Saturday 10 December 2016

The new Concorde? NASA begins work on 'quieter' supersonic passenger jet

Supersonic 'heartbeat'

Published 03/03/2016 | 11:15

Artist concept of a possible Low Boom Flight Demonstration Quiet Supersonic Transport (QueSST) X-plane design. Credits: Lockheed Martin
Artist concept of a possible Low Boom Flight Demonstration Quiet Supersonic Transport (QueSST) X-plane design. Credits: Lockheed Martin
A British Airways Concorde takes off from Heathrow airport in London, 2001. Photo: ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images)

The return of supersonic passenger air travel is one step closer following NASA's award of a $20m contract this week.

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The US agency has approved the preliminary design of a “low boom” flight demonstration aircraft - the first in a series of ‘X-planes’ that would fly without the booming noise associated with supersonic travel.

A team led by Lockheed Martin will complete the preliminary design for Quiet Supersonic Technology (QueSST), NASA said. The craft will create a supersonic "heartbeat" - a soft thump much less disruptive than Concorde's supersonic boom.

Operated by British Airways and Air France, Concorde's final flight took place on October 24, 2003. For all its faults and expense, the iconic aircraft has been the subject of much nostalgia and speculation since its retirement.

“NASA is working hard to make flight greener, safer and quieter – all while developing aircraft that travel faster, and building an aviation system that operates more efficiently,” said NASA administrator, Charles Bolden.

“Developing, building and flight testing a quiet supersonic X-plane is the next logical step in our path to enabling the industry's decision to open supersonic travel for the flying public," said Jaiwon Shin of NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission.

A British Airways Concorde takes off from Heathrow airport in London, 2001. Photo: ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images)
A British Airways Concorde takes off from Heathrow airport in London, 2001. Photo: ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images)

The detailed design and building of the QueSST aircraft, conducted under the NASA Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate's Integrated Aviation Systems Program, will fall under a future contract competition, it said.

Design and build of the X-planes will take several years with aircraft starting their flight campaign around 2020, depending on funding.

NASA is not alone in pursuing supersonic passenger air travel.

Airbus has filed plans for 'Concorde Mark 2', a supersonic jet that could fly from London to New York in an hour, while Boston-based Spike Aerospace claims its proposed Spike S-512 jet will reach speeds of Mach 1.6 (1,100mph).

It could be airborne by the early 2020s, Spike has said.

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