NASA's Quiet Supersonic X-Plane Name Revealed Ahead Of Noise Tests

NASA is gearing up for its supersonic jet tests over Galveston, Texas, that will test the public perception of noise generated by the flights. As we previously reported, the space agency has recruited hundreds of people in the Texan community as volunteers who will report their perception of noise generated by NASA's tests. They'll be joined by audio sensors placed throughout the city.

Initial tests involving sound perception happened over the Edwards Air Force Base in California, where the community was surveyed on their perception of the noise generated by the tests. NASA plans to expand beyond this, though, instead quizzing a city full of people who aren't used to regularly hearing loud aircraft. That's where Galveston comes in.

NASA says it has recruited a minimum of 500 volunteers who will submit their feedback on the tests' noise level via a website the space agency has set up. These volunteers will report how much noise they heard during the tests...assuming they hear anything at all. This info will be compared with noise data gathered by sensors on the ground, helping researchers understand how the general public perceives noise from supersonic aircraft.

During previous tests, NASA's research pilot used an F/A-10 aircraft which, at a point during the flight, exceeded Mach 1 speeds, producing shockwaves that resulted in loud BOOM-BOOM noises. However, the space agency details a special maneuver during the flight that resulted in quieter noises, ones it describes as being more like "soft thumps" than "booms."

The tests in Galveston aims to determine how well the public notices these softer sounds, including whether they notice them at all. NASA plans to start the tests in November of this year.

NASA plans more tests in the future involving quieter supersonic flights over residential areas. There'll eventually be a key difference, though, and it's Lockheed Martin's X-59 "QueSST", which is designed to produce quieter sonic thumps rather than the loud booming sounds from the F/A-18.

According to the space agency, which until now has simply called it the X-plane, the X-59 has a shape that prevents the shockwaves from coalescing, the act that produces the loud booms. These tests are expected to start in 2023; the communities haven't been revealed yet.

The quiet supersonic technology may open the door for supersonic flights over land, something that was banned years ago due to the noise level produced. The tests will help demonstrate to lawmakers the quieter technology's suitability for over-land use. This, in turn, may open the door for commercial use of supersonic aircraft, cutting down flight time.