NASA has partnered with Lockheed-Martin to build a jet that could bring back supersonic air travel

NASAA rendering of what the X-Plane may look like.

  • NASA has awarded Lockheed Martin a $US247.5 million contract to build a quiet supersonic aircraft.
  • Under the contract, Lockheed will design and build an X-plane, an experimental aircraft designed to fly at supersonic speeds without producing a disruptive sonic boom.
  • Lockheed will deliver the aircraft to NASA in late 2021, at which point NASA will test it over US cities to evaluate its noise-reduction capabilities.

NASA may have paved the way for supersonic flight over the mainland US – which is currently illegal – by awarding a $US247.5 million contract to Lockheed Martin to build a supersonic aircraft.

Under the contract, Lockheed will design and build an X-plane, an experimental aircraft designed to fly at supersonic speeds without producing a disruptive sonic boom. The security and aerospace company hopes to design the aircraft so that it will emit only 75 Perceived Level decibels (PLdB), which is about as loud as a car door closing.

Lockheed will deliver the aircraft to NASA in late 2021, at which point NASA will test it over US cities to evaluate its noise-reduction capabilities. The data collected in these tests will be given to US and international regulators, who may use it to consider new regulations around supersonic flight.

The return of supersonic flight has developed an increasing amount of momentum in recent years from startups like Aerion, Boom Supersonic, and Spike Aerospace. In December, Lockheed announced a potential partnership with Aerion in which Lockheed will take the next year to determine if it wants to help Aerion build its 12-passenger AS2 jet. The AS2 would be able to fly at 1.5 times the speed of sound, which would allow it to travel from New York to London in around 4.5 hours.

But Aerion, Boom, and Spike are focused on international flights that would depart from coastal cities like New York and Boston to avoid the US mainland. Lockheed’s X-plane will be designed with an emphasis on flights over the mainland.

Commercial supersonic flights haven’t been available since the Concorde made its last flight in 2003. Though it could cross the Atlantic in three hours, Concorde failed to recover from a deadly crash in 2000.

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