NASA’s X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology (QueSST) experimental aircraft is preparing for its first test flight sometime this year.
As its name suggests, the aircraft is testing technology that mitigates the extremely loud sonic boom that occurs when an aircraft breaks the sound barrier. The X-59 is supposed to reduce sudden noise to a quieter “sonic boom,” so it could pave the way for supersonic passenger flights over the continental United States that have hitherto been banned due to regulations on noise pollution.
NASA recently shared two images (above) that show the X-59 sitting on what’s known as the “flight line,” the space between the hangar and the runway, at Lockheed Martin Skunk Works in Palmdale, California.
“Going from the construction site to the flight line is just one of the many milestones that set the X-59 for its first and subsequent flights,” NASA said He added that the team will now conduct a series of important ground tests to ensure that the aircraft is ready for its maiden flight.
One such test flight will involve flying the X-59 at supersonic speeds over a number of communities to see how residents respond to the sonic booms produced during its high-speed flight. NASA will then turn over its findings to US and international regulators in a move that could open up the possibility of commercial supersonic flights over land.
The X-59, which began development in 2016, is designed to fly at an altitude of 55,000 feet (16,765 meters) at a cruise speed of Mach 1.42 (937 mph/1,508 km/h)—for twice that of a conventional airliner. At this kind of speed, journey times between destinations will of course be greatly reduced. The fastest flight between New York City and London by Concorde – the supersonic passenger plane operated by British Airways and Air France until its retirement in 2003 – took just 2 hours and 53 minutes, well under half the time taken by a subsonic passenger plane. This means that a supersonic flight between New York City and Los Angeles, which currently takes about 5 hours and 30 minutes, can be cut to about 2 hours and 30 minutes or even less.
The Concorde flew between the United States and Europe, a route allowed only because the two airports—Washington Dulles and New York City’s JFK—were on the East Coast, meaning the supersonic boom occurred over the Atlantic.
However, the X-59 could lead to a slew of new and faster routes not only across the US, but globally, though whether you’ll be able to afford a seat is another matter entirely.
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