Next Concorde? Nasa kickstarts ‘Quesst’ for new supersonic passenger jet2 min read

Lockheed Martin wins contract to carry out initial design of ‘low-boom’ aircraft that would announce its passing with a soft thump rather than thundering roar

Nasa has given the go-ahead for preliminary design of a “low-boom” supersonic passenger plane that could one day fill the gap left by the retirement of the Concorde jet.

Nasa’s Commercial Supersonic Technology Project had asked industry teams to submit design concepts for a test aircraft that can fly at supersonic speeds, creating a supersonic “heartbeat” – a soft thump rather than the disruptive boom currently associated with supersonic flight.

Nasa said it selected a team led by Lockheed Martin Aeronautics to complete a preliminary design for Quiet Supersonic Technology (Quesst).

This is the first in a series of “X-planes” in Nasa’s New Aviation Horizons initiative, introduced in the agency’s fiscal year 2017 budget.

Lockheed Martin would receive about $20m over 17 months for Quesst preliminary design work, Nasa said.

A Nasa spokesperson said: “The company will develop baseline aircraft requirements and a preliminary aircraft design, with specifications, and provide supporting documentation for concept formulation and planning.

“This documentation would be used to prepare for the detailed design, building and testing of the QueSST jet. Performance of this preliminary design also must undergo analytical and wind tunnel validation.”

Depending on funding a scaled-down version of the aircraft might start flight tests by 2020, Nasa said.

The head of Nasa, Charles Bolden, said: “It’s worth noting that it’s been almost 70 years since Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in the Bell X-1 as part of our predecessor agency’s high speed research. Now we’re continuing that supersonic X-plane legacy with this preliminary design award for a quieter supersonic jet with an aim toward passenger flight.”

The Lockheed Martin team includes subcontractors GE Aviation of Cincinnati and Tri Models Inc of Huntington Beach, California.

“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, associate administrator for Nasa’s Aeronautics Research Mission.

Nasa said part of the project would be to determine “acceptable sound levels” in the community given supersonic aircraft’s reputation for producing a disruptive boom.

With Reuters

Sebastien Clarke
Sebastien Clarke

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