Nasa announces new supersonic X-plane

Posted on 29 Feb 2016 by Michael Cruickshank

Engineers at Nasa have unveiled a new X-plane design which they believe could be the future of air travel.

Engineers at Nasa have unveiled a new X-plane design which they believe could be the future of air travel.

This new design is part of the New Aviation Horizons initiative, which entails several so-called ‘X-plane’ designs radically different from traditional craft in order to be significantly faster, more energy efficient and quieter than their predecessors.

“Nasa is working hard to make flight greener, safer and quieter – all while developing aircraft that travel faster, and building an aviation system that operates more efficiently,” said Nasa Administrator Charles Bolden.

Among the most ambitious of these designs is a new supersonic X-plane which could eventually be used for passenger travel.

“…it’s worth noting that it’s been almost 70 years since Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in the Bell X-1 as part of our predecessor agency’s high speed research. Now we’re continuing that supersonic X-plane legacy with this preliminary design award for a quieter supersonic jet with an aim toward passenger flight,” said Bolden.

The new design, called Quiet Supersonic Technology (QueSST), will be initially developed by Lockheed Martin which was awarded $20m for preliminary design work.

One important facet of the QueSST design is that it calls for an aircraft which doesn’t make the loud characteristic ‘sonic boom’ when it breaks the sound barrier.

The advantage of such a plane, according to Nasa, is that it could be more readily used at existing commercial airports without noise-related concerns.

“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.

New Aviation Horizons

This supersonic X-plane is one of a series of revolutionary new aircraft designs which Nasa plans to build and test over the coming years.

Aside from the QueSST, other craft teased by Nasa include flying wing and so-called ‘hybrid wing’ designs, as well as smaller craft seemingly inspired by multicopter drones.

These demonstration craft will be piloted, however will only be around half the size of their eventual full-scale designs.

The first test flights of these craft are expected around 2020 contingent on continued funding of the initiative.