Commercial supersonic flight has left the drawing board with Lockheed Martin announcing fabrication of the X-59 Quiet Supersonic Technology (QueSST) aircraft has begun. Milling the first part of the test aircraft has commenced at the company's famous Skunk Works, setting the project on course for its maiden flight scheduled for 2021.

Being developed in partnership with NASA, the purpose of the QueSST X-plane is to test technologies to make commercial supersonic aircraft quiet enough to fly over populated areas. So far, all of the work has been dedicated to computer modeling, design, and wind tunnel testing, but now the project is moving to the manufacture of an actual aircraft.

Once the QueSST takes to the air, NASA plans to use it to collect data on both the engineering level and from the general public to eventually produce a supersonic airliner that can fly over land while quiet enough to be acceptable to the public. In addition, the information will be used for the revision of current environmental regulations that were drafted in the late 1960s and were often deliberately prejudiced against supersonic flight.

When completed, the X-59 QueSST will be able to cruise at an altitude of 55,000 ft (17,000 m) at a speed of Mach 1.27 (940 mph, 1,512 km/h), yet produce a sonic boom of only 75 Perceived Level decibel (PLdB) – about as loud as a car door closing.

"The start of manufacturing on the project marks a great leap forward for the X-59 and the future of quiet supersonic commercial travel," says Peter Iosifidis, Low Boom Flight Demonstrator program manager Lockheed Martin Skunk Works. "The long, slender design of the aircraft is the key to achieving a low sonic boom. As we enter into the manufacturing phase, the aircraft structure begins to take shape, bringing us one step closer to enabling supersonic travel for passengers around the world."

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