NASA has achieved a significant milestone in developing a quieter supersonic passenger jet that can safely travel over land. The US space agency completed the preliminary design review (PDR) of its Quiet Supersonic Transport (QueSST) aircraft design.
One of the biggest problems with current supersonic airplane designs is the generation of a sonic boom. A sonic boom is a very loud explosion-like sound that is created by large amounts of sound energy being generated when an object moves through air faster than the speed of sound (supersonic speed). Moreover, heavy fuel consumption by supersonic jet engines has also halted progress on the development of commercial supersonic jets, since it would lead to very high ticket prices for consumers.
In February 2016, when the idea for QueSST was in its preliminary stages, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said, "NASA is working hard to make flight greener, safer and quieter – all while developing aircraft that travel faster, and building an aviation system that operates more efficiently. To that end, it’s worth noting that it's been almost 70 years since Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in the Bell X-1 as part of our predecessor agency's high speed research. Now we’re continuing that supersonic X-plane legacy with this preliminary design award for a quieter supersonic jet with an aim toward passenger flight."
QueSST is the initial design stage of NASA's planned Low Boom Flight Demonstration (LBFD) experimental airplane, otherwise known as an X-plane. The QueSST design is capable of fulfilling the LBFD aircraft's mission objectives, which are to fly at supersonic speeds, but create a soft "thump" instead of the disruptive sonic boom associated with supersonic flight today.
The LBFD X-plane will be flown over communities to collect data necessary for regulators to enable supersonic flight over land.
NASA partnered with lead contractor, Lockheed Martin, in February 2016 for the QueSST preliminary design.
Last month, a scale model of the QueSST design completed testing in the 8x6-foot supersonic wind tunnel at NASA's Glenn Research Centre in Cleveland.
"Managing a project like this is all about moving from one milestone to the next," said David Richwine, manager for the preliminary design effort under NASA's Commercial Supersonic Technology Project.
"Our strong partnership with Lockheed Martin helped get us to this point. Were now one step closer to building an actual X-plane," said Richwine.
After the success of completing the PDR, NASA can start the process of soliciting proposals and award a contract early next year to build the piloted, single-engine X-plane. The acquisition for the LBFD X-plane contract will be fully open and competitive, with the QueSST preliminary design data being made available to qualified bidders.
Flight testing of an LBFD X-plane could begin as early as 2021.
The QueSST would not be the first supersonic commercial airplane in service, with both the Soviet-developed Tupolev Tu-144 and the famous Concorde having achieved speeds higher than the speed of sound. However, both airplanes were retired after a few years in service due to growing concerns over safety and costs.
(With PTI Inputs)