NASA, Boeing Abandon Supersonic Jetliner Project

Rohit Khare (
Sat, 6 Feb 1999 12:38:54 -0800

It's pure pork-barrel, but dammit, it's my pork. I'm sad to see it
go, but think about it: 1) nobody's six hours is worth *that* much to
save, especially with inflight comforts and inflight
computing&communications and 2) THAT"S MORE MONEY THAN THE ENTIRE

Atoms suck.

On the upside, I hope this might motivate some more personal
luxuries: there are, after all, a fractional elite that need such
mobility, and the Dassault Falcon-drived supersonic bizjet proposal
may make gain new life... I'd feel better buying that than Old
Masters or exotic jewellry :-) [Details? See Wallpaper*s Speed issue
last year]


PS. Haven't had any luck finding an online presence for Wallpaper*,
now a Time-Life-Warner pub; nor Departures, nor for the AmEx Platinum
card in general... I did have a lot of fun reading up on critiques of
credit card marketing brochures &c at, a trade zine.

"More Places For Amex Points
American Express Co. has added 14 new partners to its Membership
Rewards program: Borders Books & Music, Champs Sports, Coach, Foot
Locker, Kids Foot Locker, Lady Foot Locker, The NBA Store, Royal
Doulton, Samsonite Company Stores, The Sharper Image, Zany Brainy,
Avis and Cathay Pacific Airways. "


Saturday, February 6, 1999
NASA, Boeing Abandon Supersonic Jetliner Project
Aviation: Agency poured $1.6 billion into effort. Move is a blow to
air travelers, U.S. position in aircraft industry.

By JEFF LEEDS, Times Staff Writer

After NASA poured an estimated $1.6 billion into a risky effort to
help Boeing Co. develop a revolutionary supersonic jetliner, the
Seattle-based aerospace giant has decided not to build it.
Officials at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
disclosed this week that they have dropped the research program from
their $13.6-billion budget for fiscal 2000. Even before federal
officials cut off the money supply, Boeing had slashed its
involvement in the project.
With the withdrawal of Boeing--now America's only aircraft
manufacturer--there is no U.S. firm to use the technology. Blueprints
and other work developed over the last decade will now sit in NASA
Cancellation of the jetliner research is a blow to NASA, which
has a stated commitment to support the commercial aircraft industry,
and to air travelers, who now are unlikely to be flying U.S.
supersonic jets for decades.
"Boeing's move out of this program places the U.S.' long-term
economic interests in aero-propulsion technology at risk," said Rep.
Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), whose district includes the NASA Lewis
Research Center, which oversaw some supersonic work. "We can expect
Boeing to do what's good for Boeing. They did not do what's good for
the United States."
Under pressure from the Asian financial crisis and a slowdown in
orders for its existing aircraft, Boeing said it concluded that it
could not invest in such a technologically ambitious project without
a ready market. And NASA, faced with mounting costs on the
international space station, was forced to cut spending elsewhere in
its budget.
"It just wasn't clear to us that we could make a salable
commercial airplane," said Robert Cuthbertson, Boeing program manager
for the so-called High Speed Civil Transport plane.
Under the program, launched in 1990, Boeing and McDonnell
Douglas were to design the airframe. General Electric and Pratt &
Whitney were to handle the engines.
But in the end, the jetliner project would crash and burn when
economic forces and scientific shortfalls collided.
Government-subsidized competitors in Europe and Asia intensified
their push into the global aerospace market, and in 1997 left the
once-dominant U.S. industry with just a 55% market share, according
to the Aerospace Industries Assn.
Pressure mounted on Boeing to compete, but a bid to modernize
its manufacturing of the 737 and 777 jetliners backfired, driving its
production costs up, said Paul H. Nisbet, aerospace analyst with JSA
Research Inc., a Newport, R.I., research firm.
"It was a questionable program to begin with," Nisbet said of
the supersonic jetliner. "They obviously weren't getting there. How
long do you keep throwing money down a rat hole?"
At the same time, the post-Cold War consolidation of the defense
industry drove Boeing to acquire McDonnell, leaving NASA just one
potential user for the technology.
But the scientists developing it proved unable to deliver a
working design. NASA officials said the components they were
designing would have met the noise and emissions standards of
2010--the initial completion date for the program.
But Boeing said last fall that it didn't expect to manufacture
the vehicle until perhaps 2020, and began planning to pare back its
personnel on the project, including workers at its Long Beach
"We want to slow down and let the technology evolve,"
Cuthbertson said. "We all got together and reviewed where we were. We
aren't ready to shoulder more cost in development activities."
The bulk of the program budget came from NASA, which planned to
devote more than $500 million to build a prototype engine by 2007
even after Boeing dropped out. But NASA chief Daniel S. Goldin said
this week that the agency would use the money instead for the space
station and other programs.
Some members of Congress reacted with outrage, saying that the
loss of the project will allow the erosion of the nation's position
in the aeronautics industry.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach), chairman of the
House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee, lamented the billion-dollar
expenditure on unproductive technology. "It is frivolous to build a
jet engine that will let you go faster, but that has no practical
Cuthbertson expressed hope that some of the advances made by the
firms' engineers, particularly in cockpit visibility, would be
applied to military and commercial projects.
But Boeing also said it disbanded its international study group,
a consortium of firms that had examined supersonic jet technology and
related environmental issues.
Without the U.S. jet, the European-built Concorde remains the
only supersonic jetliner. But the famed needle-nosed jet, flown by
British Airways, is considered a commercial flop. The market for the
100-seat plane evaporated soon after Congress outlawed sonic booms
over land in the 1970s.
The NASA-funded effort had envisioned a 300-foot-long vehicle
that would fly at Mach 2.4 (2.4 times the speed of sound) and carry
300 passengers from Los Angeles to Tokyo in 4 hours and 20 minutes.
Existing jets take about 10 hours to make the trip.
Industry studies cited as recently as 1997 indicated there would
be a market for 1,000 to 1,500 of the aircraft.
"It looked like there was going to be a huge market in the
Pacific Rim," said Paul Looney, director of aeronautics policy for
the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the leading
technological society for the industry. "Maybe the market is just not
there yet."