It’s been nearly 70 years since Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in U.S. government’s high speed research (oh yes – those were military test flights in The Right Stuff). But the sound barrier is, well, loud when you break it. Because you’re going faster than the speed of sound – about 768 miles per hour. So we don’t really want planes doing that over our towns and cities and homes. It’s why the Concorde could only fly over the ocean when it was breaking the sound barrier – regulations stopped it from creating sonic waves over our heads.
So NASA is looking into developing quiet supersonic passenger planes. They call it “low boom.” It’s part of the X-Planes they’re dveloping in the New Aviation Horizons project, designed to make flight faster and more efficient while also being “greener, safer, and quieter”. Low bars for success, right?
NASA has awarded a contract to the Quiet Supersonic Technology (QueSST) team at Lockheed Martin, who has an idea to create a passenger jet that only makes a soft thump sound when it breaks the sound barrier. They’ll receive about $20 million over 17 months at the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. They expect to start test flights by 2020, assuming the project continues receiving funding.
Government contracts like this allow companies to take big research risks and the results are made available to our aircraft industry afterwards, allowing all of us, and our U.S. companies, to benefit from these research investments. They help us pave the way for big innovations, whether they happen directly on government-funded programs or as a result of previous R&D investments.
I will love my supersonic passenger jet. Thanks, NASA.