NASA and Lockheed Martin have officially introduced the X-59 quiet supersonic aircraft, marking a significant milestone in aviation. NASA’s objective with this unique experimental aircraft is to collect data that has the potential to revolutionise air travel by enabling the development of a new generation of commercial aircraft capable of flying faster than the speed of sound.
The X-59 plays a central role in NASA’s Quesst mission, which is primarily focused on providing valuable data that could prompt regulators to reconsider existing restrictions on commercial supersonic flight over land. For five decades, the United States and other countries have prohibited such flights due to the disruptive sonic booms that reverberate in communities below. The X-59 is designed to reach speeds of 1.4 times the speed of sound, or 925 mph, while minimising the noise generated by its sonic thump through advanced shaping and technologies.
Having completed its rollout, the Quesst team is now preparing for the next stages leading up to the X-59’s maiden flight. These include integrated systems testing, engine runs and taxi testing.
The aircraft is slated to take its first flight later this year, marking its inaugural quiet supersonic flight. Following initial tests at Skunk Works, the X-59 will transition to NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, where it will be based.
Once NASA concludes its flight tests, the aircraft will fly over select U.S. cities to gather data on the sound produced by the X-59 and its impact on public perception. This data will be shared with the Federal Aviation Administration and international regulators.
It is important to note that the X-59 is not a prototype but rather an experimental aircraft designed to inform the development of future generations of quiet supersonic aircraft. Measuring 99.7 feet in length and 29.5 feet in width, its distinctive shape and advanced technologies make quiet supersonic flight feasible. The aircraft’s long, tapered nose, which accounts for a significant portion of its length, serves to disrupt shock waves that typically result in a sonic boom from a supersonic aircraft.
Given this unique design, the cockpit is situated nearly halfway down the aircraft’s length and lacks a traditional forward-facing window. Instead, the Quesst team has implemented the eXternal Vision System, comprising high-resolution cameras that feed a 4K monitor in the cockpit.
Furthermore, the X-59 features an innovative configuration with the engine mounted on top and a smooth underside, both of which help mitigate the merging of shockwaves behind the aircraft, reducing the potential for a sonic boom.