March 4, 2024

Nasa unveiled a one-off silent supersonic aircraft as part of the US space agency’s mission to enable commercial supersonic flight.

In a joint ceremony On Friday, Nasa, along with Lockheed Martin Skunk Works in Palmdale, California, unveiled the X-59, an experimental aircraft expected to fly at 1.4 times the speed of sound – or 925mph (1,488 km/h).

Standing at 99.7 feet (30.4 meters) long and 29.5 feet wide, the aircraft has a thin, tapered nose that makes up nearly a third of the aircraft’s full length – a feature designed to propagate shock waves that would typically surround supersonic aircraft and result. in sonic boom.

In efforts to further improve the plane’s supersonic capabilities, engineers positioned the cockpit almost halfway along its length and removed the forward windows typically found in other aircraft.

Nasa’s deputy administrator, Pam Melroy, explained the configurations during Friday’s launch event: “We made that decision to make it quieter, but it’s actually an important step forward in and of itself in the advancement of aerospace technology.

“[With the] big challenge [of] limited visibility in the cockpit, the team developed the external vision system, which is truly a marvel of high-resolution cameras feeding an ultra-high-resolution monitor.

Melroy added: “The external vision system has the potential to influence future aircraft designs where the absence of that forward window can be beneficial for engineering reasons, as it did for us.”

The aircraft also features a top-mounted engine, as well as a smooth underside to prevent shock waves from forming behind the aircraft and causing sonic booms.

The X-59 will take its first flight later this year and then its first silent supersonic flight, Nasa said. The agency added that once test flights are completed, the X-59 will fly over several cities across the country USA which has yet to be selected and will gather public feedback on the sound it generates.

For the past 50 years, commercial supersonic overland travel has been banned in the US due to public concern over the explosive sonic boom that could be heard from miles away.

Bob Pearce – Nasa’s associate administrator for its aeronautical research mission – addressed this ban at Friday’s launch event: “Based on flight tests, we have shown it is possible to design an aircraft that will produce a soft bump instead of a sonic boom . Is that bump quiet enough to allow supersonic flight over land? Our laboratory studies will say yes, but the real answer can only be found by involving the people who would hear it during daily life.”

Pierce said the X-59’s job will be to “collect data from the people below, determine if that sonic bump is acceptable and then transmit the data to US and international regulatory authorities in hopes of then banning that to lift”.

In the press conference after the launch, David Richardson, Lockheed Martin’s X-59 program director, said that taxi flights of the X-59 are expected to begin by late spring or early summer.

“If there is anything we identify that is not performing nominally, we will make adjustments or if there are any parts that are not functioning, we will replace them to make sure the aircraft is fully functional and airworthy and safe before we committed to it. it until first flight,” Richardson said.

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