NASA to design ‘superquiet’ supersonic passenger jet, test flights could begin as early as 2020

The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has finally awarded a contract to design a “low-boom” supersonic passenger plane that will take people places with an unimaginable speed. This is the first in a series of “X-planes” in NASA‘s New Aviation Horizons initiative, introduced in the agency’s fiscal year 2017 budget.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden announced the award at an event Monday at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia.

The agency has contracted Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company of Palmdale, California to further develop the preliminary design of the aircraft, which they are referring as Quiet Supersonic Technology (QueSST) and create baseline requirements for the plane’s performance, carrying capacity, noise levels, and other criteria against which a prototype plane will be tested. If all goes well, a commercial flight-ready craft could be in service by 2020.

You can see an artist’s impression of QueSST below:

QueSST

If the agency’s proposed financing is approved, NASA will contribute $20 million over 17 months to the project; subcontractors include GE Aviation of Cincinnati and Tri Models Inc. of Huntington Beach, California.

“NASA is working hard to make flight greener, safer and quieter – all while developing aircraft that travel faster, and building an aviation system that operates more efficiently,” said Bolden. “To that end, it’s worth noting that 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. 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.”

The work will be performed under a task order against the Basic and Applied Aerospace Research and Technology (BAART) contract at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. After conducting feasibility studies, , NASA’s Commercial Supersonic Technology Project asked industry teams to submit design concepts for a piloted test aircraft that can fly at supersonic speeds, creating a supersonic “heartbeat” — a soft thump rather than the disruptive boom currently associated with supersonic 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,” said Jaiwon Shin, associate administrator for NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission.

The company will develop baseline aircraft requirements and a preliminary aircraft design, with specifications, and provide supporting documentation for concept formulation and planning. This documentation would be used to prepare for the detailed design, building and testing of the QueSST jet. Performance of this preliminary design also must undergo analytical and wind tunnel validation.

This Low Boom Flight Demonstration (LBFD) phase of the project in addition to design and building will also include confirmation of community response to the new, quieter supersonic design. The thorough design and building of the QueSST aircraft, conducted under the NASA Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate’s Integrated Aviation Systems Program, will fall under a future contract competition. The New Aviation Horizons X-planes will likely be piloted, designed at half-scale of a production aircraft.

NASA’s 10-year New Aviation Horizons initiative has the aspiring goals of reducing fuel use, emissions and noise through innovations in aircraft design that moves off from the conventional tube-and-wing aircraft shape.

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