We have seen some considerable developments on X-planes in the first two weeks of 2024. After DARPA pegged Boeing subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences to build a full-scale X-65 prototype, Boeing started work on the X-66 by chopping up an MD-90 that will serve as the basis for NASA's experimental Sustainable Flight Demonstrator.
Not to be outdone, Lockheed Martin Skunk Works last Friday rolled out the X-59, an experimental aircraft designed to solve a longstanding challenge of supersonic flight, the sonic boom. The X-59 hopes to make the boom a bit quieter, more of a "gentle thump." According to John Clark, Skunk Works vice president and general manager, this aircraft could have lasting, transformational impacts for people around the world.
And it's great to get a chance to see anything Skunk Works is working on since 85% of the division's work is on classified projects.
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Working alongside NASA for more than 10 years, Skunk Works is leading the design, build and flight test on the X-59 project. Reducing the intensity of the sonic boom comes down to the tailored design of the experimental supersonic aircraft. The X-plane, which is 99.7 feet long with a wingspan of 29.5 feet and designed to fly Mach 1.4 or 925 miles per hour at some 55,000 feet, has a design that should separate the shock waves that produce sonic booms. According to Skunk Works, the resulting supersonic “heartbeat” will be dramatically quieter.
Supersonic flight could drastically reduce travel time. The hope is to provide U.S. and international regulators with enough information to change current rules restricting commercial supersonic flight over land.
Next, the aircraft will complete a series of ground tests before its first flight scheduled for later this year. When the aircraft is validated in initial flight tests, it will move into the acoustic testing phase, which will include flights over four-to-six U.S. communities. Residents will be asked to share their responses to the new “sonic thump.” If approved, the tech could cut commercial flight times in half.
Now, the flights won’t happen on the X-59, that’s just the prototype. However, aircraft manufacturers could include technologies developed for the X-59 in future designs of commercial supersonic aircraft.