NASA Clears for Production Its First Piloted X-Plane in Three Decades

NASA X-59 airplane 5 photos
Photo: NASA
NASA QueSST airplaneNASA QueSST airplaneNASA QueSST airplaneNASA QueSST airplane
For the past two years or so, NASA has been hard at work trying to come up with an airplane design that could bring back supersonic passenger flights. The project is called X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology (QueSST), and up until recently it was mostly theoretical.
As with any major enterprise such as this, a lot of paperwork had to be done before the plane got a green light for production. This month, the paper trail ended in Washington, where senior managers completed the project review (a process they call Key Decision Point-D, or KDP-D) and gave the plane a collective thumbs-up.

That means NASA is now free to actually build the X-59, and in doing so will end a 30-years break from designing potentially revolutionary X-planes. Lockheed Martin is tasked with putting the plane together under a contract valued at $247.5 million.

“With the completion of KDP-D we’ve shown the project is on schedule, it’s well planned and on track. We have everything in place to continue this historic research mission for the nation’s air-traveling public,” said Bob Pearce, NASA’s associate administrator for Aeronautics.

The first test flight of the plane is not planned before 2021. Once in the air, NASA will use it to show supersonic airplanes could fly again, including for passenger transport, and even above land. Currently, all overland supersonic commercial flights are banned over land.

The QueSST is designed to separate the shocks and expansions of air associated with supersonic flight and reduce the sonic boom to as much as 60 dB. That's the volume you get in your average conversation, and for reference, the Concorde was rated at 90 dB.

Plans are to have the plane fly at Mach 1.4, about 1,100 mph (1,770 kph). The speed is twice that of today’s commercial airliners, but not quite as fast as the retired Concorde.
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About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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