NASA and Lockheed Martin have started wind tunnel testing a model of a future X-plane. They aim to create a functioning prototype of the world’s first quiet supersonic passenger airplane.
A nine percent scale model of Lockheed Martin’s design has been subjected to winds as high as Mach 1.6 at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland to gauge both its aerodynamic performance as well as parts of its propulsion system. The tests should run until the middle of 2017.
“We’ll be measuring the lift, drag and side forces on the model at different angles of attack to verify that it performs as expected,” said aerospace engineer Ray Castner, who leads propulsion testing for NASA’s Quiet Supersonic Technology (QueSST) effort. “We also want to make sure the air flows smoothly into the engine under all operating conditions.”
A year ago, the space agency gave Lockheed Martin $20 million to complete the preliminary design for its QueSST. The goal was to create a jet that can fly faster than sound without the normal sonic boom that can shatter windows in houses below. Recent research has shown it is possible for a supersonic airplane to be shaped in such a way that the shock waves it forms when flying faster than the speed of sound can generate a sound at ground level so quiet it will hardly be noticed by the public, if at all. Peter Iosifidis, QueSST program manager at Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, described the airplane’s noise signature as more of a “heartbeat,” instead of the traditional sonic boom.
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