NASA is Making a New Supersonic, Super Quiet Jet

Does supersonic flight have to come with a "boom?" Well, maybe not.

3. 2. 16 by Sarah Marquart
Lockheed Martin
Image by Lockheed Martin

NASA has awarded a contract to Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company for the preliminary design of a “low boom” flight demonstration aircraft. This is the first in a series of “X-planes” in NASA’s New Aviation Horizons initiative, introduced in the agency’s 2017 budget.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden announced the award at an event Monday at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia.

“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 Bolden. “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.”

Supersonic Heartbeat

NASA’s Commercial Supersonic Technology Project spent years conducting feasibility studies and working to better understand acceptable sound levels across the country. They then asked industry teams to submit design concepts for a piloted test aircraft that can fly at supersonic speeds, creating a supersonic “heartbeat.”

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This “soft thump” would be less disruptive than the boom currently associated with supersonic flight.

Artist rendering from NASA

“Developing, building and flight testing a quiet supersonic X-plane is the next logical step in our path to enabling the industry’s decision to open supersonic travel for the flying public,” said Jaiwon Shin, associate administrator for NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission. 

NASA’s pick, Lockheed Martin, will complete a preliminary design for Quiet Supersonic Technology (QueSST). The work will be conducted under a task order against the Basic and Applied Aerospace Research and Technology (BAART) contract at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. 

Lockheed Martin will develop baseline aircraft requirements and a preliminary design. NASA is also looking for supporting documentation for concept formulation and planning.

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Sustainability and Flight

NASA’s 10-year New Aviation Horizons initiative is all about sustainability. The project has the ambitious goals of reducing fuel use, emissions, and noise through innovations in aircraft design that departs from the conventional tube-and-wing aircraft shape.

Funding is the one of the biggest factors affecting timeline. Most likely though, we won’t see the New Aviation Horizons X-planes fly until 2020.


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