NASA’s Supersonic Jet to Fly in Three Years

The X-59 QueSST aircraft would set off a quiet thump instead of a loud sonic boom—making commercial supersonic flight possible again.

NASA’s experimental X-59 Quiet Supersonic Technology (QueSST) aircraft is expected to take its first flight in just three years.

The agency committed to the timeline after a thorough review of the aircraft’s preliminary design concept. When built, the X-59 will be NASA’s first piloted, full-scale X-plane in over 30 years.

The Concorde, built in the 1970s, triggered its last sonic boom in 2003 when it was retired. The U.S. banned supersonic flight over land because of the noise disruption caused by the Concorde’s sonic boom—one of the principal factors in the famous jet’s demise.

The X-59 will attempt to beat the boom that grounded the Concorde with a distinctive design. Its long nose and highly swept wings are intended to reduce the impact of the sonic boom by creating weaker shockwaves when the aircraft breaks the sound barrier, reducing the noise it produces.

The original design was created using computer models, but now a real-life version will be built by Lockheed Martin in partnership with NASA. The plane would cruise at 55,000 feet at a speed of about 940 miles per hour, with a sonic boom as loud as a car door closing.

Smoke and Lasers: Dynamic testing of the X-59 QueSST.

Once built, the X-plane will undergo rigorous testing to determine its performance. Then the X-59 will fly over a number of communities in the U.S., where the public will be asked to evaluate how disruptive its quiet “sonic thump” is.

If all goes according to plan, regulators could use the data to change the rules for commercial supersonic flight—perhaps even lifting the ban over land entirely. This would mean that, eventually, a long-haul flight between distant cities could be achieved in half the time—fulfilling the promise of the Concorde.

“This aircraft has the potential to transform aviation in the United States and around the world by making faster-than-sound air travel over land possible for everyone,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “We can’t wait to see this bird fly!”

Read more about the quest to bring back supersonic travel at Spike Aviation to Produce Supersonic Passenger Jet by 2023.