Supersonic Transport Race

March 18, 1964

Report Outline
Progress of American Supersonic Program
Technical Challenges in Supersonic Plane
Economic Aspects of Supersonic Flight

Progress of American Supersonic Program

Pending Decisions on Future of the Project

Plans to develop an american supersonic airliner have received new impetus from the disclosure that this country has secretly developed and tested a 2,000-mile-an-hour warplane. President Johnson revealed at his news conference, Feb. 29, that the advanced experimental aircraft—known as the A-11—had been tested in sustained flight at that speed. Technical lessons learned from the plane, he said, would greatly assist development of supersonic commercial transport aircraft. Less encouraging was the announcement by Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara on March 5 that the XB-70, a 2,000-mile-an-hour bomber much closer in size and complexity to a commercial supersonic plane, was encountering “severe technical difficulties.” Flight of the first XB-70 is already 18 months behind schedule.

These conflicting disclosures came at a time when the government-directed program for an American SST, as the supersonic transport is generally called, was entering a critical phase. The development program laid down by the Federal Aviation Agency calls for the selection by May 1 of one or more airframe and engine manufacturers to undertake detailed design work on the supersonic transport. Three airframe and three engine contractors have submitted initial design proposals.

None of the manufacturers, however, is willing to proceed under F.A.A.'s present financing arrangement. Under this formula, approved by the late President Kennedy nine months ago, the federal government would agree to pick up 75 per cent of the development cost and the industry-would absorb the remaining 25 per cent. Initial development cost, by the agency's own estimate, will be at least $1 billion. Manufacturers therefore would have to put up no less than $250 million of risk capital, an amount they consider beyond their capacity. The industry-government deadlock over cost sharing will have to be resolved shortly. The alternatives are to modify the financing plan or drop the program to put an American supersonic transport into passenger service by mid-1970.

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