NASA Takes Big Step Towards A Quieter Supersonic Plane

Artist's impression of the new supersonic plane. NASA/Lockheed Martin

Technology for supersonic flight is nothing recent as humans have been traveling at those speeds for almost 70 years. While a few have enjoyed the speed and comfort of planes like the Concorde, many have just experienced the sonic boom and the annoyance of having such a loud machine flying overhead.

Now, NASA might have a solution. A few years ago, the agency launched an initiative for a Quiet Supersonic Transport (QueSST) aircraft design. Lockheed Martin produced the winning design and it partnered with NASA in February 2016 to produce a final version that could pass the strict criteria for Low Boom Flight Demonstration (LBFD) aircraft.

The team constructed a model and tested it in NASA’s Glenn Research Center supersonic wind tunnel. The results were excellent. The loud boom was replaced with a soft thump.

The project has now completed its preliminary design review and senior experts from the agency and Lockheed Martin have concluded that QueSST should move forward. The first objective is to finalize the design and then NASA will solicit proposals for the construction of a full-scale version of the plane, which might be flying as soon as 2021.

Supersonic planes, apart from military vehicles under exceptional circumstances, are banned over land. This design will hopefully be no louder than a commercial jet. If this turns out to be the case, commercial supersonic air travel might become the most common transport system.

"Managing a project like this is all about moving from one milestone to the next,” said David Richwine, manager for the preliminary design effort under NASA’s Commercial Supersonic Technology Project, in a statement. “Our strong partnership with Lockheed Martin helped get us to this point. We’re now one step closer to building an actual X-plane.”

The X-plane is the general nickname for the experimental aircrafts NASA is working on. The LBDF X-plane is just one of the projects NASA is designing as part of New Aviation Horizons. These experimental aircraft will test new emerging technologies to make planes safer, faster, and more environmentally friendly.

New Aviation Horizons is a 10-year plan to accelerate the transformation of aviation across the United States, and if the innovation tested by NASA does come into play, it could save the aviation industry $10 billion a year.

NASA has ambitious plans for the future of flying and they are definitely committed to making them happen.


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