NASA has revealed the latest tests on a radical supersonic plane that could revolutionise air travel.
The space agency is using a model of its Quiet Supersonic Technology (QueSST) Preliminary Design in windtunnel tests at NASA’s Langley Research Center.
The space agency says it is ready to begin taking bids for construction of a demonstration plane in a project worth $390 million over five years, according to Bloomberg.
The QueSST Preliminary Design is the initial design stage of NASA’s planned Low-Boom Flight Demonstration experimental airplane, otherwise known as an X-plane.
The radical new craft could cut the six-hour flight time from New York to Los Angeles in half – and reduce the sonic boom so it can fly over populated areas.
The first year of funding is included in President Trump’s 2018 budget proposal.
‘Supersonic flight offers the potential to improve the quality of life of those that fly, by greatly reducing travel time,’ said Peter Coen, NASA’s Commercial Supersonic Technology project manager.
‘In the nearer term, NASA’s development of quiet supersonic flight technology needs support, interest and engagement from the community to ensure that the potential sound is acceptable to those on the ground,’ Coen said.
Earlier this year, in what was said to be a ‘significant milestone’ for supersonic passenger flight, NASA completed the preliminary design review of its low-boom X-plane.
The Quiet Supersonic Transport (QueSST) design aims to reduce the sonic boom that occurs as these aircraft move faster than the speed of sound, with hopes to bring it down to a soft ‘thump’ to allow for flights over land.
Experts from NASA and Lockheed Martin now say the QueSST design could meet these requirements, and say flight tests could begin as early as 2021.
NASA plans to release the full request for proposals in August, following the recent draft request.
Lockheed Martin partnered with NASA as lead contractor in February 2016.
Its scale model for the Low Boom Flight Demonstration (LBFD) experimental plane was put through the 8-by 6-foot supersonic wind tunnel at NASA’s Glenn Research Center last month, and the space agency has now completed the preliminary design review.
The design will be finalized over the next few months, and will undergo a static inlet performance test and low-speed wind tunnel test.
NASA now plans to solicit proposals and award a contract to build the first piloted, single-engine craft.
‘Managing a project like this is all about moving from one milestone to the next,’ said David Richwine, manager for the preliminary design effort under NASA’s Commercial Supersonic Technology Project.
‘Our strong partnership with Lockheed Martin helped get us to this point.
‘We’re now one step closer to building an actual X-plane.’
While Lockheed Martin has been working on the preliminary design, with hopes to move on to build the demonstrator, NASA has opened the door for other companies to submit their own designs as well, according to Aviation Week.
Lockheed’s research shows the design can maintain that sound level at commercial size and his team’s planned demo will be 94 feet long, have room for one pilot, fly as high as 55,000 feet, and run on one of the twin engines that power Boeing Co.’s F/A-18 fighter jet.
The space agency is hoping to achieve a sonic boom 60 dBA lower than other supersonic aircraft, such as Concorde, according to Aviation Week.
The space agency is looking for plans to develop, build, and flight test an X-plane, and will award a contract in 2018.
At the end of June, Lockheed Martin wrapped up its 17-month, $20 million contract with NASA for the preliminary design of the low-boom demonstrator concept.
The design was be put through a four-day review.
And, bidders will have the option to use this for the demonstrator’s detailed design, according to Aviation Week.
Lockheed Martin, however, is hoping to secure the top spot.
Concorde was a turbojet-powered supersonic passenger jet that was operated until 2003.
It had a maximum speed over twice the speed of sound at Mach 2.04 (1,354 mph or 2,180 k per hour at cruise altitude) and could seat 92 to 128 passengers.
It was first flown in 1969, but needed further tests to establish it as viable as a commercial aircraft.
Concorde entered service in 1976 and continued flying for the next 27 years.
It is one of only two supersonic transports to have been operated commercially.
The other is the Soviet-built Tupolev Tu-144, which ran for a much shorter period of time before it was grounded and retired due to safety and budget issues.
Concorde was jointly developed and manufactured by Aérospatiale and the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) under an Anglo-French treaty. Concorde’s name, meaning harmony or union, reflects the cooperation on the project between the United Kingdom and France.
In the UK, any or all of the type are known simply as ‘Concorde’, without an article.
Twenty aircraft were built including six prototypes and development aircraft.
Air France (AF) and British Airways (BA) each received seven aircraft. The research and development failed to make a profit and the two airlines bought the aircraft at a huge discount.
Concorde was retired in 2003 due to a general downturn in the commercial aviation industry after the type’s only crash in 2000, the September 11 attacks in 2001, and a decision by Airbus, the successor to Aérospatiale and BAC, to discontinue maintenance support.
‘We are ready to go on building that demonstrator,’ said Rob Weiss, Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Development Programs executive vice president and general manager, at the AIAA Aviation 2017 forum, Aviation Week reports.
‘We feel we have a technological advantage in the amount of investment we have made in the tools and the vehicle itself.’
It’s been decades since NASA has worked on a manned supersonic X-plane, and after the contract is awarded in 2018, the winning team will undergo critical design review in 2019 to bring the plan closer to life.
Then, the agency plans to see the first flight tests in the first quarter of 2021.
For the most part, the demonstrator tests will take place across two phases at the Armstrong Flight Research Center in California, and culminating at the base housing at Edwards AFB.
The first will focus on aircraft build, checkout, and supersonic flight envelope expansion set for late 2021, followed by efforts focusing on low-boom acoustic validation, according to Aviation Week.
Then, in 2022, researchers will assess the ground signature of the demonstrator, and the effects on atmospheric and flight conditions from the boom.
According to Aviation Week, NASA is hoping the low-boom X-plane will support changes in FAA regulations, to allow supersonic flight over land.