NASA’s X-59 Quiet Supersonic Research Aircraft Cleared for Final Assembly

llustration of the completed X-59 QueSST landing on a runway. Credits: Lockheed Martin

NASA’s experimental X-59 jet, which could make supersonic commercial travel a reality, has been cleared for final assembly. The X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology (QueSST) aircraft, designed by Lockheed Martin, could take its first flight as soon as 2021.

This is NASA’s first large-scale, piloted x-plane (or experimental aircraft) in more than three decades, and its goal is to reduce the loudness of a sonic boom to more of a sonic thump. When the long, slender jet transitions to supersonic speed, it will make about as much noise a car door closing, and since it will be flying 940 MPH at 55,000 feet, that could be essentially inaudible.

NASA will test the X-59 over select US communities to gather feedback, as it has done with the F/A-18 Hornet aircraft over Galveston, Texas. Those tests will help establish new rules for commercial supersonic air travel over land.

The management review, known as Key Decision Point-D (KDP-D), was the last programmatic hurdle for the X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology (QueSST) aircraft to clear before officials meet again in late 2020 to approve the airplane’s first flight in 2021.

“With the completion of KDP-D we’ve shown the project is on schedule, it’s well planned and on track. 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.

Construction of the X-59, under a $247.5 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract, is continuing at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company’s Skunk Works factory in Palmdale, California.

Three major work areas are actively set up for building the airplane’s main fuselage, wing and empennage. Final assembly and integration of the airplane’s systems – including an innovative cockpit eXternal Visibility System – is targeted for late 2020.

Management of the X-59 QueSST development and construction falls under the Low Boom Flight Demonstrator project, which is part of NASA’s Integrated Aviation Systems Program.

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