NASA's X-59 QueSST Supersonic Jet Has a 4K Display Instead of a Front Window

A new supersonic jet aircraft from Lockheed Martin that hopes to diminish the sonic boom of supersonic aircraft apparently doesn't need a front window, settling for a 4K display instead.
John Loeffler

The X-59 QueSST, a new supersonic demonstration aircraft that US-based aerospace firm Lockheed Martin is building for NASA that the agency hopes will reduce the ground-level intensity of sonic booms over land, has another interesting design feature besides the updated aerodynamics: it went with a 4k display in the front of the cockpit instead of a forward-facing window.

New X-59 QueSST Supersonic Test Plane Uses 4K Display Instead of Window

X-59 Cockpit
Source: NASA

Opting for a 4k instead of a window certainly seems like an unorthodox choice when it comes to the cockpit of a plane, but that's what Lockheed Martin has done with their new X-59 Quiet Supersonic Technology, or QueSST, aircraft.


X-59 Cockpit
Source: NASA

NASA released an image of the cockpit of the X-59 QueSST that shows three displays at the front of the cockpit, one directly in the line of sight for the pilot and two others just beneath.

Together, these three screens give an enhanced view of what is going on directly in front of the aircraft, with two external cameras feeding imagery to the main 4k display, where the images are stitched into a single video stream with an enhanced overlay containing additional instrument readings and lane guidance.

The two screens below the forward display will feature both terrain information about the land beneath the plane as well as object and obstacle detection information.

The plane does have windows, just to be clear. The cockpit will have an over-the-top window canopy that will give a substantial field of view on either side and above the aircraft. From the NASA photo, there also appears to be two smaller windows on either side of the 4k display, giving the pilot greater visibility of the space in front of the plane just beyond the edges of the display.

Cutting Back On Sonic Booms

X-59 QueSST Wind Tunnel
Source: NASA

Designed with a bunch of aerodynamic tweaks to a traditional supersonic aircraft profile, the X-59 QueSST will hopefully produce a reduced intensity sonic boom after reaching supersonic speeds.

The aircraft is being produced for NASA as a demonstration for civilian regulators to assess and develop new standards for supersonic aircraft that want to be certified for travel over land, currently banned in the US. Supersonic aircraft create a characteristic 'sonic boom' after they break the sound barrier that can be bothersome and possibly dangerous for people down on the ground.

Sonic booms are produced by any object traveling faster than the speed of sound, which is about 762 mph at sea level with an ambient temperature of about 68 degrees Fahrenheit. An object that breaks the sound barrier, like a bullet fired from some high-powered rifles or a supersonic jet aircraft, travels faster than the sound wave that it is propagating.

Doppler Sound Barrier
Source: Original: Lookang / Wikimedia Commons | Edited by John Loeffler for Interesting Engineering

Imagine the Doppler effect of a car engine on the road heading toward you. It starts faint and grows louder until it passes you by, at which point it grows fainter again as it moves away. If the car is traveling at supersonic speeds, however, its breaking the sound barrier means that this first part of this effect is cut off to an observer completely since the car would travel faster than the sound its engine is making.

This means that the first time you will hear the car would be just after it has already passed you, and you will be hearing it at the very loudest moment in the Doppler curve for the observer. What's more, while it might feel like a singular event to an observer--they will only experience this boom once--it is actually a constant effect for as long as an object is traveling at supersonic speeds. So, a supersonic object is actually raking its sonic boom over everything it passes, like the ground beneath a supersonic plane, which is what makes them so troublesome over populated land.

This last part has led to restrictions on supersonic flight over land, which is something that many aerospace companies are trying to address. The X-59 QueSST is part of a major industry effort to reduce the intensity of sonic booms and hopefully bring supersonic aircraft back into commercial service after the retiring of the Concorde in 2004.

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