Boomless supersonic flight

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Boomless Supersonic Flight tests begin

Boomless supersonic flight has long been hoped for but has never been a viable reality – until now.  Last week, NASA and Lockheed Martin announced the beginning of wind tunnel tests for QueSST (Quiet Supersonic Technology) – an X-plane designed to fly at supersonic speeds without creating a sonic boom!

FAR restrictions on supersonic civil aircraft

Currently, a Federal Aviation Regulation restricts civil aircraft from exceeding the speed of sound, simply due to the unpleasant noise the sonic boom creates for civilians below.  When Concorde was in operation, it was restricted to routes over sea instead of land, which proved incredibly costly and problematic.  As such, airplanes are limited in terms of how fast they can fly – and therefore, how quickly they can arrive at their destination.

But things may look very different in a few years.

NASA’s theory of boomless supersonic flight

Research by NASA proposes that aircraft of a certain shape can reach supersonic speeds, but generate a shockwave which is hardly noticeable to those on the ground.

QueSST project manager Peter Iosifidis said in a press release, “The design reduces the airplane’s noise signature to more of a ‘heartbeat’ instead of the traditional sonic boom associated with current supersonic aircraft in flight today.”

Lockheed Martin, which won the contract to create the preliminary design of the supersonic X-plane flight demonstrator, is working alongside NASA at the Glenn Research Centre in Cleveland, Ohio.  Carrying out wind tunnel tests over the next eight weeks, engineers will soon know whether NASA’s theory of boomless supersonic flight can be supported.

Wind tunnel testing

The preliminary model is a 9% scale model of the actual design.  In the wind tunnel, it will be subjected to wind speeds of up to Mach 1.6 (950 mph)! Only then will we know if NASA can take further steps towards boomless supersonic flight for passengers of the future.

If the tests are successful, and if the agency wins further funding, the next stage will be the final design work, before the construction and testing of a larger version of the X-plane.  With plans for QueSST’s first flight to take place in 2020, we won’t have long to wait if boomless supersonic flight is to become a reality!

We may not be able to see the tests in action right now, but NASA did make this time-lapse YouTube video of the lab during the assembly of the test rig, which is well worth a watch!

Do you think boomless supersonic flight could be a reality soon?  Could it change the face of aviation?  We’ll have to wait and see!

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