The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on April 3, 2018 announced its plan of creating a manned supersonic aircraft with no ear-shattering sonic boom.
The space agency would be granting a $247.5 million contract to Lockheed Martin, an American aerospace and defense group, to design and build the new plane. The company would be fully responsible for completing the design and fabrication of the experimental aircraft.
• The aircraft, known as X-plane, is expected to cruise at an elevation of more than 16,700 meters, at a speed of more than 1,500 km per hour but not make a sonic boom.
• The jet will test design principles that are intended to soften the sonic boom.
• The experimental aircraft is expected to be handed over to NASA in 2021. Once NASA accepts the aircraft from Lockheed Martin, the agency will perform additional flight tests to prove that the quiet supersonic technology works as designed.
• The tests will also aim to ensure that the aircraft’s performance is robust and that it is safe to operate in the country.
• Under NASA’s plan, beginning mid-2022, the space agency will fly the X-plane over select US cities and collect data about community responses to the flights.
• The data set will then be provided to US and international regulators for their use in considering new sound-based rules regarding supersonic flight over land, which could enable new commercial cargo and passengers to fly around the globe much quickly.
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Design of the plane
The X-plane's configuration will be based on a preliminary design developed by Lockheed Martin under a contract awarded in 2016.
The proposed aircraft will be 28.65 metres long with a wingspan of nearly 9 metres, which have a fully-fuelled takeoff weight of about 14,650 kg.
The jet will be propelled by a single General Electric F414 engine, the powerplant used by F/A-18E/F fighters.