How NASA’s X-59 Supersonic Jet “Solves” The Concorde’s Biggest Problem
— 9 May 2024

How NASA’s X-59 Supersonic Jet “Solves” The Concorde’s Biggest Problem

— 9 May 2024
Garry Lu
Garry Lu

The unveiling of NASA’s X-59 Quesst marked a major leap forward in supersonic aviation.

The jet developed in collaboration with Lockheed Martin — and formally introduced to the world in its completed form earlier this year — has achieved what was previously thought impossible: breaking the sound barrier without the thunderous sonic booms typically associated with supersonic travel.

RELATED: Listen To The Concorde’s Sonic Boom At 60,000 Feet

Instead, the X-59 Quesst (“Quiet SuperSonic Technology”) mitigates this nasty byproduct with a comparatively discreet “thump”. The implications for the future of commercial flights could be a certifiable game-changer that ushers in another golden age of air travel.

“When we stacked the challenges facing supersonic, solving the boom was the largest one,” NASA deputy project manager for the X-59 technology, David Richwine, told Robb Report.

“Taking that on would free the commercial operators to work on some of the other issues.”

Richwine, along with his fellow team members, are currently lobbying for the supersonic speed limit to be lifted once the sonic boom has been “solved” to a degree of universal satisfaction.

Peter Coen, integrated mission manager for the X-59 program, explained: “Instead of a rule based solely on speed, we are proposing the rule be based on sound. If the sound of a supersonic flight isn’t loud enough to bother anyone below, there’s no reason why the aeroplane can’t be flying supersonic.”

So how have they pulled it off?

NASA's X-59 Quietly "Solves" The Concorde's Biggest Problem

NASA’s X-59 Quesst features a top-mounted engine that allows its smooth, needle-nosed underside to prevent shockwaves from merging behind the aircraft — thereby dampening the potential power of sonic booms, despite hitting Mach 1.4 (1,074 MPH) at approximately 55,000 feet. For reference, that’s roughly the same speed and altitude as a commercial supersonic jet.

But this still isn’t a guarantee we’ll be enjoying fast-tracked flights from Sydney to Los Angeles (or anywhere else, for that matter) in the immediate future.

As per Robb Report, the X-59 still has to pass several rounds of safety testing, as well as a period of additional “acoustic evaluations.” Then there’s the series of test flights over select cities where pre-briefed residents will offer feedback to help determine if the technology “achieves acceptable noise levels.”

RELATED: Rolls-Royce Creates The World’s Most Powerful Jet Engine (And It Burns Clean)

Even then, it’ll be a lengthy road ahead for the likes of major players in this space like Boom, Spike, and Exosonic; alongside Destinus and Hermeus, which have the even loftier ambition of going hypersonic (Mach 5 or 3,836 MPH).

“This is a moment, future generations will look back upon with both awe and admiration,” Greg Ulmer, Lockheed Martin’s Vice President of Aeronautics, said during the X-59 Quesst’s official unveiling.

“The Skunk Works mantra of quick, quiet, and quality takes on a whole new meaning. As we usher in the hopes of a new era of quiet supersonic travel, made possible through our collaboration with NASA.”

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Garry Lu
After stretching his legs with companies such as The Motley Fool and the odd marketing agency, Garry joined Boss Hunting in 2019 as a fully-fledged Content Specialist. In 2021, he was promoted to News Editor. Garry proudly retains a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, black bruises from Muay Thai, as well as a black belt in all things pop culture. Drop him a line at [email protected]