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July 24, 2024

NASA Unveils Revolutionary X-59 Supersonic Jet

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Jan 16, 2024

NASA recently unveiled its highly anticipated X-59 “Quiet Supersonic Technology” (QueSST) experimental aircraft in collaboration with aerospace leader Lockheed Martin. This sleek jet aims to reduce sonic booms to gentle thumps and enable ultrafast point-to-point travel well beyond the speed of sound.

A New Era of Supersonic Travel

For decades, civilian supersonic travel has been extremely limited due to the thunderous sonic booms produced when aircraft break the sound barrier. The iconic Concorde supersonic jet flew transatlantic routes in the late 20th century, but its ear-piercing booms restricted it from flying over land. NASA’s X-59 seeks to overcome this obstacle through a specially-shaped airframe designed to prevent pressure waves from coalescing into loud booms.

During an unveiling event at Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works advanced development facility, NASA Administrator Pam Melroy declared that the X-59 signifies “a new era of aviation is opening up.” Melroy highlighted how supersonic speeds could shrink travel times and unlock new route possibilities.

The 94-foot-long X-59 features a highly refined wing and fuselage shape to redirect sonic shockwaves above the aircraft. This shaping results in a muted “heartbeat” thump reaching observers on the ground. Extensive computer simulations indicate the thumps should be barely perceptible to most people.

Prime Objectives

The X-59 has three main objectives for NASA’s Commercial Supersonic Technology project:

  • Demonstrate quiet supersonic flight and gather community response data on the acceptability of the gentle sonic thumps
  • Validate design tools and methods for predicting quiet sonic boom levels
  • Establish an aviation certification basis for future supersonic airliners

By achieving these goals, NASA intends to catalyze a commercial supersonic renaissance, opening up faster and more direct travel options globally.

From Wind Tunnel Tests to First Flight

Creating an aircraft that can cruise at speeds over Mach 1 yet produce gentle sonic thumps has presented numerous design challenges for NASA engineers.

Lockheed Martin was awarded a $247 million contract in 2018 to build the X-59. Over 100 sensors have been embedded within the experimental jet to carefully measure its acceleration and maneuvering through all phases of flight. The aircraft’s maiden voyage is slated for summer 2024 out of NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California.

Several scale models were tested in wind tunnels to collect aerodynamic data and validate computer modeling approaches. Additionally, room-sized simulations visualized how shockwaves would emanate from the X-59’s airframe.

Veteran Air Force test pilot Nils Larson will conduct the initial test regimen once the X-59 becomes airborne. Larson brings decades of flight experience ranging from the F-16 to cutting-edge unmanned vehicles.

Community Response Critical

A major aspect of the X-59 flight campaign focuses on gauging public perceptions of the quiet sonic thumps. The aircraft will produce thumps over several US towns in 2025 after its aerodynamic performance has been fully checked out.

Detailed surveys will capture residents’ reactions to the thumps based on loudness, annoyance levels, and potential impacts to structures. Microphones distributed across the towns will precisely correlate thump intensity to survey responses.

The community response data is vital for changing longstanding regulations that prohibit supersonic flight over land. If the X-59’s thumps prove adequately quiet, new sound-based rules could enable routes between supersonic hubs. Hawaii to Los Angeles or New York to London might take just 3-4 hours onboard future commercial vehicles.

additional coverage

While the X-59 hit headlines this week for its completion and upcoming flight trials, NASA and Lockheed have been publicizing their progress for years. Back in 2018, they touted how quiet supersonic abilities could connect faraway cities and revolutionize business travel. Positive reactions helped secure funding from Congress and aviation industry partners like Japan Airlines.

Last March, NASA conducted a livestream tour of their X-59 assembly facility, showcasing its unusual layered windowless cockpit design. The transparency-free canopy minimizes weight and disturbances to the finely tuned exterior airflow. Views for the pilot rely completely on external cameras and displays.

The X-59 required pushing the limits of computer analysis, modeling, and simulation to correctly predict its sonic boom levels. Verification data captured by the aircraft’s sensor suite will further improve these tools for Follow-on supersonic vehicles.

X-59 Quick Facts
First Flight: Summer 2024
Top Speed: Mach 1.4
Length: 94 ft
Wingspan: 29.5 ft
Volume: equivalent to medium-sized business jet
Exterior Sensors: 100+
Test Pilot: Nils Larson
Primary Base: NASA Armstrong Center, CA

The X-59 showcases American aviation innovation through its highly refined shape and sensor-rich data gathering capabilities. While many experimental vehicles never progress beyond NASA, the X-59 was explicitly created to blaze a trail for commercial supersonic flight. If all goes according to plan, quiet supersonic jets could see rising adoption within a decade. That would deliver greater convenience through reduced travel times as well as stimulating growth and connectivity across regions.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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