WASHINGTON — A presidential advisory panel recommended Monday that the United States lay the groundwork for possible development of a new generation of supersonic aircraft faster than any commercial plane now in the air.
"Potential advances in technology could make virtually all of today's operational civil and military aircraft obsolete before the end of the century," said presidential science adviser George A. Keyworth II.
Keyworth, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said the government has made no commitment to supporting a new supersonic transport. But he urged that government and private research be focused on technology that could produce an efficient long-range plane that could compete with the British-French Concorde.
Keyworth made his comments at the National Press Club, where he released a report from the Aeronautical Policy Review Committee proposing national goals for research and development of future civil and military aircraft.
Space Shuttle Research
In addition to supersonic technology, the 16-member committee, which represents industry, government and academia, said the nation should concentrate its research on a next generation of the space shuttle that could use conventional runways, maneuver at the fringe of the atmosphere and ascend into space orbit with little additional effort.
And it said the government should strive to develop affordable and quieter subsonic civilian and military aircraft with increased fuel efficiency and access to smaller airports.
In the supersonic area, Keyworth said, technological improvements in aerodynamics, engine efficiency, noise abatement and lightweight materials could lead to an aircraft carrying 600 passengers at speeds of nearly 2,500 m.p.h., for distances of 5,500 miles and with three times the fuel efficiency of current supersonic aircraft.
"Although this Administration has made no commitment to a supersonic transport, we are laying the groundwork . . . in the fundamental technologies essential for any future efforts in supersonic flight," he said.
Travel to Far East
The report noted that in addition to advances in technology, U.S. trade with the Pacific community has grown more than 75% in the past six years, increasing the need for fast, long-range transportation. New technologies could help make the United States and East Asia only five travel hours apart, the report said.
With these developments, Keyworth added, "the supersonic transport could be commercially attractive today and highly competitive."
He also defended this nation's decision to end its supersonic transport program in 1971, saying that "technology available at that time could not support a commercially viable venture. . . . I think we took the right step then, and I think we're proposing to develop the means to take the right step in the future."
U.S. Advantage Slipping
Keyworth noted that while aircraft technology has been moving extremely rapidly in recent years, the margin of U.S. technological advantage has narrowed dramatically.
"In light of the growing foreign competition in aviation, as well as the very real constraints on resources available for research and development, we have to make certain that our research objectives are visionary and reach out to long-range, high-payoff areas," he said.
Keyworth also applauded the meshing of military and commercial technology and encouraged a close linkage between the nation's universities and private industry as well as cooperative efforts and joint ventures between companies.