US Air Force Developing Supersonic New Air Force One

Image by Exosonic.

The United States military is working on the design of the next Air Force One airplane. Air Force One is the call sign given to the plane that carries the president of the United States.

The US Air Force announced in September that they had formed a partnership with Exosonic. Exosonic is an aerospace startup based in California that specializes in supersonic flight.

The plane being designed would be capable of flying at Mach 1.8 or nearly twice the speed of sound. Exosonic is contributing their expertise in designing supersonic planes that do not create the supersonic booms typically associated with faster-than-sound flight.

The US Air Force received $22,000 in damage claims after a Thunderbird caused a sonic boom over Tucson, Arizona, in 2012. Most of the damage was shattered glass.

Exosonic’s aircraft will have a cruise of Mach 1.8 and a range of over 5,000 nautical miles. Photo by Exosonic
Exosonic’s aircraft will have a cruise of Mach 1.8 and a range of over 5,000 nautical miles. Photo by Exosonic

The Royal Air Force forbids their pilots from flying at supersonic speeds overland unless there is an  operational reason to do so. For example, in June, Typhoons from RAF Coningsby traveled at supersonic speeds over Peterborough. The RAF had received reports of a civilian aircraft which had lost radio contact with air traffic control.

The Exosonic design reportedly can travel up to 1,380 miles per hour without disturbing anyone below.

The CEO of Exonsonic, Norris Tie, said that the company is expecting low-boom supersonic flight to come to global passenger travel in the future.

In addition to speed and quietness, the new Air Force One concept boasts a 5,000 mile range.

Stephanie Chahan is the principal aircraft interior designer for the project. She said that the cabin was inspired by the peregrine falcon both for the extreme speeds it can reach and for its distinctive look.

The plane has two private suites and a main cabin. One of the suites is a three-passenger meeting room which has secure video conferencing equipment for meetings or for holding virtual press conferences. The television screen rolls up into a cabinet when not being used which makes room ready for food or presentation equipment.

The second suite can hold eight passengers. It has lie-flat seats and adjustable tables. It is designed for staffers to work together or get their rest.

The main cabin has 20 business class seats. There are two galleys, two lavatories and stowage space for passenger belongings.

Chahan said that the concept design includes technologies that either do not yet exist or are not yet available in commercial or business airplanes.

Exosonic is looking to enable travel from JFK to LAX in just three hours, which saves approximately half the time. Photo by Exosonic
Exosonic is looking to enable travel from JFK to LAX in just three hours, which saves approximately half the time. Photo by Exosonic

The US Air Force awarded Exosonic a $1 million 24-month small business innovation research (SBIR) phase II contract to design prototypes for the new Air Force One.

In addition to the investment in Exosonic, the US Air Force also invested in Hermeus Corporation. Hermeus is another startup working on supersonic aircraft. A contract was awarded to them in August. Hermeus is working with the Presidential and Executive Airlift Directorate to develop a supersonic Air Force One. The company’s aircraft are capable of traveling at Mach 5 (about 3,836 miles per hour).

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For reference, a flight from New York City to London currently takes about 7 hours. At Mach 5, the same flight would take about 90 minutes.