If successful, flight campaigns of a new supersonic aircraft could begin by 2020.
The race towards supersonic passenger service has begun, with a new team forming to create a new, quieter aircraft. In a press release, NASA announced the awarding of $20 million in funding to Lockheed Martin with the goal of designing a new commercial-grade supersonic aircraft.
“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,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said at an event announcing the initiative. “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.”
Under the agreement, California-based researchers from Lockheed Martin will work with NASA engineers in Virginia on technologies that could resume international supersonic service. First, the team will create a design for Quiet Supersonic Technology (QueSST), which will potentially cut down the noise pollution emitted by a supersonic aircraft. With the technology completed, the group will then submit a design for a supersonic aircraft that would break the sound barrier with a “heartbeat,” resulting in a smaller noise footprint than the sonic boom often associated with traveling faster than the speed of sound.
Success of the program is based on several performance points that will be measured over the life of the contract, including performance in a wind tunnel and other analysis. The final aircraft construction will be addressed in a subsequent award from NASA.
Funds will be distributed over 17 months, allowing the team over a year to complete the mission. The team will also lean on GE Aviation and Tri Models to provide certain parts of the research. The collective goal is to begin a flight campaign by 2020.
With the announcement, NASA and Lockheed-Martin become the second group attempting to build a commercial supersonic aircraft. In 2015, French manufacturer Airbus and Aerion announced their collaboration to build the “Son of Concorde” with the goal of flying by 2021.
[Photo via NASA: “This is an artist’s concept of a possible Low Boom Flight Demonstration Quiet Supersonic Transport (QueSST) X-plane design.” Credits: Lockheed Martin]