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NASA's 'quiet' supersonic plane nearly built, testing to begin later this year

from the air
Posted at 12:47 PM, Aug 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-27 16:06:34-04

HAMPTON, Va. — A test airplane that could change the way people fly is nearing completion in California, with Virginia scientists and engineers playing a big role in making it happen.

NASA's X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology (QueSST) aircraft is designed to break the sound barrier without the loud and disruptive sonic boom that typically accompanies Mach 1 speeds, leading to the banning of supersonic travel over land.

The NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, took an early lead in the project, known as Low Boom Flight Demonstrator, when it began a few years ago.

"People would rather have faster air travel if they could so our goal with this project is to have those rules changed," said Craig Nickol, the project manager for the Low Boom Flight Demonstrator.

Nickol, who's based at Langley, says research centers across the country are working on the project, including around 20-30 scientists and engineers in the Hampton area.

Langley played a key role in early design and testing. Specific major contributions include the creation of a real-time camera and screen system pilots will use to see out of the aircraft, which lacks a cockpit window due to design constraints.

"They've actually finished it. They've done ground tests on that system, they've even done flight tests on the system and it's been delivered out to the West Coast already from Langley," Nickol said.

With Lockheed Martin set to finish construction on the X-59 this year, ground testing can begin as early as this fall, Nickol says, with the first test flight set for Summer 2022.

According to NASA, test flights over Armstrong Flight Research Center and Edwards Air Force Base will follow in 2023 to ensure the aircraft works as designed. From there, the agency will test over select communities across the country to see how people react.

The hope is to turn flight data over to federal and international aviation regulators in 2027, who could change the rules allowing for supersonic travel over land.

"I've always been an airplane nut and this is kind of like the best thing you could think of to do as an aerospace engineer is to be able to have a chance to design, build and test a whole new airplane, a research airplane that could potentially change the way we travel," Nickol said.

With travel times cut roughly in half, a whole new world of travel could be opened, with much of the early work done in Hampton Roads.

This story was originally published by Anthony Sabella at WTKR.