Boeing is using new design elements, such as delta wings and canards, on the Sonic Cruiser.

Photo courtesy Boeing

Creating a New Look

While Boeing's major rival, Airbus, focuses on the 555-passenger A380 jumbo jet, Boeing is turning its attention to a smaller aircraft that will carry between 100 and 300 passengers and is more suited for non-stop, point-to-point service. The A380 is a behemoth of an aircraft that will be ready around 2006. It is designed to deal with the increased traffic to the high-traffic hub airports rather than point-to-point flights.

Boeing consulted several major airlines that buy aircraft from Boeing and asked them what they wanted in a new airliner. Alan Mulally, Boeing Commercial Airplane president and CEO, said that most of them asked for an aircraft that could fly faster and higher over long ranges.

The result is the Sonic Cruiser. Boeing unveiled a one-fortieth-scale, 6-foot (1.8-m) model of the concept at the 2001 Paris Air Show. The aircraft will be the first major design change to commercial aircraft in decades. Here are the major design features of the Sonic Cruiser:

  • Double delta wings - Delta wings are placed farther back on the plane than conventional wings. The Concorde has delta wings.
  • Canards - These are the smaller, wing-like structures just behind the nose of the aircraft. Canards will give the plane more horizontal stability at high speeds.
  • Aft-mounted engines - Reminiscent of the Blackbird SR-71 military aircraft, the engines are blended into the body of the wing. You will learn more about the Sonic Cruiser's engine in the next section.

Few details of the planes specific dimensions have been released, because Boeing engineers are likely to make more adjustments before moving beyond the drawing board. Boeing officials plan to hold additional meetings with airlines to determine the ideal size of the aircraft. The plane is expected to be ready for takeoff sometime between 2006 and 2008.