This new project is part of NASA's greater Quiet Supersonic Technology (QueSST) effort, which aims to fly a supersonic aircraft that is quiet enough to convince legislators to overturn the current regulations.
Lockheed Martin Skunk Works has won a $247.5 million contract to build an X-plane for NASA that will be capable of flying at supersonic speeds without generating a sonic boom, it was reported Wednesday.
The experimental plane is meant to cruise at altitudes around 55,000 feet and to reach speeds around 940 miles per hour.
For the first time in decades, NASA is set to develop an "experimental plane" created to fly faster than the speed of sound without producing the noise typical of supersonic flights. But with an innovative plane design that might subtly morph in the air to tame sound waves, NASA hopes to build a quieter supersonic plane that would revolutionize travel.
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Skunk Works will build the aircraft at its Palmdale, California-based facility in preparation for the plane's initial flight in 2021.
The contract, which runs through 2021, allows for the design, building and testing of a passenger plane prototype "that reduces a sonic boom to a gentle thump", the U.S. space agency said in a statement. The last commercial supersonic aircraft was the Concorde, which operated from 1976 to 2003.
"It is super exciting to be back designing and flying X-planes at this scale", Jaiwon Shin, NASA's associate administrator for aeronautics, said in a news release.
Today, civilian supersonic flights over land are banned. Once tested for safety, the plane will be ready to fly over select communities to get feedback on the impact.
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NASA's mission, Low-Boom Flight Demonstrator will have the ability to fly supersonic but without any sonic booms.
Beginning in mid-2022, NASA will fly the X-plane over select United States cities and collect data about community responses to the flights. Lockheed in December also agreed to help Aerion build its supersonic jet.
A conceptual graphic of what the NASA X-Plane prototype might look like. The Low-Boom Flight Demonstrator is created to send those shock waves away from each other, which Lockheed Martin says produces a sound about as loud as a vehicle door being closed. This experimental craft is aimed at 55,000 feet above the earth at a speed of about 940 miles per hour - but without the big boom.
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