Jan 23, 2024

NASA and Lockheed Martin Unveil Supersonic Aircraft X-59

NASA, in collaboration with aircraft manufacturer Lockheed Martin, has introduced the X-59, marking a significant milestone in the American space agency’s mission to make supersonic flights a common mode of travel. The X-59, shrouded in an air of mystery even in its name, has not disappointed.

This new, quiet supersonic jet is designed to minimize the sonic boom created when surpassing the speed of sound. Capable of flying at 1.4 times the speed of sound, its inaugural flight is scheduled for later this year.

The jet is the outcome of a joint project between NASA and Lockheed Martin with a simple yet ambitious goal: to revolutionize air travel by producing a new generation of commercial jets that can travel faster than the speed of sound.

It’s noteworthy that the X-59 represents the next generation of supersonic planes, succeeding the Tupolev TU-144 (inaugural flight on December 31, 1968) and the Concorde (inaugural flight on March 2, 1969).

X-59 Aiming to Tackle Sonic Boom Issue

Supersonic flight involves the ability to fly at speeds exceeding the speed of sound. The speed of sound varies with air density, but at sea level, it is approximately 1,224 kilometers per hour. If an aircraft flies slower than this, it is subsonic; if it flies faster, it becomes supersonic.

Aircraft breaking the sound barrier produce the famous sonic boom. However, this doesn’t occur precisely when an object breaks the sound barrier. The sonic boom, created by compressed shock waves, is a continuous sound that happens as long as the aircraft is traveling faster than the speed of sound. For onlookers on the ground, the boom is felt only when the pressure waves pass overhead. The sound can be quite disruptive, and the X-59 aims to address this disturbance.

The X-59‘s design appears straight out of a science fiction movie, measuring 30 meters in length and 9 meters in width. Its slender, tapered nose, occupying about one-third of the total length, is expected to significantly disrupt the shockwaves responsible for the sonic boom.

Due to its design and elongated nose, the pilot sits in the middle, making it challenging to obtain a proper front view from a window. To overcome this, high-resolution cameras feed a signal to 4K monitors in the cockpit as part of the “External Vision System.

The Concorde was retired in 2003 after 27 years of service. Since then, we have been limited to subsonic flights and long-duration journeys. If the X-59’s test flights later this year prove successful, we may witness faster travel times around the world in the coming years.

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