Universally described as the most revolutionary advancement in commercial aviation in over 50 years, not only is Aerion Supersonic’s AS2 executive jet able to reach speeds of Mach 1.4—the first supersonic commercial aircraft to do so since the Concorde made its initial flight in 1969— it also has been engineered to run entirely on synthetic fuels, yielding a zero-carbon footprint.

Further, its Boomless CruiseTM technology ensures that the deafening sonic boom (an Achilles’ heels of earlier attempts at supersonic transport) never reaches the ground. The potential impact of this revolutionary effort on all commercial aviation is obvious. Amazingly, the headquarters, design, engineering and manufacturing center will take place right here on the Space Coast, at the Orlando Melbourne International airport campus.

Aerion CEO Tom Vice discussed the vision and the impact with us not long after he rolled out the company’s plan at the virtual annual board meeting of the Economic Development Council of Florida’s Space Coast, which – along with Airport Executives and Space Florida – helped facilitate their move to the area.

Vice is as just as comfortable discussing the beauty, as well as the sociological and philosophical ramifications of Aerion’s technological innovation, as he is its engineering.

EW: We are all shaped by people and principles that define who we are. Who were the people and what were the principles that were essential to your formation?

TV (Tom Vice): Four people and four fundamental beliefs have, and continue, to shape my life. I have been truly blessed to be loved, supported, and challenged by four incredibly courageous, compassionate, and brilliant women in my life – my mother, my wife, and my two daughters.

As I look back over my life, four beliefs have served me well both in hard times and in good times. I was fortunate to learn early in life that I had to find what I really loved doing and then do it. Life will throw a lot of challenges, surprises, disappointments, and opportunities at you. The only thing that can keep you going is you must absolutely love what you are doing and feel passionate about doing it well. Your work will consume a significant amount of your life and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe in.

Secondly, I always believed that whatever I decided to do it had to be important; I had to try and make a real difference. I wanted to do something bold and to stand for something. I like to think of my life as seeking out revolutionary ideas, innovations, and trying to find breakthroughs to hard problems that were worth solving. Industrial revolutions create new industries, national capabilities, and exciting new companies. These revolutions are driven by ingenious, courageous and determined mavericks, most of the time working amongst teams of Mavericks. These teams take advantage of a new technology or, even more likely today, the convergence of technologies in unique ways.

Redefining fear, [or] maybe better said, harnessing fear, is the third belief I learned early in life. It started out of necessity as a young boy, but I learned to face my fears head on. I would actively seek them out, overcome them, and get ready for the next one – it became very apparent that life has a way of continuing to serve them up. In taking the harder, more exciting and more rewarding path, not the safe one, I experienced setbacks more than once. And, when they happened, I choose not to see them as failures – I came to understand that setbacks would inevitably happen in life. It is how you deal with them and the path you decide to take that will matter most. Looking back, the hard times prepared me for life in ways that the good times never did.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, I deeply believe you have to surround yourself with friends and colleagues who will have the confidence and capability to challenge your understanding of our world. I learned through experience that the best ideas and achievements take genuine teamwork and inclusive collaboration. You have to learn from everyone and let respect and dignity for others shine in everything you do.

Aerion Reveal Hanger

EW: Did you get into the aerospace industry by design or opportunity?

TV: By design. I was drawn to aerospace as a very young boy. I cannot imagine doing anything else with my life. I simply love the beauty of flight, the engineering of flight and the adventure it provides. The thought of designing machines to transport humanity across our world, across our solar system, or across our universe, is fantastic.

I’ve always had a passion for engineering and fast machines. As a child, I watched every Apollo rocket launch in awe. I would run outside to see military jets fly over my backyard. My favorite toys were chemistry sets, rocket motors, model aircraft or an encyclopedia set. And, of course, my favorite television show was Star Trek.

When I began taking engineering courses, I appreciated the laws and methods of engineering, but what really excited me was the incredible beauty of engineering. This recognition allowed me to see that brilliant innovations occur when engineering and design intersect; when science and the arts merge. It is an incredible intersection to witness and even better to create.

EW: Tell me about your pre-Aerion career?

TV: I worked with an incredible team of brilliant people for 31 years at Northrop Grumman. I joined Northrop in 1986 on the B-2 Stealth aircraft while attending the University of Southern California pursuing my aerospace engineering degree. I learned so much from so many wonderful mentors, technologists and scientists. I would become the president of Northrop Grumman’s Aerospace Systems sector – 23,000 employees pushing the state-of-the-art in space exploration observatories, military and civil satellites, trusted cognitive autonomy, advanced stealth and intelligence aircraft, directed energy, hypersonics and advanced microelectronics. Our Scaled Composites team in Mojave, CA designed SpaceShip One and Two, paving the way for private suborbital space access and built the world’s largest wingspan aircraft.

Aerion

EW: Describe the genesis of the Aerion aircraft: Why this product at this time?

TV: Last year, humanity spent about 12 billion hours on airplanes and the time spent on aircraft is expected to double by 2040. Yet, commercial air travel is slower today than it was in 1958 with the introduction of the Boeing 707. And in the general aviation market, where the customers buy private aviation explicitly to save time, the product itself, the aircraft, has only had a 10% increase in speed over the nearly 60 years of existence.

We had a brief history of supersonic travel with the Concorde, however that aircraft was too loud, the emissions were too high, and it was too short on range: in the end only 14 aircraft were delivered to customers. And, on environmental sustainability – the aviation industry’s long-term objective to reduce carbon emissions by half of 2005 levels by 2050 is not enough. We can and must do more.

Throughout history – when the right questions were asked – incredible breakthroughs advanced our society. Questions based on first principles have a way of focusing humanity’s in- genuity and creativity on solving hard problems. So, as we think about how humanity will travel around the world in the future, it is critical that we ask the right questions once again.

I don’t think the right question is “should we slow down or even stop traveling” especially stop traveling by air. Global mobility allows us to connect, to explore, to learn and become compassionate.

I think the better question to ask is, “it possible to travel at supersonic speeds while being kind to our planet?” This question forces us to revolutionize global mobility by inventing the next generation of high-speed global transportation networks.

Our very first product, the AS2, will fly at 1,000 mph. We’ve designed the AS2 with the most powerful technologies and tools available anywhere; technologies and tools we have been developing over the last 16 years. The AS2 will not only be the first supersonic in nearly 60 years, it will be the most advanced supersonic aircraft in history, powered by synthetic fuels and the first aircraft designed to be net carbon-neutral in history.

EW: Give us the highlights of its development from conception to present??

TV: Last year, humanity spent about 12 billion hours on airplanes and the time spent on aircraft is expected to double by 2040. Yet, commercial air travel is slower today than it was in 1958 with the introduction of the Boeing 707. And in the general aviation market, where the customers buy private aviation explicitly to save time, the product itself, the aircraft, has only had a 10% increase in speed over the nearly 60 years of existence.

We had a brief history of supersonic travel with the Concorde, however that aircraft was too loud, the emissions were too high, and it was too short on range: in the end only 14 aircraft were delivered to customers. And, on environmental sustainability – the aviation industry’s long-term objective to reduce carbon emissions by half of 2005 levels by 2050 is not enough. We can and must do more.

Throughout history – when the right questions were asked – incredible breakthroughs advanced our society. Questions based on first principles have a way of focusing humanity’s in- genuity and creativity on solving hard problems. So, as we think about how humanity will travel around the world in the future, it is critical that we ask the right questions once again.

I don’t think the right question is “should we slow down or even stop traveling” especially stop traveling by air. Global mobility allows us to connect, to explore, to learn and become compassionate.

I think the better question to ask is, “it possible to travel at supersonic speeds while being kind to our planet?” This question forces us to revolutionize global mobility by inventing the next generation of high-speed global transportation networks.

Our very first product, the AS2, will fly at 1,000 mph. We’ve designed the AS2 with the most powerful technologies and tools available anywhere; technologies and tools we have been developing over the last 16 years. The AS2 will not only be the first supersonic in nearly 60 years, it will be the most advanced supersonic aircraft in history, powered by synthetic fuels and the first aircraft designed to be net carbon-neutral in history.

EW: What was the attraction of the Space Coast and MLB (personal/professional)?

TV: For Aerion, we conducted an extensive two-year study, considering several potential sites for our future home. Melbourne Florida emerged as the clear choice for our company to build Aerion Park. The state of Florida and the City of Melbourne offer an excellent educational system, a significant engineering and manufacturing talent pool, the right business climate with global access, the unique attributes of the Orlando Melbourne International Airport and a truly unique aerospace and aviation cluster of innovative technology companies. We are excited to be in Melbourne and build the future of supersonic here.

Melbourne is just a wonderful community for our employees. A great place to raise a family. It has incredible schools. Kim, my wife, and my daughters and I have called Melbourne home for over a decade. We love this special place.

EW: How would you describe the culture and spirit of the company you are building?

TV: We are a team that believe we will change the world. Aerion is a really exciting place. We have a start-up mindset, but with decades of experience and research underneath us. We are a team of passionate entrepreneurs, collaborative innovators and courageous creative engineers, bonded by unwavering integrity, and driven to build the next generation of global transportation networks – networks that significantly reduce the time and friction of travel while leaving no carbon footprint behind.

EW: You speak of global transportation networks, that what you are creating isn’t just an executive jet company, but the future of commercial jet aviation. Is that correct? Where do you see Aerion in 20 years?

TV: We will disrupt every segment of aviation and ultimately serve all of humanity. We want to connect the world and bring people closer. We believe we can create a more vibrant and com- passionate world when we remove the barriers of distance and time. Our mission is to build a future where humanity can travel between any two points on our planet within three hours. Where the experience of travel is incredible.

I actually see Aerion in the future through the lens of what we will enable our customers to do differently. In 20 years, when you want to travel from your office or home say in Los Angeles, and you want to have dinner with colleagues or family in Tokyo, through Aerion Connect, we will pick you up at your home or office and safely transport you to the restaurant in Tokyo in three hours – and every element of the bespoke experience will be absolutely incredible. We will be the future of global mobility.

EW: What part of this project have you, and are you, enjoying the most?

TV: Without hesitation, the most enjoyable aspect of my job is working with the Aerion Family. They are truly the most amazing people in the world.

Eric Wright
President of Publishing at | Website

Eric Wright is an innovative leader, dynamic speaker and published author. He turns complex principles into simple and practical life applications. For over 25 years, Eric has taught leadership and management seminars on four continents, served on various economic development and visioning councils, and authored hundreds of published articles and three books.

As President of Publishing at SpaceCoast Magazines, Eric oversees the production of business and lifestyle journals, along with numerous specialty publications. Through these journals, Eric offers entrepreneurs and business leaders a trusted voice connecting communities across Florida and the US.

Eric and his wife, Susan, live in Indialantic, Florida, and have three married sons and four grandchildren.