HAMPTON, Va. – Engineers at NASA Langley are almost finished wind-tunnel testing a plane that could re-open the door to supersonic travel.
It’s called the X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology (QueSST) aircraft.
The plane is designed to fly faster than the speed of sound, but with a much quieter sonic boom. NASA announced it in Washington D.C. last spring.
The goal of the low-boom technology is to change federal law, which currently prohibits supersonic flight over land because sonic booms are disruptive. Before ceasing operations in 2003, Concorde flights would travel across the Atlantic Ocean.
“Instead of sounding like a cannon going off, it’s more a sound like distant thunder or a car door slamming,” said Corey Diebold, Leader of NASA Langley’s Flight Dynamics and Simulation Group for the X-59. “We’ll collect the data and present it to the regulators and hopefully get that rule changed.”
Diebold and his team of engineers are almost finished testing a scaled-down version of the X-59 in Langley’s wind tunnels. In January, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company will begin constructing the full-size, 94-foot-long test plane in California.
The contract is worth $247 million.
Following construction of the aircraft during 2019, NASA is planning test flights over select cities in 2023. Researchers will collect reactions from the people living in those cities to measure any potential noise or disruption.
In 2025, NASA hopes to turn over its findings to federal regulators to get laws prohibiting supersonic flight changed.
Diebold says commercial planes that fly the same speed as the X-59 could reach their destinations in half the time.