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Boeing Sonic Cruiser

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Boeing Sonic Cruiser (artist's concept)
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Boeing Sonic Cruiser (artist's concept)

The Boeing Sonic Cruiser was a subsonic concept airplane proposed by Boeing Commercial Airplanes in 2001. Its distinguishing feature was to be its high-subsonic cruising speed, considerably faster than conventional jet airliners.

Contents

Background

The Sonic Cruiser was publicly unveiled on March 29, 2001, shortly after the launch of the A380 by rival Airbus. Boeing had recently withdrawn its advanced 747 derivatives from competition with the Airbus 380 when no airline interest was forthcoming, and instead proposed the Sonic Cruiser as a completely different approach.

Instead of the A380's massive capacity, requiring a hub and spoke model of operation, the Sonic Cruiser was designed for rapid point-to-point connections for only 250 passengers. With delta wings and flying just short of the speed of sound at 0.95 Mach (about 1010 km/h or 627 mph at altitude), the Sonic Cruiser promised 20% faster speed than conventional airplanes without the noise pollution caused by supersonic Concorde's sonic boom. The aircraft would have flown at altitudes in excess of 40,000 feet, and would have possessed a range somewhere between 6,000 and 10,000 nautical miles.

According to Boeing's own estimates, the Sonic Cruiser would burn 15-20% more fuel than conventional aircraft. However, it was estimated the aircraft would burn roughly the same amount of fuel as a conventional aircraft flying the same route due to the faster travel-time.

The Sonic Cruiser concept originated in 1999 and a variety of concepts were studied, including supersonic aircraft, aircraft with the engines mounted above the wing, aircraft with a single vertical tail, and aircraft with rectangular intakes. The initial sketches released to the public were highly conjectural. A patent drawing filed by Boeing on March 22, 2001 put the baseline aircraft's dimensions at 250 feet in length, with a wingspan of 164.9 feet.

The Sonic Cruiser was replaced by the Boeing  seen here in the original styling proposal, which has since been abandoned.
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The Sonic Cruiser was replaced by the Boeing 787 Dreamliner seen here in the original styling proposal, which has since been abandoned.

Wind tunnel testing and Computational Fluid Dynamics analysis further refined the Sonic Cruiser concept. Based on artwork released by Boeing in July 2002, the Sonic Cruiser now sported two taller vertical tails with no inward cant. The forward canard was set at zero degrees dihedral. At this point, Boeing had yet to decide on the size or layout of the aircraft's fuselage cross section.

Outcome

In the end, most airlines favored lower operating costs over a marginal increase in speed, and the project did not attract the interest Boeing had been hoping for. In fall 2002, Boeing released artwork of a notional "7E7" concept aircraft, which would become the Boeing 787. The Sonic Cruiser project was finally abandoned by December 2002, in favor of the slower but fuel-efficient Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

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