NASA's supersonic X-59 passes two key tests and is one step closer to its first flight

The X-59's sonic boom will be similar to 'a car door slamming'.
Chris Young
An artist's impression of the X-59.Lockheed Martin

NASA and Lockheed Martin's X-59 is nearing its first flight.

A new video from Lockheed Martin provides a new update on the X-59 aircraft it is developing in collaboration with NASA — and the development seems to be ticking along nicely.

"Digital engineering" has been key to the development of X-59

The X-59 aircraft is designed to produce a quieter sonic boom, allowing supersonic aircraft to accelerate to the speed of sound (767 mph) while flying over populated areas.

One of the issues with the Concorde, when it was operational prior to 2003, was the fact that its sonic boom was so loud it had to fly at lower speeds overpopulated areas — meaning it didn't fully tap into the reduced flight time potential of supersonic flight.

In Lockheed Martin's new video, X-59 Air Vehicle Engineering Lead Michael Buonanno says the X-59 has successfully undergone two crucial tests, a structural proof test and a fuel system test that showed the aircraft measures fuel accurately. And now it is readying for its first flight test.

"Digital engineering has been integral to the design of X-59 since its earliest stages," Buonanno explains. "Unlike traditional aircraft where we extensively used wind tunnels to shape and understand the flow around the configuration. We use thousands of computer simulations to characterize the nuance of every single flow feature on the aircraft."

X-59 Finite Element Analysis Lead Tony Delagarza, meanwhile, highlighted the role of aeroelastic modeling in helping to meet the required "quiet" boom levels. These models were one of the "key enables" for why NASA and Lockheed Martin are able to build an aircraft now that was not possible 20 to 30 years ago. Delagarza also said the X-59's supersonic boom will be "closer to a car door slamming" than the Concorde's massive supersonic boom which could "shatter windows".

The X-59 could fly later this year

All going to plan, the X-59 will fly for the first time later this year. Further acoustic validation flights are then scheduled for next year, followed by community overflights in early 2024 to test the loudness of the sonic boom.

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After that "NASA plans to deliver results of the community overflights to the International Civil Aviation Organization and Federal Aviation Administration in 2027," the space agency said in a recent report. "With that information in hand, regulators will be able to decide if a change should be made in rules that prohibit supersonic flight over land – a decision that would be expected in 2028." 

If NASA and private firms such a Boom Supersonic are succesful, we may soon see commercial supersonic airliners take to the skies once again, vastly reducing travel times at the same time as having fixed one of the biggest issues faced by the Concorde.

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