Space

NASA green-lights supersonic passenger plane project

An artist’s concept of a possible Low Boom Flight Demonstration Quiet Supersonic Transport (QueSST) X-plane design
An artist’s concept of a possible Low Boom Flight Demonstration Quiet Supersonic Transport (QueSST) X-plane design
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An artist’s concept of a possible Low Boom Flight Demonstration Quiet Supersonic Transport (QueSST) X-plane design
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An artist’s concept of a possible Low Boom Flight Demonstration Quiet Supersonic Transport (QueSST) X-plane design

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.

Source: NASA

5 comments
habakak
No, supersonic planes won't become a reality until we find a new source of producing massive amounts more energy than jet fuel currently provides. Just like the Jet age surpassed the prop-plane age and the prop-plane any non-flying device that came before, we need to re-invent the energy paradigm. We have been stuck at 500 mph commercial planes for 50 years now. Yes, they are quieter, more efficient, cheaper, more durable, etc. But they still are no faster. Imagine the fuel consumption of a supersonic plane. And the Concorde was never profitable. And maybe this will only become a reality (eventually) once we crack fusion and over time we can build small enough reactors to go into a plane.
Nelson
It might be quieter, but it will still suck up a lot more fuel than a subsonic airliner.
JonathanMiller
Fuel consumption is not the biggest hurdle. Biggest hurdle is the sonic boom, which if this design can overcome that limitation more efficient engines can be designed. Although less efficient if the plane can fly three times faster the overall fuel burn can be less. Concorde was operated profitably (if you ignore the development costs paid for by the French and British Governments.) And the "cramped" 70's cabin is actually spacious by today's regional jet standards. If you are jetting from NY to Paris in 2 hours who needs a lay flat bed anyway?
Derek Howe
Nice, that's what I'm talking about. THIS is what everyone on planet Earth has been wanting, it's about time. Hopefully ticket prices will remain the same, or have just a slight increase. It will of course burn more fuel, but the engine can be optimized to run most efficiently at its (most likely mach 1.5) cruise speed. Plus if you factor in that over a given month you will be able to fly more people, more often, then that will help keep costs in check as well. The Concorde was designed 50 years ago...a lot has changed.
KeithMeredith
NASA is an agency funded by the US government & paid for by our taxes. So we are paying for research so that eventually some corporation can benefit. What have we actually benefitted for all the trillions already spent? Photoshopped pictures of supposed other worlds? Bah Humbug! Try cleaning up our mother planet and ridding it of poverty and diseases first.
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