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A Ferrari for the Skies

Aerion's engineers have devised a radical new design for a high-flying, luxury supersonic business jet. Now, they just need a partner to make it

The scenarios for supersonic travel are by now well-worn: Jet from New York to Los Angeles with barely time enough to finish a feature-length film, hopscotch the globe to morning, midday, and early-evening meetings on separate continents, etc. But the tangle of technological, legal, and economic factors that led to the demise of the Concorde five years ago has so far kept such itineraries grounded.

Now, Aerion, a small Reno, Nev. aeronautical engineering company, is developing the world's first supersonic business jet, the SBJ. Over the past three months the company has booked nearly $1.5 billion worth of preliminary orders for the $80 million private aircraft it says should take to the skies within the next decade. The most eager would-be customers have put down $250,000 deposits to be first in line. The innovative design, Aerion hopes, will circumvent the nest of problems that doomed the Concorde and ultimately convinced mainline commercial manufacturers Boeing (BA) and Airbus (ABOS) to focus on developing large, long-range jets rather than supersonic aircraft.