NASA’s next X-plane supersonic passenger jet to be quieter

JC Torres - Mar 1, 2016
NASA’s next X-plane supersonic passenger jet to be quieter

Short of finally inventing teleportation systems, plane travel is still the fastest way to travel extremely long distances. However, it still has yet to reach its full potential. Supersonic planes were still in their infancy when the government pulled the plug because of their uncomfortable effects on people on land, the phenomenon more popularly known as Sonic Boom. That was more than half a century ago. NASA thinks that science and technology may have caught up enough to get the ball rolling again to build the world's next supersonic passenger jet, for now nicknamed the X-plane.

Supersonic flights have been banned because of the disruptive effects of sonic boom on people on land. The by-products of such a mode of travel was far too high to pay to make it a feasible future commercial enterprise. NASA thinks, however, that it is high time to visit the issue once more and try to prove that supersonic planes can be both beneficial to passengers and, at the same time, of no consequence to everyone else.

Advancements in acoustics, build materials, and technology has given NASA and its partners the confidence to push through with the project. It has awarded the contract for designing and testing the next X-plane to a team lead by Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company in California. The team also consists of GE Aviation from Cincinnati and Tri Models, also from California. The Lockheed Martin team will be given $20 million over the next 17 months to develop the preliminary design for the Quiet Supersonic Technology or QueSST. The ultimate goal is to reduce the sonic boom into a supersonic "heartbeat", producing only an almost imperceptible "thump".

That's just the first phase, however. The next phase consists of the Low Boom Flight Demonstration, which will involve an actual supersonic jet bearing the new QueSST. This phase is critical to proving that all the theory is sound and to help get the ban on supersonic flight lifted. This phase will fall under a different contract from the design phase.

The design that NASA has in mind for the X-plane will also be a bit interesting. It will be smaller than production aircraft due to cost constraints. The space agency also wants to depart from the conventional tube and wings design of an airplane to help in the aerodynamics of the jet. For now, however, all of that will remain on paper and in concepts while Lockheed Martin first works to make it even possible to have a quiet supersonic plane.