Japan Joins the Supersonic Flight Race with a New Initiative

JAXA hopes to cut travel times in half to the U.S. and Europe via supersonic technologies.
Chris Young

Large Japanese engineering firms including Subaru and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries are collaborating with Japan's space agency, JAXA, to research and develop technologies for commercial supersonic passenger aircraft, a report from Nikkei Asia explains.

Japan's new public-private initiative, called Japan Supersonic Research, was announced on Wednesday, June 16.

It was reportedly set up in response to the country's aviation firms wanting to outgrow their current roles as suppliers for western aviation companies.

Though one supersonic jet maker, Aerion, announced its closure last month due to a lack of capital, others such as Boom Supersonic are heralding a new dawn for commercial supersonic flight following the Concorde's last flight in 2003.

JAXA explained in a press statement that flying from Japan to Europe or the U.S. takes an average time of approximately 12 hours. With supersonic aircraft, the space agency envisions that the new initiative could cut this time in half.

Though ticket fares will be higher than traditional aircraft to begin with, technological advances will likely make supersonic travel more affordable in the long run.

JAXA wants to cut commercial travel times in half

Other members of Japan Supersonic Research, which aims to create new opportunities for Japan's aerospace industry, include Kawasaki Heavy Industries, IHI, and Japan Aircraft Development Corp.

Among the research expertise that JAXA will bring to the table is its decade of research into minimizing the problem of the sonic boom — the Concorde wasn't allowed to go supersonic over populated areas — via longer, more streamlined aircraft.

The Japanese space agency has also reduced fuel consumption by 13 percent compared to the Concorde by taking steps to reduce air friction, among other methods. Its aircraft prototype is also 21 percent lighter than its iconic predecessor.

The new Japan Supersonic Research initiative will aim to kickstart Japan's efforts to build its first homegrown passenger aircraft after years of delays to Mitsubishi Heavy's plans to make the Mitsubishi Aircraft.

The initiative will have to catch up with the competition at supersonic speed, as United Airlines has ordered 15 jets from Boom Supersonic, and Japan's own Japan Airlines has also invested in the company.

Denver, Colorado-based Boom Supersonic plans to launch a smaller prototype of its aircraft, called XB-1, this year, and it has raised more than $200 million as part of its mission to bring back commercial supersonic flight.

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