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NASA unveils new ‘quiet’ supersonic aircraft X-59


The agency says its Quest mission has successfully reduced supersonic aircraft noise from loud sonic booms to a quiet “thud.”


NASA and US defense company Lockheed Martin have unveiled their “silent” supersonic aircraft after six years of development.

Supersonic flights are flights that can travel at speeds faster than the speed of sound, and the X-59 is designed to fly at 1.4 times the speed of sound, or approximately 1,480 km/h.

“Supersonic flight today brings with it a thunderous supersonic boom. Those of us who live in the area are familiar with this sound,” said Pam Melroy, NASA’s deputy administrator.

“But that means it’s limited to populated areas, for good reason. And the X-59 will break that barrier. Meticulously designed, it produces a light hit. A mere whisper compared to the disruptive booms of the past.”

The X-59 is 30 meters long and 9 meters wide and has a thin, tapered nose that accounts for almost a third of its length.

NASA says the pointed nose will help break up shock waves that normally cause a sonic boom, a sound similar to an explosion or thunder to the human ear, caused by an object traveling through the air at a speed greater than that of sound.

NASA launched the Quest mission in 2018 to develop a supersonic aircraft that generates less noise than a conventional supersonic aircraft.

“In just a few years we have gone from an ambitious concept to reality. NASA’s X-59 will help change the way we travel, bringing us closer together in much less time,” Melroy said in a press release.

For 50 years the United States and other countries have banned such flights because of loud noise.

It is hoped the mission will provide data to help US lawmakers reconsider the land flight ban.

If it becomes possible to fly supersonic commercial aircraft, travel time will be dramatically reduced, NASA says.

“This breakthrough truly redefines the feasibility of commercial supersonic travel on Earth. It brings us closer to a future we can all understand by cutting the flight time from New York to Los Angeles in half,” said Melroy.

The plane will take off for the first time later this year.

Once NASA completes flight tests, the agency will fly the plane over several U.S. cities with the first liftoff expected later this year.

It will then survey residents on how they perceive noise by 2027.

For more on this story, watch the video in the media player above.

Video editor • Roselyne Min

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