Nearly 70 years ago, pilot Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in the Bell X-1 rocket plane (currently on display at the Smithsonian). Now, NASA has announced they will build on that historic flight with a contract to design a supersonic passenger jet.
“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,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in a ceremony at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. “We’re continuing that supersonic X-plane legacy with this preliminary design award for a quieter supersonic jet with an aim toward passenger flight.”
Sound is a major focus of the new design for a supersonic passenger jet. When you think of supersonic, you probably think of a “boom,” but NASA’s goal for the new aircraft is that the sound will be more akin to a “heartbeat” or “soft thump.”
Aviation industry teams were asked to submit possible designs for Quiet Supersonic Technology, or QueSST. The winner, Lockheed Martin, will work on the project out of NASA’s Langley Research Center. Over 17 months, they’ll be given around $20 million dollars to design the plane.
“The company will develop baseline aircraft requirements and a preliminary aircraft design, with specifications, and provide supporting documentation for concept formulation and planning,” according to a NASA press release. “This documentation would be used to prepare for the detailed design, building, and testing of the QueSST jet. Performance of this preliminary design also must undergo analytical and wind tunnel validation.”
Associate administrator for NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission, Jaiwon Shin said, “Developing, building, and flight testing a quiet supersonic X-plan is the next logical step in our path to enabling the industry’s decision to open supersonic travel for the flying public.”
When it’s time to build the jet, NASA will hold another contract competition to determine which company will actually construct the new jet. Contingent on funding, they hope to begin the supersonic passenger jet flight campaign in 2020.