PALMDALE -NASA this week awarded a $247.5 million contract to Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company of Palmdale to build an X-plane that will be capable of flying at supersonic speeds without generating a sonic boom, officials announced Tuesday.
The full-scale plane, known as the low-boom flight demonstrator, is to be built at the Skunk Works facility in Palmdale and delivered to NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center by the end of 2021. Lockheed Martin had won a previous contract to work on the plane’s preliminary design in 2016.
The new X-plane’s mission is to provide crucial data that could enable commercial supersonic passenger air travel over land.
“It is super exciting to be back designing and flying X-planes at this scale,” stated Jaiwon Shin, NASA’s associate administrator for aeronautics. “Our long tradition of solving the technical barriers of supersonic flight to benefit everyone continues.”
The X-plane is intended to create a “gentle thump” during flight, no louder than closing a car door, while cruising at about 940 mph at 55,000 feet, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The plane’s outer design is key to generating this softer noise by separating the sonic waves created during supersonic flight so they never join together to create the loud sound.
After receiving the plane from Lockheed Martin in late 2021, NASA plans to conduct a series of flights over certain U.S. cities to get community feedback on the sound, according to The Times. That data will then be turned over to U.S. and international regulators to be considered when making new rules on sound for supersonic flights over land.
The Federal Aviation Administration has had a long-standing ban on supersonic flight by commercial aircraft over land.
The NASA X-plane is just one of several new moves into the supersonic passenger jet space. Companies involved in the effort say the growth in global business travel, as well as new developments in materials and computing, could make supersonic flight more economically viable than during the days of the Concorde.