NASA to ‘quietly’ test its futuristic supersonic jet sooner than you think

20 Nov 2018

Illustration of the X-59 QueSST as it flies above NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California. Image: Lockheed Martin

NASA has revealed that in the next three years, it plans to test its latest supersonic jet that’s so quiet you might not even hear it fly overhead.

For the past few years, we have been teased information on a supersonic jet in development at NASA and Lockheed Martin that could potentially reignite the supersonic jetliner industry.

Since the Concorde ceased commercial operations in 2003, no airline has touched the technology due to excessive costs and the fact that its deafening sonic boom prohibited it from flying over land.

Now, however, NASA is finally giving us a timeline for when we can expect the X-59 Quiet Supersonic Technology aircraft, with its first test flight due in three years’ time. As you can tell from the name, the new design is exponentially quieter than the supersonic jet engines of old.

‘We can’t wait to see this bird fly!’

When operational, the X-59 could cruise at more than 16,500 metres at a speed of more than 1,500kph, or more than 1.2 times the speed of sound.

NASA said that the futuristic shape of the jet is not just for show, as it also helps to reduce the effects of the sonic boom – when an aircraft breaks the sound barrier – to something closer to a gentle thump, if it’s heard at all.

“This aircraft has the potential to transform aviation in the US and around the world by making faster-than-sound air travel over land possible for everyone,” said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine. “We can’t wait to see this bird fly!”

The supersonic aircraft will be flown above a select number of communities in the state of Texas in 2021 to measure public perception of the noise, with the data being used to help regulators establish new rules for commercial supersonic air travel over land.

However, before we all get too excited about the possible return of supersonic jetliners, the space agency expects that its first full-size X-plane won’t be ready for commercial operations for at least another three decades.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic