NASA and Lockheed Unveil X-59, the ‘Quiet Supersonic’ Jet

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NASA has unveiled a quiet supersonic aircraft as part of its plan to achieve commercial supersonic flight. Launched in conjunction with the Lockheed Martin Skunk Project in Palmdale, California, the X-59 is an experimental aircraft capable of flying at 1.4 times the speed of sound, or approximately 1,488 km/h.

The 99.7-foot-long (30.4 meters), 29.5-foot-wide aircraft stands out for its unique features, including a slender nose that spans nearly a third of its length. This design is designed to absorb the shock waves that often cause noise around a supersonic jet. To improve supersonic potential, the cockpit was placed almost half its length, eliminating the windshields found in conventional aircraft.

Nasa unveils quiet supersonic aircraft in effort to revive commercial flights | Nasa | The Guardian

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NASA Associate Administrator Pam Melroy explained at the start of the event that the absence of windshields was a decision taken to reduce noise and improve aviation technology. He talked about external visibility, using a high-resolution camera to provide an ultra-high-resolution view to compensate for the limited visibility in the cockpit.

The X-59 also features a mechanical top and smooth base to prevent shock and reduce sonic booms. The aircraft is scheduled to make its maiden flight later this year, following its first silent supersonic flight. After completing flight testing, the X-59 will fly over cities in the United States to collect feedback on noise.

For the last 50 years, the United States has banned commercial supersonic ground travel due to concerns about explosive sonic booms. Bob Pearce, NASA’s deputy administrator for space exploration, said the ban was limited, citing his role in gathering information on verifying the sonic noise created by X-59. The goal is to present this information to U.S. and international regulators with a view to lifting the ban.

Lockheed Martin’s X-59 service manager David Richardson said taxi tests of the X-59 should begin in the spring or early summer. Funded by NASA in 2018 with $248 million in funding, the X-59 represents a major step forward in space technology that has the potential to revolutionize the future of military and civilian air travel operations.