NASA prepares to break the sound barrier with Lockheed Martin's X-59

If successful, history will be made again.
Nergis Firtina
NASA’s X-59.
NASA’s X-59.


With the help of NASA's QueSST mission, aeronautical innovators hope to break the sound barrier once more, but this time in a totally different fashion that could one day allow all of us to fly by air at speeds equal to or faster than any of the X-1 pilots who went supersonic.

“That first supersonic flight was such a tremendous achievement, and now you look at how far we’ve come since then. What we’re doing now is the culmination of so much of their work,” said Catherine Bahm, an aeronautical engineer at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California.

It will be a historic moment, if successful

NASA intends to use QueSST to demonstrate that the X-59 can fly faster than sound without producing the generally loud sonic booms that led to the prohibition of supersonic flying over land in 1973.

NASA prepares to break the sound barrier with Lockheed Martin's X-59
The Bell X-1 that was flown on the historic supersonic flight on Oct. 14, 1947.

The X-59 will be flown over a number of neighborhoods as part of the plan to see how residents respond to the softer "thump" it makes, assuming they notice anything at all. Regulators will be informed of their comments and may then write new regulations to lift the restriction.

"And when that happens it will mark another historic milestone in flight, potentially opening a new era in air travel, where airline passengers might hop on a supersonic jet at breakfast time in Los Angeles to make a lunchtime reservation in New York City," says NASA.

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The first attempt was 75 years ago

NASA stated that the Bell X-1 rocket plane was traveling faster than the speed of sound when a small group of researchers from the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), NASA's predecessor organization, heard the thunder crack.

On October 14, 1947, the joint X-1 team of NACA, the Air Force, which had been founded that year as well, and Bell engineers and pilots broke the sound barrier, which some had claimed was impossible to break through.

“We’ve kind of been stuck with our airliners at about Mach.8 for the past almost 50 years, so being able to get there – wherever there is – much faster is still kind of an unfulfilled dream,” said Peter Coen, NASA’s mission integration manager for QueSST.

“With the X-59 flying on the QueSST mission, I think we’re ready to break the sound barrier once again,” Coen also added.

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