Technology 3 min read

NASA's Supersonic Passenger jet Flies Closer to Completion

NASA low-decibel supersonic passenger jet concept | NASA

NASA low-decibel supersonic passenger jet concept | NASA

NASA’s supersonic passenger jet project now has an approved design and a demo version in the making, with a finished aircraft to fly by the early 2020s.

14 years after the Concorde was retired, supersonic passenger air travel seems to be making a big comeback. In fact, many companies have plans for supersonic passenger aircraft–all at varying stages of development.

NASA, more commonly associated with space exploration, is dedicating some of its resources and know-how to make passenger supersonic travel a “viable” reality.

NASA’s Low Boom Flight Demonstrator

Last year, NASA unveiled its plans to develop the quieter version of a supersonic passenger jet that’s fast, safe, and surprisingly eco-friendly. This Quiet Supersonic Transport, or QueSST aircraft design, is just the first stage towards a goal of efficient supersonic transport.

Commonly referred to as the X-plane, and dubbed the Low Boom Flight Demonstration (LBFD), the aircraft was designed to keep the infamous “supersonic boom” at its lowest possible decibel level. NASA hopes it will be as quiet as the average luxury car.

Last June, NASA successfully tested a small-scale model of LBFD in a wind tunnel, and now has moved on to the next step.

Per Bloomberg, NASA said it’s taking bids to build a demo version and test it over populated areas. The agency will be spending $390 million USD over the next five years on this operation.

NASA also plans to make their research and development of the LBFD somewhat open source so that U.S. aircraft designers and manufacturers can take advantage of the advances in quiet supersonic technology.

New Technical Advances Make Supersonic Passenger jet Travel Viable This Time

The Concorde and the Tupolev 144 were the only supersonic projects that got off the ground, but not for long. Both programs were discontinued.

In 1983 the Russian Tupolev lost its wings, and the same happened in 2003 for the Concorde. The reasons were controversial, but in the end, both failed to reduce emissions, noise, and costs.

NASA LBFD 's supersonic boom will register at a low 60 dBaClick To Tweet

NASA’s proposed supersonic passenger jet will benefit from an array of new technologies, composite materials, and efficient design to make the flight as safer and quieter–all while reducing the environmental impact.

Once finished, NASA’s supersonic aircraft could make a trip to New York from Los Angeles in three hours, cutting the current time half.

The jet would produce a supersonic boom of 60 to 65 dBa (A-weighted decibels), much less noisy than the defunct Concorde (90 dBa). For passengers, it would sound like a nearby conversation in a public space.

The noise NASA’s supersonic jet makes would be impossible to hear from the ground, even when flying over populated areas. With that alone, the LBFD would meet noise regulations that banned the Concorde from flying over U.S. soil in 1973.

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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