NASA to build 'experimental' supersonic X-plane without sonic boom

NASA's slick X Plane graphic

NASA's slick X Plane

Under this contract, Lockheed Martin will Skunk Works will build a full-scale experimental aircraft, known as an X-plane, of its preliminary design developed under NASA's Quiet Supersonic Technology (QueSST) effort.

Peter Iosifidis, program manager for the Low-Boom Flight Demonstrator at Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, said he is honored to continue working on supersonic travel with NASA.

"It is super exciting to be back designing and flying X-planes at this scale", Jaiwon Shin, associate administrator for aeronautics at NASA, said, referencing the series of supersonic research planes produced by Bell Aircraft starting in the mid-1940s.

The Federal Aviation Administration now does not allow supersonic flights over land, because of the environmental effects of flying at speeds quicker than sound.

But it will use the latest in supersonic technologies to reduce the window-shaking sonic boom to a thump equivalent to the noise of vehicle door closing.

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The answer to how the X-plane's design makes a quiet sonic boom is in the way its uniquely-shaped hull generates supersonic shockwaves.

NASA and Lockheed said the plane, a so-called low-boom flight demonstrator, will aim to provide regulators with useful data to inform their decision-making as they consider implementing new rules regarding supersonic flights.

NASA has been looking at the idea since it was first theorized in the 1960s and tested it successfully in 2003-04 on an F-5E fighter with a modified nose. The last commercial supersonic flight, Concorde, could travel from London to NY in less than three and a half hours, cruising at speeds of around 1,350 mph.

The X-plane's arrangement relies upon a preparatory outline.

While many parts of NASA's budget have been reduced in the wake of Donald Trump's ascension to the highest office in the land, it was recently announced that work on supersonic flight will continue.

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NASA has awarded a contract for the design, building and testing of a supersonic aircraft that reduces a sonic boom to a gentle thump. This would mean reaching speeds of about 940mph while only making enough sound to seem like a vehicle door was closing at around 50,000 feet in the air.

X-Plane will be created by late 2021 and will be tested over the USA airspace to prove whether supersonic flying works properly and is safe or not.

For decades, supersonic flight has been possible thanks to planes that were specifically created to reach speeds that exceed that of sound.

The bone-rattling boom of supersonic aircraft has severely limited their commercial viability.

Those regulation changes, according to NASA, would allow commercial flights to bring faster-than-sound travel to passengers and cargo.

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