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NASA's X-59 QueSST


NASA's new research aircraft called the X-59 debuted Friday. The plan is for the X-59 to take off for the first time this year. (Senior Airman Christine Groening, NASA)

Overland Supersonic flight has been banned in the United States along with many other countries since 1973. Supersonic flight creates sonic booms which in turn create pressure waves that can shatter glass and damage poorly built structures. Before 1973 there were multiple commercial supersonic jets such as the Concorde which was capable of going upwards of 1,354 mph, and the Tupolev Tu-144 which could fly at upwards of 1510 mph. For comparison, the average airliner today flies at about 480 to 575 mph. The supersonic jets were capable of getting to their destination up to three times faster than planes today. This ban on overland supersonic flight could be reversed though. NASA and Lockheed Martin have partnered up to create the world's first ‘quiet’ supersonic jet, The X-59 QueSST (Quiet SuperSonic Technology). They used Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Development Program also known as Skunkworks. Skunkworks is where all of Lockheed Martin's top-secret projects are built. They are responsible for the U-2 spy plane, the SR-71 Blackbird, the F-117 Nighthawk, the F-22 Raptor, the F-35 Lightning II, and now the X-59 QueSST. The X-59 QueSST is 99 feet 7 inches long, 14 feet tall, and 29 feet 6 inches wide. The new quiet supersonic technology allows it to only produce about 75 decibels which is about as loud as slamming a car door. A regular sonic boom is created by the build-up of pressure waves as a supersonic aircraft tries to push air out of the way. The X-59 QueSST on the other hand is designed to spread out the pressure waves making it a lot quieter. To do this they had to extend the nose of the jet but now the length of the nose obstructs the pilot's view, to solve this problem NASA is using what they call an External Vision System or XVS. This is a new experimental feature that is essentially a closed-loop video feed to the cockpit. They mounted a camera under the nose of the jet and the video feed is put through a custom image-processing system and then output through a 4K monitor to act as the window. The monitor also displays flight data to assist in approaches, landings, and takeoffs. The first test was supposed to have happened already but delays with transporting the QueSST from Skunkworks to NASA have prevented that from happening. After that NASA and Lockheed Martin will conduct a safety test to ensure it is ready to fly. When the test flight finally does happen the X-59 QueSST will fly at about Mach 1.4 or about 937 mph. NASA plans to have the QueSST fly over residential areas to analyze how people on the ground react to the quieter sound of the sonic “thump.” They then plan to send the data to regulatory agencies such as the Federal Aviation Administration in hopes that they will change the regulations on supersonic flights. While The X-59 QueSST isn’t quite as fast as the Concorde, it is still a huge step towards bringing back commercial supersonic flight. 


 


NASA. (2023b, July 26). NASA completes tests of X-59 External Vision System. https://www.nasa.gov/aeronautics/nasa-completes-tests-of-x-59-external-vision-system/ 


Tingley, B. (2023, August 4). Watch NASA’s sci-fi-looking x-59 “quiet” supersonic jet roll out of the hangar (video). Space.com. https://www.space.com/nasa-x-59-quiet-supersonic-jet-hangar-video 


 


Owen Dustin is a sophomore at Poudre High School. This is his first year writing for the Poudre Press. At school, he is on the Alpine Robotics team and the unified flag football team. Outside of school he likes to mountain bike, play video games, and hang out with friends.

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