NASA and aerospace giant Lockheed Martin building prototype for supersonic airliner
Imagine catching a flight from New York to London that only took a measly three hours. The bullet train of the skies could change the face of air travel in the not-so-distant future with a prototype for a new supersonic passenger jet now in the works.
None other than NASA has selected advanced aerospace company Lockheed Martin to design a craft capable of supersonic speeds but without the deafening sonic booms that typically come with aircraft breaking the sound barrier. The prototype, called the X-59 or Low Boom Flight Demonstrator, is designed to fly at an altitude of 55,000 ft, and at speeds of up to 940 mph.
Also dubbed the “Son of Concord,” the X-59 will be the first supersonic passenger jet since the Anglo-French airliner, the Concord, was decommissioned 15 years ago.
“The start of manufacturing on the project marks a great leap forward for the X-59 and the future of quiet supersonic commercial travel,” said Lockheed development manager Peter Iosifidis.
“As we enter into the manufacturing phase, the aircraft structure begins to take shape, bringing us one step closer to enabling supersonic travel for passengers around the world.”
Even more impressive, though, the X-59’s unique, elongated design spreads out the sonic booms, transforming it into a “sonic heartbeat,” which sounds more like a car door closing than the typical sharp cracking sound.
“We need to get that ‘boom’ away from a sharp ‘boom-boom,’ and get it down to more like a ‘thump-thump,’ or maybe even a ‘whoosh-whoosh’ sound where it might sound like a distant rumble,” stated NASA aerospace engineer Don Durston.
Having already conducted wind tunnel studies using models at NASA’s Ames Research Center, project experts hope the prototype will take off on its maiden flight in 2021. They will then begin collecting data, which will be used to establish acceptable supersonic noise standards.
Current regulations prohibit supersonic flight (any speed over Mach 1) over land areas, because the noise was considered disruptive to the public.
“It’s based on just a speed,” said NASA test pilot Nils Larson. “What we want to do is change that regulation and base it on the noise and not on just an arbitrary speed.”