Langley to lead development of NASA’s new supersonic test plane

WASHINGTON, D.C. - A new plane under development could change the way we fly.

On Tuesday at the NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., NASA announced its plans to build an experimental aircraft called a Low-Boom Flight Demonstrator (LBFD).

The effort will be led from NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton and the plane will be built by Lockheed Martin in California.

The LBFD is new technology for the testing of quiet supersonic flight, which could lead to changes that would allow for supersonic travel over land.

"We had the Concorde. It could only fly over water because of the boom problem," said Jay Brandon, Chief Engineer for LBFD. "Instead of a boom, you'll hear maybe a thump or you won't hear anything at all."

In February 2016, NASA signed a contract for the initial design of the LBFD concept and last year, Langley tested a 15 percent scale model of the vehicle.

The actual size, Brandon says, is around 94 feet long or roughly the length of a Boeing 737.

According to NASA, testing will happen in the following phases:

  • 2019 – NASA conducts a critical design review of the low-boom X-plane configuration, which, if successful, allows final construction and assembly to be completed.
  • 2021 – Construction of the aircraft at Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works facility in Palmdale is completed, to be followed by a series of test flights to demonstrate the aircraft is safe to fly and meets all of NASA’s performance requirements. The aircraft is then officially delivered to NASA, completing Phase One.
  • 2022 – Phase Two will see NASA fly the X-plane in the supersonic test range over Edwards to prove the quiet supersonic technology works as designed, its performance is robust, and it is safe for operations in the National Airspace System.
  • 2022 to 2025 – Phase Three begins with the first community response test flights, which will be staged from Armstrong. Further community response activity will take place in four to six cities around the U.S.