New Supersonic X-59 Aircraft Revealed By NASA

NASA and Lockheed Martin have unveiled their new X-59 Supersonic aircraft aimed at revolutionising air travel with a quieter sonic boom.

NASA and Lockheed Martin have officially celebrated the formal debut of the X-59 quiet supersonic aircraft.

The X-59 is an experimental aircraft with the mission to gather data to revolutionise air travel eventually.

If data is deemed suitable and the demonstration phase goes well, a new generation of commercial aircraft per NASA could arrive. This aircraft would see speeds exceed the speed of sound, marking a long-awaited return to faster travel.

Making Supersonic Flight Possible Again

The X-59, as it has been labelled, directly relates to NASA’s Quesst mission. This mission focuses on providing data to key regulators to help them reconsider the rules that prohibit supersonic flight over land.

These restrictions have been in place for 50 years within the United States and extend to other nations. Around the world, these nations share a common opinion that supersonic flight causes disturbance to those communities within range.

The X-59, however, is expected to fly at 1.4 times the speed of sound, equating to 925 mp/h. However, its design is where the real magic comes into play, with the aircraft looking to achieve such speeds more quietly.

Comments From Executives

It’s thrilling to consider the level of ambition behind Quesst and its potential benefits. NASA will share the data and technology we generate from this one-of-a-kind mission with regulators and with industry. By demonstrating the possibility of quiet commercial supersonic travel over land, we seek to open new commercial markets for U.S. companies and benefit travelers around the world.

Bob Pearce, associate administrator for aeronautics research at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Looking Ahead

With a rollout completed, the X-59 will enter the next era with an ambition to move towards a first flight eventually. Before that can begin, integration system testing will occur alongside engine runs and critical taxi testing.

NASA projects a first flight to take place later this year, which, if all goes well, will be followed by the first quiet supersonic flight. Skunk Works is where the Quesst team will conduct several aircraft flight tests.

After these tests, the aircraft will be transferred to NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California.

An Exciting Future

Once initial flight tests are also completed, NASA says they’ll fly the aircraft over cities across the United States. However, those cities are yet to be selected.

Through these flights, it’ll be pivotal for NASA and the associated teams to determine the sound the X-59 generates and how the public perceives it, especially with the X-59 having a quieter boom.

The X-59

The X-59 is what NASA describes as not a prototype but rather an experimental plane. The plane comes in at 99.7 feet long and with a width of 29.5 feet.

NASA X-59 Quiet Supersonic Research Aircraft

A third of the length of the aircraft comes from the tapered nose. This part of the aircraft has been built purposefully to break up the shock waves that would typically result in a sonic boom.

Interestingly, the cockpit is thus located much further back from the nose of the aircraft. NASA says this is situated about halfway down the plane, and there’s no forward-facing window.

As part of a commitment to the next generation of technology, the team at Quesst have developed a vision system. This sees a series of high-resolution cameras feeding a 4K monitor in the cockpit.

NASA hopes that with this aircraft and all its new technologies, they’ll be able to better inform the public about what the next era of flight could look like.

The engine is also mounted on top rather than on the wings. A decision was made after much deliberation. However, it became evident that this placement would enable a smooth underside. This smooth underside would once again prevent shockwaves from merging behind the aircraft.

Daniel Fowkes
15 Jan 2024
· Aircraft 

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