The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) recently approved the stalled “X Planes” program by awarding a contract for preliminary design of a “low boom” supersonic passenger jet aircraft.
According to a recent post put up on NASA’s website, this is the first in a series of ‘X-planes’ in NASA's New Aviation Horizons initiative, introduced in the agency’s fiscal year 2017 budget.
The agency’s administrator Charles Bolden made the announcement at an event held at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on Monday.
“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 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. Now we’re continuing that supersonic X-plane legacy with this preliminary design award for a quieter supersonic jet with an aim toward passenger flight,” he added.
The preliminary design for Quiet Supersonic Technology (QUESST) will be conducted by a team selected by NASA, and headed by Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company of Palmdale.
After conducting a series of feasibility studies and tests to better understand acceptable sound levels across the country, the agency’s Commercial Supersonic Technology project wing asked numerous industry teams to come up with design concepts for a piloted test aircraft that can fly at supersonic speeds, creating only a “supersonic heartbeat”.
“Developing, building and flight testing a quiet supersonic X-plane is the next logical step in our path to enabling the industry's decision to open supersonic travel for the flying public," said Jaiwon Shin, associate administrator for NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission.
For the project, Lockheed Martin will be receiving approximately $20 million over the next 17 months for QueSST’s initial design work.
“The company will develop baseline aircraft requirements and a preliminary aircraft design, with specifications, and provide supporting documentation for concept formulation and planning,” said NASA.
This documentation will later be utilized later for testing and building the QueSST jet. The performance of the preliminary design will go through analytical and wind tunnel validation.
NASA’s decade-long New Aviation’s Horizons initiative aims to reduce fuel consumption, emissions, and noise through new innovations in aircraft design, which is totally different from conventional “tube-and-wing” aircraft shapes.
The X-Planes will be about half the size of a commercial aircraft, and are likely to be piloted. NASA said that designing and building the ultra-modern jet would take several years and they will start test flights by 2020, depending on the funding.