NASA’s X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology (QueSST) Aircraft
NASA’s X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology (QueSST) Aircraft

NASA’s X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology (QueSST) Aircraft Kicks Off 2022 in Texas for Ground Testing

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2021 saw significant milestones achieved in the assembly of NASA’s X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology aircraft (QueSST), and all eyes now look forward to a pivotal 2022. Following the X-plane’s temporary move from Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works in California to their facilities in Texas, the X-59 is set to start 2022 with critical ground testing, as progress continues toward NASA’s target of the aircraft’s first flight later this year. The X-59 is designed to reduce the loudness of the sonic boom, which occurs when an aircraft flies faster than the speed of sound, to a gentle, quiet sonic “thump”.

While in Texas, ground testing of the X-59 will be done to ensure the aircraft can withstand the loads and stresses that typically occur during flight. The team will also calibrate and test the fuel systems before the X-59 makes the journey back to California for more tests and completion. The X-plane will demonstrate this in flights over communities around the U.S. starting in 2024, as NASA collects data that could open the future to commercial supersonic flights over land.

NASA’s X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology aircraft (QueSST) is pictured here at Lockheed Martin Skunk Works in California, wrapped up in preparation for its move to Texas. The X-plane will undergo ground tests to ensure it can withstand the stresses of flight before returning to California for completion. (Photo by Lockheed Martin)

The Lockheed Martin X-59 QueSST is an American experimental supersonic aircraft being developed at Skunk Works for NASA’s Low-Boom Flight Demonstrator program. Preliminary design started in February 2016, with the X-59 scheduled for delivery in late 2021 for flight tests from 2022. It is expected to cruise at Mach 1.42 (1,510 km/h; 937 mph) and 55,000 ft (16,800 m), creating a low 75 Perceived Level decibel (PLdB) thump to evaluate supersonic transport acceptability.

The Low-Boom X-plane will be 94 ft (29 m) long with a 29.5 ft (9.0 m) wingspan for a maximum takeoff weight of 32,300 lb (14,700 kg). Propelled by a General Electric F414 engine, it should reach a maximum speed of Mach 1.5 or 990 mph (1,590 km/h), and cruise at Mach 1.42 or 940 mph (1,510 km/h) at 55,000 ft (16,800 m). The cockpit, ejection seat, and canopy come from a Northrop T-38 and the landing gear from an F-16 Fighting Falcon. Its engine will provide 22,000 lbf (98 kN) of thrust. The ground noise is expected to be around 60 dB(A), about 1/1000 as loud as current supersonic aircraft.