NASA is moving ahead with its new X-planes program by awarding its first contract to design a prototype "low-boom" supersonic passenger jet. At a ceremony today at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden announced that a team led by Lockheed Martin will develop the preliminary designs for a demonstration aircraft.

Part of NASA's New Aviation Horizons initiative launched in February, the Quiet Supersonic Technology (QueSST) project includes Lockheed, and subcontractors GE Aviation and Tri Models Inc. The purpose of the US$20 million contract is to take feasibility studies recently conducted by NASA into a revival of civilian supersonic aviation and build on it to create preliminary designs for a manned demonstrator aircraft that would use new fuselage, wing, and engine designs to create a supersonic "heart beat" or soft thump rather than the window-cracking booms of present supersonic airplanes.

At present, the job of the Lockheed team will be to come up with baseline requirements, specifications, and a preliminary design. In addition, it will write documents to support a more detailed design for building and testing the aircraft, as well as analytical and wind tunnel testing as part of the Low Boom Flight Demonstration (LBFD) phase of the project. NASA says that this will dovetail with seeking public opinion about the new, quieter design.

"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.