NASA wants to get supersonic with new passenger jet

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Artist’s concept of a possible Low Boom Flight Demonstration Quiet Supersonic Transport (QueSST) X-plane design. The award of a preliminary design contract is the first step towards the possible return of supersonic passenger travel – but this time quieter and more affordable, NASA said.

Credit: NASA

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NASA wants to put a supersonic passenger jet back in the sky that promises to a soft thump or supersonic heartbeat as the agency called it -- rather than the disruptive boom currently associated with such high-speed flight.

The “low-boom” aircraft known as Quiet Supersonic Technology (QueSST) will be built by a team led by Lockheed Martin Aeronautics which will get $20 million to develop baseline aircraft requirements and a preliminary aircraft design.

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“In addition to design and building, this Low Boom Flight Demonstration (LBFD) phase of the project also will include validation of community response to the new, quieter supersonic design. The detailed design and building of the QueSST aircraft, conducted under the NASA Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate's Integrated Aviation Systems Program, will fall under a future contract competition,” NASA stated.

QueSST is just one of many so called experimental aircraft or X-Planes that NASA would like to build under a new agency initiative called New Aviation Horizons.

New Horizons is a 10-year plan to develop all manner of new aviation technology including faster, quieter, less polluting, more fuel-efficient aircraft. Details of the plan were outlined in NASA’s current budget request for 2017 so it will need to be funded going forward – a tricky proposition these days it seems.

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NASA has for years been developing technologies for future aircraft.   For example a few years ago NASA began trying to define future passenger aircraft by asking experts to imagine what the future passenger aviation might look like. NASA said its goals for a 2030-era aircraft were to achieve a 71-decibel reduction below current Federal Aviation Administration noise standards; reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 75% and reduce fuel-burning performance by 70%.

NASA said that thanks to the past six years of technology demonstrations done with other government agencies, industry and academia, NASA Aeronautics feels confident to enter X-plane territory.

“The demos included advancements in lightweight composite materials that are needed to create revolutionary aircraft structures, an advanced fan design to improve propulsion and reduce noise in jet engines, designs to reduce noise from wing flaps and landing gear, and shape-changing wing flaps, and even coatings to prevent bug residue buildup on wings.

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Researchers predict the tech could save the airline industry $255 billion accrued during the first 25 years after being put into service,” NASA stated.

NASA said New Aviation Horizons X-planes will typically be about half-scale of a production aircraft, although some may be smaller or larger, and are likely to be piloted. Design-and-build will take several years, with vehicles going to flight starting around 2020 depending on funding.

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