A quiet supersonic aircraft is unveiled by NASA in an attempt to boost commercial travel

In keeping with its goal of enabling commercial supersonic travel, NASA has unveiled a unique quiet supersonic aircraft.

The X-59 is an experimental aircraft that NASA unveiled on Friday at a joint event with Lockheed Martin Skunk Works in Palmdale, California. Its predicted top speed is 1.4 times the speed of sound, or 925 mph (1,488 km/h).

The aircraft’s slender, tapered nose, which makes up about a third of its total length, is intended to deflect shock waves that would normally surround supersonic planes and cause sonic booms. The aircraft is 99.7 feet (30.4 meters) long and 29.5 feet wide.

Engineers eliminated the forward-facing windows that are normally present in other aircraft and placed the cockpit nearly halfway down the length of the aircraft in an effort to improve its supersonic performance.

At the launch event on Friday, NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy provided an explanation of the configurations, saying, “We made that decision to make it quieter, but it’s actually an important step forward in and of itself in advancing aviation technology.”

“[With the] huge challenge [of] limited visibility in the cockpit, the team developed the external vision system, which really is a marvel of high-resolution cameras feeding an ultra-high-resolution monitor.”

“The external vision system has the potential to influence future aircraft designs where the absence of that forward-facing window may prove advantageous for engineering reasons, as it did for us.” Melroy continued.

Along with having a smooth underside to stop shock waves from forming behind the aircraft and producing sonic booms, the aircraft also has an engine positioned on top.

Later this year, the X-59 is scheduled to make its first flight, followed by a silent supersonic flight, according to NASA. The government also stated that after test flights are finished, the X-59 will fly over a number of US cities that have not yet been chosen in order to gather public input regarding the noise it produces.

Due to popular fears of the tremendous sonic booms that may be heard miles away, commercial supersonic travel over land has been prohibited in the US for the past 50 years.

At the launch celebration on Friday, Bob Pearce, the assistant administrator of NASA’s aeronautics research program, addressed the ban by saying, “Grounded flight testing showed us it was possible to design an aircraft that would produce a soft thump instead of a sonic boom. Is that thump quiet enough to allow supersonic flight over land? Our laboratory studies would say yes, but the real answer can only be found by engaging the people who would hear it during daily life.”

“Collect data from the people below, determine if that sonic thump is acceptable and then turn the data over to US and international regulatory authorities in hopes to then lift that ban,” according to Pierce, would be the X-59’s task.

The head of Lockheed Martin’s X-59 program, David Richardson, stated during the post-launch press conference that the X-59’s taxi testing are anticipated to begin in late spring or early summer.

Richardson stated that, “If there’s anything that we identify that is not performing nominally, we will go and make adjustments or if there are any parts that are not functioning, we will replace them to make sure the airplane is fully functional and airworthy and safe before we commit it to first flight,”

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