NASA starts initiative to design a greener, quieter supersonic passenger aircraft
Artist’s concept of a possible QueSST X-plane design (graphic: Lockheed Martin)
Wed 2 Mar 2016 – NASA is attempting to revive the age of supersonic passenger travel with the award of a contract for the preliminary design of a ‘low boom’ flight demonstration aircraft as part of its New Aviation Horizons Initiative. Public resistance to the noise of Concorde as it passed through the speed of sound and its poor economics led to insufficient orders for the Anglo-French supersonic passenger aircraft, which first flew commercially in 1976 and was later retired in 2003. A Soviet-built competitor, the Tupolev Tu-144, failed to make more than 55 scheduled passenger flights in the 1970s following two crashes. However, NASA believes its mission to make passenger flight greener, safer and quieter can also be extended to include faster. The agency has awarded $20 million over 17 months to Lockheed Martin to complete preliminary design work for a Quiet Supersonic Technology (QueSST) aircraft. A future phase of the project will include validation of community response to the new supersonic design.
NASA’s 10-year New Aviation Horizons initiative, introduced in its Fiscal 2017 budget, includes goals to reduce fuel use, emissions and noise through innovations in aircraft design that departs from the conventional tube-and-wing shape. The passenger supersonic aircraft will be the first in a series of ‘X-planes’ that will typically be about half-scale of a production aircraft and likely to be piloted.
After conducting feasibility studies and working to better understand acceptable sound levels, NASA’s Commercial Supersonic Technology Project asked teams from industry to submit design concepts for a piloted test aircraft that can fly at supersonic speeds, but rather than creating the disruptive boom currently associated with supersonic flight, instead create what the agency describes as a “soft-thump supersonic heartbeat”.
The selected Lockheed Martin team will include as subcontractors aircraft engine manufacturer GE Aviation and wind tunnel model specialist Tri Models. The work will be conducted under a task order against the Basic and Applied Aerospace Research and Technology (BAART) contract at NASA’s Langley Research Center.
Under the contract, Lockheed Martin is expected to develop baseline aircraft requirements and a preliminary aircraft design, with specifications, and provide supporting documentation for concept formulation and planning. This documentation would then be used to prepare for the detailed design, building and testing of the QueSST jet, having also undergone analytical and wind tunnel validation.
In addition to design and building, this Low Boom Flight Demonstration phase of the project will also include the validation of community response to the quieter supersonic design. The building of the QueSST aircraft will fall under a future contract competition. NASA expects the design and build will take several years with aircraft starting their flight campaign around 2020, depending on funding.
“Developing, building and flight testing a quiet supersonic X-plane is the next logical step in our path to enabling the industry’s decision to open supersonic travel for the flying public,” said Jaiwon Shin, Associate Administrator for NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission.