NASA is developing a new aircraft that can fly twice the speed of existing commercial airlines. It's fast and supersonic, only quieter.
Dubbed as the Low-Boom Flight Demonstrator aircraft, this new plane can fly at the maximum speed of 1,100 miles per hour, or twice as fast as the Concorde airplane. This plane is even faster than the speed of sound that is 767 mph.
The funding for this program received a full backing from the U.S. government in the recently approved 2019 national budget. NASA is expecting to fly this new supersonic aircraft by 2021. Potential commercial flights would follow.
"This 'X-plane' would open a new market for U.S. companies to build faster commercial airliners, creating jobs and cutting cross-country flight times in half," states to the budget document.
Supersonic aircrafts, though faster than the speed of sound, has a downside: the loud sonic boom from waves of pressure from air particles created by the plane. This booming sound that rolls out like a carpet beneath the plane is so loud and deafening that it can even cause property damage and that would be a problem when supersonic planes travel above land.
The technology for supersonic planes previously existed. In fact, the British Airways and Air France-run Concorde turbo-jet powered supersonic passenger jets were in operation until 2003. The Concorde aircraft had a maximum speed of 1,354 miles per hour or 2,180 kilometers per hour at a cruising altitude.
Concorde commercial planes had a seating capacity of 92 to 128 passengers. It flew commercial flights for more than three decades but was grounded due to expensive operating costs.
During the era of the supersonic New York-to-Europe Concorde jets, residents of Queens in New York complained of glass-shattering boom sounds from the aircrafts.
Quest For A Quieter Supersonic Plane
Under its New Aviation Horizon Initiative, NASA is already testing an experimental aircraft called Quiet Supersonic Technology. This aircraft produces shock waves resembling thumping or rumbling sounds and not loud booms.
The agency said the QueSST aircraft will produce a sonic boom that is so quiet, it will hardly be noticed by the public. The QueSST's distinct shape that features a long nose and highly-swept wings will help keep the noise down during a flight.
"In the airline industry's current tube-and-wings model, shock waves largely roll off and then meld into a sonic boom," said Lockheed Martin, the plane's lead contractor that received $20 million from NASA for the building of the next-generation X-planes.
Meanwhile, Boom Technology and Virgin Galactic are working together to create a new supersonic aircraft that can cruise at approximately 1,500 mph with a seating capacity of 45 to 55 passengers. At this speed, transatlantic travel would be reduced to half from the normal six hours down to just three hours from New York to London.
"The next big thing, hopefully in my lifetime, will be supersonic travel coming back and people traveling around the world in next to no time," says Richard Branson, owner, and CEO of Virgin Galactic.