New supersonic corridor allows for faster-than-sound flight across Kansas

Gov. Laura Kelly 's Commission on Racial Equity and Justice released a set of 60 recommendations for state agencies, local government and state legislature focused on law enforcement and criminal justice. (Noah Taborda/ Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Kansas and the Federal Aviation Administration have reached an agreement to establish the Kansas Supersonic Transportation Corridor, allowing testing for non-military aircraft exceeding the speed of sound.

The corridor is a 770-nautical-mile — about 886 standard miles — racetrack-shaped corridor, above 39,000 feet and runs the length of the state, starting just north of the border of Kansas and Oklahoma. It will support sustained flight up to Mach 3, or just more than 2,300 mph.

Gov. Laura Kelly said Thursday the new corridor would cement Kansas as a leader in the aviation industry.

“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,” Kelly said.

The collaborative effort by the Kansas Department of Transportation, NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration and other agencies will provide the necessary airspace for major aviation innovators to test aircraft design. Research and data conducted in Kansas also could inform FAA policy in the future.

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, who aided in the coordination of these efforts, said industry forecast indicates a market for as many as 300 supersonic aircraft over the next decade. That could represent up to $40 billion in revenue.

“This 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.

The corridor is the first and only commercial supersonic flight test route in the nation’s interior, providing Kansas with a unique logistical advantage, said Bob Brock, director of aviation for KDOT. He said this could attract major aviation innovators like Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

Jim Bridenstine, administrator of NASA, said his agency has been working with the industry to build a “low-boom” or “no-boom” supersonic aircraft.

“I’m really excited about quiet supersonic technology and its ability to be transformative for our flight and our economy,” Bridenstine said.

KDOT has partnered with Wichita State University’s National Institute of Aviation Research, or NIAR, to collect noise data and live telemetry for use by both the FAA and aircraft manufacturers.

Research collected from the corridor could influence the FAA’s efforts to modernize the procedure for requesting special authorization to operate at supersonic speeds over the United States.

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