NASA’s X-59 supersonic aircraft will soon be tested over a number of U.S. cities

Supersonic flight, or flying faster than the speed of sound, is as exciting as it sounds. Following the Concorde’s retirement nearly two decades ago and the regulations prohibiting supersonic flight over populated areas, this type of machine should make a comeback very soon.

The experimental aircraft, NASA’s X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology, or QueSST, is bringing the agency one step closer to making quiet commercial supersonic travel over land a reality. The space agency is working on new designs and technologies to reduce the noise produced by supersonic booms, allowing supersonic aircraft to fly faster than the speed of sound while flying over populated areas. And the aircraft, which is being developed by Lockheed Martin, is expected to fly for the first time soon.

NASA's X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology

Ground noise is expected to be around 60 dB(A), or about 1/1000 the volume of current supersonic aircraft. This is accomplished by employing a long, narrow airframe and canards to prevent shock waves from colliding.

NASA announced several upcoming milestones this week, including plans to fly the X-59 QueSST over select communities to collect data on how the public perceives the quiet noise the X-59 is designed to produce (early 2024). Major ground testing will be completed in early 2022, with a target date for the first flight set for 2023. Acoustic validation flights are expected to begin next year.

The test flights are expected to last three years, with the results of the community overflights delivered to the International Civil Aviation Organization and the Federal Aviation Administration in 2027. With that information, regulators will be able to decide whether to change the rules that prohibit supersonic flight over land – a decision that is expected in 2028.

Following its assembly and transfer to Texas in December last year, NASA recently completed the first successful wind tunnel test using a small-scale model of the X-59 QueSST supersonic aircraft at its Glenn research facility. The next test will be held this year in the supersonic wind tunnels of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, allowing researchers to compare results from tests of the same small-scale model.

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