NASA Awards Contract for New Supersonic Passenger X-Plane

Lockheed Martin receives contract for low-noise technology prototype.

Concept image for a low boom supersonic aircraft. (Image courtesy of NASA.)

Concept image for a low boom supersonic aircraft. (Image courtesy of NASA.)

Many of us probably had “Take a Flight on the Concorde” on our bucket lists before the aircraft line was retired in 2003. Since then, travel at supersonic speeds has been almost entirely reserved for space explorers and military personnel.

Now, NASA’s Commercial Supersonic Technology Project is aiming to bring supersonic flight back to public air travel.

 

A Sonic Thump Instead of a Boom

NASA has awarded a design contract for a “low boom” supersonic flight demonstration aircraft. This is the first in a series of ‘X-planes’ in NASA’s New Aviation Horizons initiative.

After conducting feasibility studies and gaining a better understanding of acceptable sound levels across the country, NASA asked aerospace industry teams to submit design concepts for a piloted test aircraft.

The idea is to design an aircraft that would create the soft thump of a supersonic “heartbeat” rather than the typical Earth-shattering kaboom.

 

Developing a Supersonic Passenger Aircraft

NASA selected a team led by Lockheed Martin to complete the preliminary design for what it’s calling Quiet Supersonic Technology, or QueSST. This is the latest in NASA’s perpetual assault on the sanctity of acronyms.

Lockheed Martin will receive $20 million over 17 months for QueSST preliminary design work. The company will develop baseline aircraft requirements as well as a preliminary aircraft design and provide the supporting documentation to NASA for concept formulation and planning.

Lockheed Martin's concept for a low boom supersonic aircraft. (Image courtesy of NASA.)

Lockheed Martin’s concept for a low boom supersonic aircraft. (Image courtesy of NASA.)

That documentation will then be used to prepare for the detailed design, building and testing of a QueSST jet.

The resulting jet’s Low Boom Flight Demonstration (LBFD) will also include “validation of community response to the quieter supersonic design,” which is NASA’s way of saying that supersonic testing may be coming to airspace near you.

 

NASA’s X-Planes: Coming Soon

“It’s been almost 70 years since Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in the Bell X-1 as part of our predecessor agency’s high speed research,” said NASA administrator Charles Bolden. “Now we’re continuing that supersonic X-plane legacy with this preliminary design award for a quieter supersonic jet with an aim toward passenger flight.”

“Developing, building and flight testing a quiet supersonic X-plane is the next logical step in our path to enabling the industry’s decision to open supersonic travel for the flying public,” added Jaiwon Shin, associate administrator for NASA’s aeronautics research mission.

Concept image of a low boom supersonic aircraft. (Image courtesy of NASA.)

Concept image of a low boom supersonic aircraft. (Image courtesy of NASA.)

According to NASA, New Aviation Horizons X-planes will typically be about half the scale of a production aircraft and likely are to be piloted. Design-and-build will take several years with aircraft starting their flight campaign around 2020, depending on funding.

For more information, visit the NASA aeronautics website.