NASA has cleared an experimental supersonic plane designed to reduce, or maybe even eliminate, sonic booms, for final assembly, opening the door for super-fast commercial travel over land.
The space agency said Monday a key management review resulted in the go-ahead for continued work by Lockheed Martin Corporation (NYSE: LMT) on the X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology plane, or QueSST, with plans for a first test flight by 2021.
Here's what to know about the X-59.
Quiet Is Key For QueSST
The plane is shaped to reduce the sound of a sonic boom reaching the ground to that of "a gentle thump," and it may not even be heard at all. That's the key factor in making the plane viable for flight over land. Lockheed Martin said last year it could get the plane to where it's sound barrier-breaking noise would be about as loud as a car door closing, rather than a sonic boom.
How Fast QueSST Goes
Lockheed says the X-59 will be able to cruise at 55,000 feet at a speed of about 940 mph, or just over Mach 1.4.
The X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology (QueSST) aircraft–our first large scale, piloted X-plane in more than three decades–has been cleared for final assembly and integration of its systems→https://t.co/X2vIWsA09Y
— NASA Aeronautics (@NASAaero) December 17, 2019
Work began last year on the plane at Lockheed's Skunk Works in California, and final assembly and integration of the plane's systems are now scheduled for late 2020. The review this week was the last step before full-scale production ahead of test flight. The next step after production will be to fly the plane — dubbed "Son of Concorde" in some media accounts — above populated areas to measure the sound and gauge public perception. Results will also be used to help establish rules for commercial supersonic air travel over land.
“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.
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Photo credit: Lockheed Martin
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