Supersonic Passenger Jet Travel Closer to Reality With NASA Milestone

Illustration of NASA’s planned Low Boom Flight Demonstration aircraft as outlined during the project’s Preliminary Design Review last week. Photo: NASA / Lockheed Martin.

Illustration of NASA’s planned Low Boom Flight Demonstration aircraft as outlined during the project’s preliminary design review. Photo courtesy of NASA / Lockheed Martin

NASA has achieved a significant milestone in its effort to make supersonic passenger jet travel over land a real possibility by completing the preliminary design review of its Quiet Supersonic Transport, or QueSST, aircraft design. QueSST is the initial design stage of NASA’s planned Low Boom Flight Demonstration experimental airplane, otherwise known as an X-plane.

Senior experts and engineers from across the agency and lead contractor Lockheed Martin concluded Friday that the QueSST design is capable of fulfilling the piloted, single-engine aircraft’s mission objectives, which are to fly at supersonic speeds, but create a soft “thump” instead of the disruptive sonic boom associated with supersonic flight today. The X-plane will be flown over communities to collect data necessary for regulators to enable supersonic flight over land in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world.

NASA partnered with Lockheed Martin in February 2016 for the preliminary design. Last month, a scale model of the design completed testing in the 8-foot-by 6-foot supersonic wind tunnel at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio.

“Managing a project like this is all about moving from one milestone to the next,” said David Richwine, manager for the preliminary design effort under NASA’s Commercial Supersonic Technology Project. “Our strong partnership with Lockheed Martin helped get us to this point. We’re now one step closer to building an actual X-plane.”

After the success of completing the design review, NASA’s project team can start the process of soliciting proposals later this year and of awarding a contract early next year to build the X-plane. The acquisition for the contract will be fully open and competitive, with the QueSST preliminary design data being made available to qualified bidders. Flight testing could begin as early as 2021.

Over the next few months, NASA will work with Lockheed on finalizing the preliminary design effort. This includes a static inlet performance test and a low-speed wind tunnel test at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

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