Supersonic planes to fly over Kansas on invisible racetrack seven miles high

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WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Supersonic test flights are coming to Kansas with a deal signed between the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT).

The test flights will be on the new Kansas Supersonic Transporation Corridor (SSTC), an 886-mile invisible racetrack. The planes will fly at or above 39,000 feet, which is 7.3 miles above ground, in federal airspace.

The SSTC is for non-military aircraft that fly faster than the speed of sound.

Governor Laura Kelly made the announcement Thursday:

“To be able to deliver this new opportunity for our country is yet another example of Kansas cementing its reputation as a national leader in the aviation industry,” Kelly said in a news release. “This high-altitude flight corridor gives Kansas a strategic advantage in attracting companies involved in the development of supersonic aircraft, and will play a significant role in our state’s ability to encourage economic development as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The deal is a collaborative effort involving U.S. Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas, the FAA, NASA, the Air Route Traffic Control Center and the National Institute of Aviation Research (NIAR) at Wichita State University.

Moran says industry forecasts show a market for up to 300 supersonic aircraft over a 10-year period.

“This year marks 73 years since Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier, and with this supersonic flight corridor Kansas will have a unique role in the next generation of supersonic transportation,” Moran said in a news release.

Governor Laura Kelly said this is a big benefit for Kansas.

“It will definitely imply that this is a good place to location testing and certification office and that could bring more jobs,” said Richard Aboulafia, an aviation analyst.

He said a supersonic plane hasn’t flown commercially in 17 years and now Kansas will be the site to get supersonic back in the air.

“Kansas is proud to be providing that service and that training and that research and we fully expect that everybody else will benefit from that but Kansas will benefit from the number of companies that take advantage of this,” said Governor Kelly.

Since news of the corridor was released Thursday, Supersonic flight companies like Spike Aerospace have taken interest.

“That is tremendously exciting. Makes it easier for us to test our craft. Otherwise without a test field how are we going to be able to advance through aviation and supersonic flight,” said Vik Kachoria, the president and CEO of Spike Aerospace.

The president of Spike Aerospace said they aren’t sure if they will test in Kansas yet, but the new corridor has some perks.

“I think this is really exciting to have a test corridor, to be able to fly within the United States overland and to measure. The key issue with supersonic flight is a noise that somebody wouldn’t feel on the ground or hear on the ground,” said Kachoria.

Commercial supersonic plans should start flying over Kansas by 2023.

The FAA’s Kansas City Air Route Traffic Control Center assessed the route to protect the safety and efficiency of the National Airspace system.

It will support sustained flight up to Mach 3.

Those who remember the sonic booms of the past may wonder if they are coming back. NASA is working with companies to build aircraft with low-boom or no-boom characteristics.

KDOT says the SSTC gives companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Aerion, Spike and Boom Aerospace the airspace necessary to test aircraft designs that reduce the impact of sound on nearby communities.

KDOT has partnered with WSU’s NIAR to collect noise data.

“We help manufacturers refine aircraft designs every day and flight tests are one of our core strengths,” Dr. John Tomblin, NIAR executive director, said in a news release. “This partnership with KDOT provides a sophisticated and cost-effective flight test capability within reach of every major aircraft manufacturer in the country.”

Aircraft will have to clear flight routes prior to takeoff and will only enter the SSTC at specific points.

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