Sci-tech

NASA taps Lockheed Martin for supersonic X-plane

NASA taps Lockheed Martin for supersonic X-plane

Shin said that if the tests are successful, the results will hopefully be used to overturn the current USA law that bans civil supersonic flights over land. At that speed, NASA wants the aircraft to make a sonic boom that is about as loud as a door being closed.

The space agency has hired Lockheed Martin to build a supersonic passenger jet that would quietly break the sound barrier without the sonic boom. The proposed aircraft will be 28.65 metres long with a wingspan of almost 9 metres, which have a fully-fuelled takeoff weight of about 14,650 kg. NASA awarded Lockheed Martin Skunk Works a contract in February 2016 for the preliminary design of the supersonic X-plane flight demonstrator.

Researchers from NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center and Langley Research Center in Virginia conducted the tests as part of the Sonic Booms in Atmospheric Turbulence flights program, or SonicBAT.

With air travel, this was most certainly the case-once upon a time, a couple of decades ago, getting across the Atlantic ocean took far less time, thanks to the Concorde supersonic passenger jets that transported people between America and Europe. But the shape of the prototype of NASA moves those shock waves away from the aircraft, weakening them and directing them towards the ground, which avoids the sonic explosions.

By mid-2022, NASA said it plans to "fly the X-plane over select USA cities and collect data about community responses to the flights".

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The end result should be to avoid the sharp double bang of a traditional sonic boom, which can damage eardrums and even buildings, and replace it with what NASA calls a "soft thump" that would barely register above the noise levels generated by passing cars.

Its aim is to provide data that could enable commercial supersonic passenger air travel over land. "Our long tradition of solving the technical barriers of supersonic flight to benefit everyone continues". The new experimental plane is created to return supersonic passenger air travel to routes over land.

The bone-rattling boom of supersonic aircraft such as the Anglo-French designed Concorde has severely limited their commercial viability. Lockheed in December also agreed to help Aerion build its supersonic jet.

The objective of the X-plane is to develop an aircraft that reduces a sonic boom to a gentle thump.

"We've reached this important milestone only because of the work NASA has led with its many partners from other government agencies, the aerospace industry and forward-thinking academic institutions everywhere", said Peter Coen, NASA's Commercial Supersonic Technology project manager.

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