NASA's Low-Noise Supersonic Plane Has No Front Window. Here's How They See Through

To be as quiet as it is, the X-59 had to give up forward windows, so NASA developed a vision system instead.
Loukia Papadopoulos

Supersonic planes might be speedy but they have one distinct problem: They generate an unbearably loud sound. When an aircraft travels faster than the speed of sound, shockwaves form and travel away from the aircraft, merging and generating sonic booms heard on the ground for miles.

NASA is now working with Lockheed Martin Skunk Works to transform aviation through its faster-than-sound X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology (QueSST) aircraft that reduces sonic booms to a barely-audible sonic thump. 

The new single-seat plane X-59 will be 99.7 feet long, 29.5 feet wide (30 m by 9 m), and will cruise at an altitude of 55,000 feet (16.7 km) while moving at a speed of Mach 1.4, or 925 mph (1,488 km/h). What it won't have, however, is a forward-facing window.

Instead, it will rely on a NASA-developed eXternal Vision System (XVS)

According to Forbes, NASA’s XVS subsystem lead, Randy Bailey, calls the artificial vision system “the last line of defense” in the domain where the pilot can use the system to see an oncoming air vehicle. “Way before we get to that point we have ATC [air traffic control] and ADS-B information assuming the other [air traffic] is on it,” he explained.

The X-59 does not include a forward canopy in order to maintain its long needle-nosed shape, Bailey also added. Instead, it uses what Bailey refers to as an "electronic window."

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NASA’s electronic window XVS system includes a pair of high-resolution cameras, and a 4K monitor. The first 4K camera is located atop and slightly ahead of the cockpit and is augmented with synthetic vision capability, allowing the pilot to artificially see through fog and clouds.

A second camera underneath the nose can extend during takeoffs and landings. In this sense, the aircraft is fully covered and does not require a window. NASA's XVS system provides all the visual information required for a pilot to fly safely.

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