NASA tests 4K cockpit screen to replace X-59 supersonic jet's window

NASA's X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology aircraft may be futuristic in more ways than one. In addition to offering supersonic travel without the loud booms typical to these aircraft, the X-59 may also swap out the cockpit window in favor of a large 4K display. The screen would overcome the issue presented by the plane's design, which reduces visibility out of a traditional cockpit window.

NASA called its X-59 aircraft QueSST, noting that it is designed to offer supersonic travel speeds while only producing a quiet "thump" sound audible to those on the ground below. Such developments may lead to changes in laws that restrict where supersonic aircraft can be operated, the restriction based on the loud booming noises typically produced with this technology.

In order to design the X-59 to produce quiet noises, the aircraft has a unique shape, including an elongated nose. The nose design means the cockpit is positioned low in the body — and that's a problem because there's no room for a traditional cockpit window. To get around this, experts developed the eXternal Vision System, a 4K monitor that is substituted in place of the window.

Pilots will be able to use the screen to see the runway and objects in the flight path despite the jet's unique design. The screen is also augmented with overlayed details that provide key data and will help the pilots with tasks like takeoff and landing. NASA used its Beechcraft King Air UC-12B for in-flight testing of the 4K tech.

Other tests have also been conducted, including ones involving vibrations to make sure the display system can handle the aircraft's vibration levels. The testing allows the teams behind the aircraft and its systems to make any necessary adjustments, including mitigating any circumstances in which a component may fail, putting the operator at risk.