Glasnost in the Jetstream

October 14, 1990

Politics always could make strange bedfellows, but the realpolitik of Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika has just produced the lulu of all pairings. It surfaced, er, rolled out, in mockup form at Great Britain's Farnsborough Air Show. Soviet aircraft builder Sukhoi, best known for the supersonic fighters used in Afghanistan, wants to market a supersonic business jet, developed in partnership with -- gasp -- Gulfstream Aerospace, American builder of $25-million-a-pop private jets.

The project, the first joint aviation venture between U.S. and Soviet partners, would produce a craft that could carry 15 or 20 high-rollers in luxurious comfort at Mach 2, about 1,500 mph. Skeptics questioned whether anyone would pay the $50 million each is expected to cost, but then, nobody thought Gulfstream would walk away with many orders for its $25-million products, either. The firm delivered 41 such corporate playthings last year.

Some other players, notably Rolls Royce, have signed onto the ** team, linking with the Soviet Lyulka Design Bureau to build the engines. So it's definitely a serious effort.

Will it fly? We don't know, tovarisch. Major hurdles remain, not least of them Western qualms about technology transfer, especially for the cockpit electronics, engine design and wing materials. The Soviets agreed to shell out most of the $1 billion development costs and to do most of the design work, allaying some fears.

Now if only Malcolm Forbes were still around to buy one. He'd get on "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous Comrades" and make it the trend item of the year. Donald Trump, are you listening? Or won't the bankruptcy court let you?

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