Have You Seen This? NASA developing supersonic plane that could 'revolutionize air travel'

The experimental X-59 supersonic airplane under development by NASA and Lockheed Martin. It could revolutionize commercial air travel.

The experimental X-59 supersonic airplane under development by NASA and Lockheed Martin. It could revolutionize commercial air travel. (NASA)

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PALMDALE, California — A sleek, long-nosed airplane is taking shape and NASA and contractor Lockheed Martin say it could revolutionize air travel, dramatically reducing the time it takes to fly from one point to another.

The sonic boom caused when airplanes travel faster than the speed of sound led to a federal ban on supersonic flights over land in 1973. Now, NASA and Lockheed Martin are spearheading development of a new airplane, the X-59, that investigators hope will be quieter, perhaps paving the way for commercial supersonic air travel.

The aim of the Quesst Mission, NASA said in a press release earlier this month, is "to reduce the sound of a sonic boom to a quieter 'thump.'" Depending on the results of eventual testing over several U.S. cities to gauge public response, NASA said the airplane and data collected could lead to "a new generation of commercial aircraft that can travel faster than the speed of sound." The X-59 — with a tapered nose designed to break up the shock waves that cause a sonic boom — will reach speeds of 925 mph, 1.4 times the speed of sound.

The new airplane, which hasn't yet taken to the skies, was revealed to the public in January and NASA recently said a flight readiness review is complete — a key step forward in allowing test flights. The X-59 project, if plans materialize as hoped, could "change the future of commercial aviation, reducing flight times by half of what they are currently," Lockheed Martin said in a statement. Development is taking place at a Lockheed Martin facility in Palmdale, California.

The NASA unveiling video unveiling shows the airplane on a tarmac and pilots inspecting the craft. A NASA update on X-59 plans last Friday shows animation of the airplane flying around cities and in other scenarios.

The Concorde, used for commercial flights from New York to Europe, provided supersonic air travel between 1976 and 2003, according to a NASA online report on the history of supersonic flight. It notes the supersonic flight by an F-105 on May 31, 1968, over a ceremony at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado that shaped public opinion on such high-speed flying. "The sonic boom blew out 200 windows on the side of the iconic Air Force Chapel and injured a dozen people," the report reads.

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Tim Vandenack covers immigration, multicultural issues and Northern Utah for KSL.com. He worked several years for the Standard-Examiner in Ogden and has lived and reported in Mexico, Chile and along the U.S.-Mexico border.


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