Lockheed Martin working on whisper-quiet supersonic passenger jet

1 Mar 2016

An artist’s concept of a possible Low Boom Flight Demonstration Quiet Supersonic Transport (QueSST) X-plane design. Image via Lockheed Martin

The Concorde is but a distant memory these days, but NASA could return a supersonic passenger jet to our skies that is not only incredibly fast, but incredibly silent, too.

Since the demise of the Concorde supersonic jet in the early 2000s, aircraft design has focused on making traditional jet engines more efficient, at the cost of being able to achieve speeds faster than the speed of sound.

Or, at least, that has appeared to be the case until the recent announcement from NASA that has seen the administration award the aircraft manufacturer Lockheed Martin a lucrative contract to develop a new supersonic ‘X-plane’.

According to NASA, Lockheed Martin, from its base in California, will develop an aircraft from the preliminary design that saw it win the contract for what it is simply calling Quiet Supersonic Technology (QueSST).

After all, NASA’s original concept called for the creation of a new supersonic piloted aircraft capable of merely emitting a supersonic ‘heartbeat’, or a muffled sonic boom.

One of the biggest issues faced during the operations of the Concorde aircraft was making sure people living near the airport were not affected by the crack of the sonic boom created when the craft surpasses the speed of sound.

Supersonic jet in our skies in the 2020s

With $20m in funding made available by NASA, Lockheed Martin will begin working on a preliminary aircraft design, with specifications, and provide supporting documentation for concept formulation and planning before it can begin creating a test model.

Both NASA and Lockheed Martin foresee the design-and-build process taking approximately seven years to complete, with hopes of a commercial model being ready sometime in the 2020s.

“NASA is working hard to make flight greener, safer and quieter – all while developing aircraft that travel faster, and building an aviation system that operates more efficiently,” said NASA’s administrator, Charles Bolden.

“To that end, it’s worth noting that it’s been almost 70 years since Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in the Bell X-1 as part of our predecessor agency’s high-speed research.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic