the $1.5 trillion that the world's airlines are expected to spend on new planes in the next 20 years.

For years, Boeing said that there was no need for a new superjumbo, that not enough airlines would buy it and that Airbus would never actually commit to such a project. Now, with the Sonic Cruiser, the positions have reversed. Airbus is saying that Boeing will never be able to build a faster airplane at a total cost that will appeal to airlines.

"If there is such a thing as a free lunch, I am sure we are all interested," said John Leahy, Airbus's top salesman. "The question is, if the lunch costs something, then we have to look at what is being served."

Mr. Mulally of Boeing said it was not bluffing. "At the most fundamental level," he said, "you would never do what we are doing if you never thought it would be built."

But he is not ruling out the possibility that Boeing will change its mind. "You don't know how it is going to come out until it comes out," he said. The company will decide in the next year whether it will go forward with the airplane, he added.

The three makers of large jet engines General Electric, Pratt & Whitney and Rolls-Royce are also convinced that Boeing is serious. They began working with Boeing on the project about a year ago and say they are confident that the Sonic Cruiser can be built without having to make a technological leap.

"We believe very strongly that we have the technology available to make it go," said Mark Sullivan, a spokesman for Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies.

Several airline executives have also greeted the idea of a faster plane with enthusiasm. But it does not cost them anything to encourage Boeing, and they are years away from having to decide whether to buy the plane.

Whether or not the Sonic Cruiser ever flies, Boeing has already won a remarkable public relations victory over Airbus. After nearly a decade of careful planning and some delays, Airbus has won 62 firm orders for the A380 from eight airlines, enough for its board to make the momentous decision in December to formally approve the project. Airbus now expects to have 100 orders by year-end. It says it needs to sell 250 of the jets to break even.

The A380 will be the biggest commercial airplane ever built, carrying 550 passengers on two decks, compared with 413 passengers in the largest 747 today. But most important to Airbus, the former European consortium that recently consolidated itself into a single corporation, the A380 will end Boeing's monopoly on very large aircraft, which Airbus estimates will account for 22 percent of sales over the next 19 years.

With the A380, Airbus will be able to match Boeing's product line model for model, from 100-seat, single-aisle aircraft all the way up to the 747. And it will have a jumbo jet to package with its other offerings to airlines and leasing companies, an option that Boeing had to itself for three decades with the 747.

But since Boeing announced the Sonic Cruiser, nobody seems to care that Airbus is building the world's biggest airplane. This week's air show, which should have been the coronation of the A380 as the new queen of the skies, will instead be dominated by talk of the "baby Concorde," as some of the press has called Boeing's new plane.

"I think it is one of the public relations coups of all time," Mr. Leahy said, unable to hide his contempt. "They had a press conference to announce that they were canceling the 747X after going around to all the world's airlines for a year and a half trying to sell it and losing all the campaigns."

"My engineers tell me the Sonic Cruiser was designed by their P.R. department," he added. "It has gotten the world's attention. I am really impressed."

Before the Sonic Cruiser, and with its product line looking tired, Boeing appeared to have ceded to Airbus its reputation as an innovator. In recent years, Boeing has focused on introducing derivatives of existing models, like longer-range versions of its wide-body, twin-engine 767 and 777. That is much less costly and less risky than building an entirely new plane like the A380.

Now Boeing seems to be blazing a new trail. It has placed billboards in Paris and London with a picture of the Sonic Cruiser and the words "Flight to the Future." Mr. Mulally plans to give a talk at the show on global aviation trends, focusing on how a new, faster jet can transform travel. "This speed thing for us and for the traveling public is going to be more valuable than we know," he said.

Wall Street analysts disagree over how the Sonic Cruiser and the A380 would compete. Boeing is talking about a plane that would carry 100 to 300 passengers, far fewer than the A380. The Sonic Cruiser would fly among dozens of cities, while the A380 is intended to link major hubs like London and Tokyo.

The first A380 is not expected to fly commercially until 2006. Boeing predicts that a Sonic Cruiser will not fly until 2007 or 2008. Even if the two do not compete directly, the prospect of a new Boeing model could slow the A380's sales momentum. Airline executives may now wonder if they should hold off on committing to a new, larger airplane from Airbus to see what Boeing creates. The promise of a new class of aircraft may give them added pause, because they never want to see competitors flying something that they are not.

Nowhere is this more crucial for Boeing than in Japan, the last major market where it has been able to keep Airbus at bay. Japan Airlines is Boeing's single largest customer for the 747, and Japanese carriers also fly large numbers of 767's and 777's.

Airbus has been pushing hard to gain market share there, and has been trying to find a Japanese partner to share some of the risk in building the A380. But its best prospects, like Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, are already large suppliers to Boeing.

Japanese airlines that might have been seriously considering the competing Airbus A330 as a replacement for their aging Boeing 767's may now wait to see what becomes of Boeing's new plan. The smallest models of both the A330 and the 767 have about 250 seats about the same number that Boeing says will be in the first incarnation of the Sonic Cruiser.

And potential Japanese partners for the A380 must decide whether they want to give up an opportunity to participate in the new Boeing jet.

The A380 and the Sonic Cruiser illustrate neatly a philosophical dispute between Airbus and Boeing that has grown wider in recent years. Boeing is convinced that deregulation will increasingly fragment global aviation, allowing more direct flights between cities, which is what it believes most travelers want. That will feed airline demand for smaller jets that can fly farther and faster.

As precedent, Boeing cites what happened in the trans-Atlantic market in the last 20 years. After the four-engine 747 was introduced in 1969, many airlines began flying it between the United States and Europe but soon found it was too big and too expensive to fly. And as aviation restrictions were relaxed, Boeing's smaller, twin-engine 767 opened direct service for dozens of secondary cities in the United States and Europe.

"People don't need bigger airplanes," Mr. Mulally said. "The only reason the airlines were asking for a 747X was so that they would have something to compare to the A380. They don't want either."

Airbus agrees that fragmentation will increase as deregulation spreads from Europe to Asia in coming years. But it is equally convinced that the expected large increases in passenger traffic and a dearth of new airport construction will require a superjumbo to carry more passengers between congested hubs.

It says that it has also looked at building a faster plane over the years but that it is not considering one now. "We have seen no great change in the laws of economics and physics that have given us any hope," said Philippe Delmas, an Airbus executive vice president who is a close adviser to No'l Forgeard, the chief executive.

The technical difficulties of building high-speed aircraft have been well known for decades. In the United States, research on civilian supersonic flight was financed by NASA in the 1970's but lost momentum during the energy crisis, as the focus shifted from improving speed to improving efficiency.

But the United States government continued to provide financing, giving nearly $2 billion over many years to Boeing, McDonnell Douglas (which Boeing bought in 1997), G.E. and Pratt & Whitney to develop supersonic passenger jets. That work was finally abandoned in 1998 by Boeing, which said there was no hope of overcoming the economic and environmental hurdles raised by a commercial supersonic transport anytime soon.

Flying at supersonic speed generates tremendous heat and stresses that must be absorbed by the fuselage and wings. The engines must be much more complex, and the sonic boom and engine roar raise serious environmental obstacles.

Because of these issues, the Concorde never found commercial success. Only 14 were put into service. British Airways and Air France, which received the planes from their governments at no cost, still could operate them only by charging elite travelers superpremium fares. In any case, the Concorde does not come close to meeting today's noise standards and can fly at supersonic speeds only over water.

Boeing now says it can avoid many of these difficulties by building a plane that remains just below the sound barrier. Today's commercial jets cruise at 80 to 85 percent of the speed of sound, which is about 660 miles an hour at high altitude. With the Sonic Cruiser, Boeing hopes to raise that to as high as 98 percent.

But the obstacles are still large. Air resistance rises sharply the closer an aircraft gets to the speed of sound, rapidly decreasing fuel efficiency. Shock waves and unpredictable air flows also make jets particularly difficult to fly just below the barrier.

The engine makers say they can adapt much of the technology now used to power Boeing's wide-body 777. But the 777 engines, which have the same diameter as a 737 fuselage, will have to be shrunk to fit into the streamlined wing of the Sonic Cruiser. That will make them much louder, presenting Boeing's designers with a challenge in meeting current noise standards.

But Mr. Mulally said that the double delta-shaped wing that Boeing is proposing will actually help reduce noise. He predicted that the Sonic Cruiser would not only meet current restrictions, but that it would also set a new standard for quieter jets.

Still, will all the trouble and expense be worth it? Boeing estimates that the Sonic Cruiser will save about an hour for every 3,000 nautical miles flown. Everyone agrees that passengers want to spend less time flying, but it is not clear that the Sonic Cruiser would be enough of a time saver that they might pay higher fares for it.

The longer the trip, of course, the more time is saved. Boeing has said the new jet could fly up to 10,000 nautical miles, or from New York to Jakarta, Indonesia, farther than any passenger jet operating today.

"Today we rely on first-class and business-class passengers to pay for the airplane," Mr. Mulally said. "What if you could differentiate service in a new way faster, higher, a smoother ride, above the weather?"

Fuel efficiency is another issue. The farther a plane flies, the more fuel it must carry. But that makes the plane heavier, which means that still more fuel is needed. Fuel accounts for half of a 747's weight at takeoff.

The pressure will be on Boeing and the engine makers to squeeze every ounce of efficiency out of the new plane's design, because even a small increase in drag or decrease in fuel efficiency can add up to a significant loss of range over a long flight.

Mr. Mulally said his goal was to make the Sonic Cruiser burn about 20 percent more fuel than a 767. The extra cost, he said, would be countered by the new plane's increased speed and range. Flying faster, of course, will let planes and crews make more trips, thus saving money.

At certain times of the year, for example, Northwest Airlines must operate three aircraft on its route from New York to Tokyo because the return trip must begin before the first plane arrives from New York. A faster plane could cut the number of aircraft on the route to two.

Increasing range would open direct routes, like London to Sydney, that now require a connecting flight, Boeing says, saving even more time for passengers and money for airlines.

Boeing may also be able to lower the total cost of the plane by building it efficiently. Many of its existing models were started decades ago and are relatively expensive to make. A new model could incorporate the latest advances in manufacturing.

Several airlines have been enthusiastic about the prospect of a new plane. Richard Branson, the chairman of Virgin Atlantic, said it expected to order up to six of the aircraft. Donald J. Carty, the chairman of AMR, the parent of American Airlines, said he was interested in buying the first 30 off the assembly line. The chairmen of Delta Air Lines and UAL, the parent of United Airlines, also expressed interest.

But a closer look indicates that the commitments are highly conditional. "There are as many questions as there are answers," said Timothy J. Doke, a spokesman for American. "But at this point we are very intrigued by the concept and very supportive. We would very much like to be on the ground floor of this."

Told of Mr. Mulally's goal of 20 percent more fuel consumption than a 767, Mr. Doke was surprised. "If they can't bring that down, it would lessen some of the productivity benefits," he said. "Our team members would be encouraging them to sharpen their pencils and bring the operating cost down" to where it would be 7 to 10 percent cheaper to operate than a comparable current jet.

Mr. Leahy, the Airbus executive, said that every new commercial airplane introduced in the last 20 years has had a lower operating cost than what came before it. "What the world's airlines are telling us is that economics are very important," he said. "You've got to have the lowest seat-mile cost." He predicted that after the hoopla over the Sonic Cruiser died down, Boeing would ultimately drop the idea and offer a smaller version of the 777 to replace the slow- selling 767.

Boeing does have a reputation in the industry for being fickle about new airplane projects. It announced a highly fuel-efficient jet in the early 70's called the 7J7, only to cancel the program a few years later when oil prices dropped. In the early 1990's, it talked to the major Airbus partners about building a new superjumbo to replace the 747, only to back away. Since then, it set to work on two bigger versions of the 747 but canceled them, too.

Presented with that record, Mr. Mulally said, "I think it is fabulous." Boeing, he said, is a customer-driven company that must be nimble. "What a neat thing it is to look at your customers and the market and make your investments accordingly," he explained. "The fact that Boeing is listening and is flexible is a great thing."

This time, however, Boeing has created so much general interest in the Sonic Cruiser that canceling the project could backfire. "They are walking a thin line," said one aerospace executive who spoke on condition of anonymity. "They really could hurt their reputation if they pull the rug out from under this in two years' time."

But Mr. Mulally said he was forging ahead. By year-end, he expects to announce a group of airlines that will work with Boeing to define the specifications of the new airplane.

"Are we serious about it?" he said. "Absolutely. Can it be done? Absolutely."</font>

Edited with a Apple Mac to remove those atrocious line breaks that most PC users seem incapable of dealing with. That looks much better! Ed

[This message has been edited by Capt PPRuNe (edited 17 June 2001).]

17th Jun 2001, 16:18
Is it just me or does the new Sonic Cruiser look a hellava lot like the "Fireflash" of the "Thunderbirds"??

It should be interesting as the report says what type of sales Boeing gets for SC and then again what powerplants are chosen. Are new engines being created for the SC or are already existing ones are planned?? If so which ones would be most appropiate?

17th Jun 2001, 18:45
Dear Boeing.

Can't you call it 'Sonicruiser'? Rather like you once had 'Stratocruiser', 'Stratojet', 'Stratofortress'........??

19th Jun 2001, 03:52
At what altitude is it supposed to cruise ??

I mean, ever heard about traffic jam ??

Who will have to move out of the way ??


Smooth Trimmer