ILLUSTRATION of the completed X-59 QueSST making a landing / Lockheed Martin

NASA’s X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology (QueSST) supersonic X-plane has passed its final development milestone and is going on to final assembly. Designed to advance technologies for the next generation of commercial supersonic airliners, senior managers greenlighted the next phase in the project on December 12, 2019, after the Key Decision Point-D (KDP-D) management review at NASA headquarters in Washington, DC.

Scheduled to fly in 2021, the X-59 is being built at Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works factory in Palmdale, California, under a US$247.5 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract. When completed, the research aircraft will be able to cruise at an altitude of 55,000 ft (17,000 m) at a speed of Mach 1.27 (940 mph, 1,512 km/h), yet produce a sonic boom of only 75 Perceived Level decibel (PLdB) – about as loud as a car door closing.

The purpose of the X-59 is not only to demonstrate new technologies that will minimize the infamous sonic boom, but will also fly over special sensor arrays and various US communities to gather technical data and gauge public reactions to the aircraft, which will be used to rewrite American environmental regulations that were first drafted in the 1970s and were often prejudicial to overland commercial supersonic flight.

Final assembly and systems integration is slated for completion towards the end of 2020 with the first flight slated for 2021.

“With the completion of KDP-D we’ve shown the project is on schedule, it’s well planned and on track. We have everything in place to continue this historic research mission for the nation’s air-traveling public,” says Bob Pearce, NASA’s associate administrator for Aeronautics.

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