NASA’s Supersonic X-Plane – An Overview


No matter what, NASA is adamant to pursue their plans to develop the world’s first supersonic passenger airplane as early as 2022.

Keeping our fingers crossed, we have thrown some light in this article about NASA’s Supersonic X-Plane (QueSST project) and other basic information related to supersonic jets.

Meet you folks on the first flight whenever it happens!!!

In The Article


Supersonic Flight - In A Nutshell

Basically, supersonic is one of the flight speeds. In total, there are four flight regimes or flight speeds, as they are called. The four flight regimes are hypersonic, supersonic, transonic and subsonic.

Key  Points To Remember

The first person to fly a supersonic flight was Charles E.” Chuck” Yeager (Air Force Capt.) in the year 1947 after the Second World War.

Breaking the sound barrier, Charles Yeager created history on 14th October 1947. Flying faster than the speed of sound, understandably Charles Yeager became an international celebrity within a short span of time.

  • Supersonic vehicles fly faster than sound
  • Speed(sound) at normal sea level conditions-1236 km per 60 minutes
  • Usually referred to as Mach numbers, they range from Mach 1 to Mach 5.
  • Mach 5 refers to flights 5 times faster than sound


Objects Faster Than Supersonic Speeds

For example, a bullet can travel at exciting supersonic speeds. Military non-commercial aircraft can also fly at Mach speed.

It would be interesting to note that, during space missions, the orbiter space shuttle will travel at bewildering supersonic speeds occasionally.

If an object travels at a speed of Mach 1.4, the observer will hear/feel the sound only after the object crosses him /her.

Special Mention

Joint manufacture and development of British Aviation Corporation and Sud Aviation, Concorde was one of the two supersonic planes that operated as commercial passenger transport.

British Airways and Air France were the only players to operate this Concorde flights on a profitable basis.

Concorde’s first commercial flight was on 21st January 1976. Unfortunately, in the year 2000, the plane crashed in France killing all the 109 passengers.

Eventually, Concorde winded up its operation with the last passenger flight on October 24th,2003.


Sonic Boom- A Brief Glance

A thunder-like, loud noise heard by humans when a plane flies overhead at speeds fast than sound can be called as a Sonic Boom in simple terms.

The Science behind Sonic Boom

When a supersonic object flies through the air, the medium of air behaves like a liquid. The molecules in the air are set aside. As a result, a wave of shock is released just like the one released by a moving boat in the water, but with much greater force.

Incidentally,  the wave of the shock creates a pressurized air cone. This pressure is released after some shock wave buildup, known as Mach wave or sonic boom.

At present,  NASA’s main research interest is to create aircraft with a less sonic boom that can save one’s eardrum from the rattling sound of supersonics.


Why Is NASA Showing Interest In Supersonic Flight Transport

Keeping in mind the requirements of future transportation and also with a keen eye for research, NASA’s Supersonic flight study has grown to paramount levels.

Points to Ponder

  • For NASA, to design an aircraft that can perform exceptionally well at speeds faster than sound, this study cannot come at a more opportune moment. It will also help them to design space vehicles that travel at speeds greater than Mach 5.

Rockets travel at amazingly fast speeds, sometimes more than Mach 5 speeds.NASA’s ultimate plan is to develop a space shuttle-like flight for commercial travel that is capable enough to fly within the earth’s atmosphere.


Techniques Used By NASA To Study Flight (Supersonic)

Primarily, NASA uses three techniques or approaches for this study. They are

  • Simulation using prototypes  Using wind tunnel research experiments, NASA designs and creates small prototypes of aircraft. Tube shaped structure or wind tunnels move air artificially over a prototype manipulating a real flight journey. This research will help NASA scientists to learn more about an aircraft’s design in-depth.
  • Modified supersonic flights – For those who are unaware, NASA has been testing research-based modified supersonic flights since the early ’40s. And NASA’s partner in these ventures is either the S Navy or Air Force and manufacturers who are keen to take part in this experimental ambitious project.

Called as “X-planes”, NASA operates them to test new technologies and new designs to advance flight travel. The first X-plane was launched in the year 1947, was also the first plane that broke the barrier of sound.

  • Computer Simulation – NASA performs experiments and research using computer simulations commonly specified as CFD or computational fluid dynamics.


QueSST X Plane -Dawn Of A New Era In The Supersonic Flight Transport

NASA began a new chapter in the history of supersonic passenger transport on February 29th, 2016 with the announcement made by Charles Bolden, administrator -NASA.

QueSST project is the primary design phase of NASA’s progressively planned Boom Flight Demonstration (LBFD) of the highly modernistic experimental airplane, alternatively well- known as the X-plane.

According to Mr.Bolden,“ NASA is working hard to make flight greener, safer and quieter – all while developing aircraft that travel faster, and building an aviation system that operates more efficiently.

To that end, it’s worth noting that it’s been almost 70 years since Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in the Bell X-1 as part of our predecessor agency’s high-speed research.

Now we’re continuing that supersonic X-plane legacy with this preliminary design award for a quieter supersonic jet with an aim toward passenger flight.”

LBFD X-plane -Design Team and Its Function

  • Headed by the design team from Lockheed Martin Company, located in Palmdale, California, NASA started the work for QueSST X plane (Quiet Supersonic Technology) with all the earnest and zing.
  • NASA’s Supersonic Technology in charge has initially asked players to submit conceptual designs for a test pilot plane capable of flying at speeds (supersonic), producing a new supersonic “heartbeat” instead of the normal disruptive boom.
  • An initial budget of USD 20 million was allocated for the quiet supersonic transport QueSST project. The teams from Lockheed Martin composes of subcontractors California’s Tri Models Inc. and Cincinnati’s GE Aviation.
  • The design team was engaged to build a fundamental aircraft model and aircraft baseline requirements, and also provide backup documents for concept planning and formulation.
  • In addition, already stated LBFD X-Plane project ( Low Boom Flight Demonstration) will listen to feedback from the community for the quieter, new supersonic project.
  • These aircraft will commence test campaign probably from 2020, subject to no funding drawbacks.


NASA Leads The Way With Technology For Scaling Down Sonic Boom

  • Florida’s Kennedy Center has partnered with Space Florida, Virginia’s Langley Center, California’s Armstrong Research Center has come together to conduct a SonicBAT test II.
  • NASA’s Langley Research Center is world-renowned to solve tough questions in earth science, space, and sir. The researchers at NASA’s Langley Research center are working tirelessly to create a better future for the benefit of mankind in general.
  • From late-August, F-18 jets have started their test runs from the Kennedy Center. On the ground, researchers gather data to analyze turbulence in low altitude enhanced by sonic booms.
  • The sonic boom pathway has been chosen with care and attention, making sure strongest-vibrant sonic booms are positioned away from populated areas while recording them over Kennedy Center for Space.
  • NASA aims to read and study this data to design and build supersonic commercial jets that will produce a soft sonic “thump” instead of powerful sonic booms.

X-Plane Initial Design Model

Photo-Samantha O’Flaherty from Jacobs Technology Inc., with the QueSST Design Model inside Subsonic Tunnel.

The QueSST  Initial Design is the first step in the X-plane test design. The main expectation of this project is to build fuel-saving, low noise, and low emission aircraft that actually differs from the normal typical wing and tube aircraft design.


X-Plane Initial Design Model

Photo-Samantha O’Flaherty from Jacobs Technology Inc., with the QueSST Design Model inside Subsonic Tunnel.

The QueSST  Initial Design is the first step in the X-plane test design. The main expectation of this project is to build fuel-saving, low noise, and low emission aircraft that actually differs from the normal typical wing and tube aircraft design.


Wind Tunnel Test-X-Plane By Lockheed Martin

  • Currently, Lockheed Martin has finished testing the nine percent test model inside NASA’s Glenn research center.
  • The NASA Glenn Research Center located in Ohio (Cleveland) was created to innovate, develop, and design highly sophisticated innovative technology for further enhancing all missions related to space and aeronautics exploration.
  • The Glenn Research Center in Cleveland is leading the way in space research and experiments.
  • Basking in the successful conduct of PDR (Preliminary Design Review), NASA is looking to award contracts next year to build single-engine, piloted X-plane.
  • As per available plans, from 2021, one could see the actual X-plane LBFD flight test.
  • In the upcoming months, Lockheed Martin and NASA will collaborate together on finalizing the preliminary QueSST design project. This includes low-speed tunnel test and static performance test (Static) at Langley Center located in Virginia (Hampton).


Inside Supersonic Jet-A First Hand Account

Sonic Booms tests were conducted in Edwards, California in order to help scientists to measure turbulence low-altitude on sonic booms.

Carla Thomas and Nils Larson were filmed inside the supersonic jet’s cockpit, after pulling off some nice cool aerobatic maneuvers, leaving contrails.

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