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Laying the Groundwork for a New Generation of Commercial Supersonic Aircraft

Laying the Groundwork for a New Generation of Commercial Supersonic Aircraft

Cabin crew, prepare for takeoff. Engines roar; speed increases. You sip a cold beverage as the aircraft accelerates quietly past Mach 1 or around 600 mph. There’s no indication you’re flying over land faster than the speed of sound except when you glance at your watch upon arrival and see you’ve reached your destination in half the time. You leisurely walk off the plane with ample time to explore, finish a final report or visit a familiar face. This reality is closer than you think.

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We’re on a mission to help you get to where you want to go in half the time. Using our single-pilot X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology (QueSST) research aircraft, we will provide rule-makers the data needed to lift current bans on faster-than-sound air travel over land and help enable a new generation of commercial supersonic aircraft.

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The X-59 QueSST is unique in shape. Each element of the aircraft’s design will help reduce a loud sonic boom, typically produced by conventional supersonic aircraft, to a gentle sonic thump, making it quieter for people on the ground. To prove the quiet technology works, we will fly the X-59 over select U.S. communities to gauge the public’s response to the sound.

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We are working with Lockheed Martin in Palmdale, California, to manufacture the X-59 and are making significant progress, despite the pandemic.

We finished the majority of work on the wing and closed its interior, marking the halfway point on construction of the aircraft. 

The X-59 team at Lockheed Martin completed the final touches by fastening skins to the wing. A special sealant is applied so that fuel can be carried in the wings of the aircraft.

Moving at a steady pace, technicians continue to work on many parts of the aircraft simultaneously. The forebody section of the aircraft will carry the pilot and all the avionics needed to fly the aircraft.

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Because of the X-59’s long nose, the pilot will rely on an eXternal Vision System (XVS), rather than a window, for forward-facing visibility. The XVS will display fused images from an advanced computing system and cameras mounted on the upper and lower part of the aircraft’s nose.

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The aft part of the aircraft will hold an F414 GE engine and other critical systems. Unlike typical aircraft, the engine inlet will be located on the upper surface of the X-59 and is one of many features that will help reduce the noise heard on the ground.

Over the next several months, the team will merge all three sections together. After final assembly in 2021, the X-59 will undergo numerous tests to ensure structural integrity of the aircraft and that ¬its components work properly. First flight of the aircraft will be in 2022 and community testing will start in 2024, making way for a new market of quiet commercial supersonic aircraft.

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Want to learn more about the X-59 and our mission? Visit nasa.gov/X59. 

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com. 

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