Military Embedded Systems

NASA supersonic passenger aircraft concept contract won by Lockheed Martin


March 01, 2016

John McHale

Editorial Director

Military Embedded Systems

WASHINGTON. NASA officials are looking to bring back the days of supersonic air travel for commercial passengers, announcing this week a contract award for the preliminary design of a ?low boom? flight demonstration aircraft. It will be the first in a series of ?X-planes? in NASA's New Aviation Horizons initiative, introduced in the agency?s Fiscal Year 2017 budget.

A team led by Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Palmdale, California, won the contract to complete a preliminary design for Quiet Supersonic Technology (QueSST). The work will be performed under a task order against the Basic and Applied Aerospace Research and Technology (BAART) contract at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden announced the award at an event this week at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia. “It’s worth noting that it's been almost 70 years since Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in the Bell X-1 as part of our predecessor agency's high speed research,” said Bolden. “Now we’re continuing that supersonic X-plane legacy with this preliminary design award for a quieter supersonic jet with an aim toward passenger flight."

After conducting feasibility studies and working to better understand acceptable sound levels across the country, NASA's Commercial Supersonic Technology Project leaders tasked industry teams with submitting design concepts for a piloted test aircraft that can fly at supersonic speeds, creating a supersonic "heartbeat" -- a soft thump rather than the disruptive boom currently associated with supersonic flight.

“Developing, building and flight testing a quiet supersonic X-plane is the next logical step in our path to enabling the industry's decision to open supersonic travel for the flying public," says Jaiwon Shin, associate administrator for NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission.

Lockheed Martin will receive funds totaling about $20 million over 17 months for QueSST preliminary design work. The Lockheed Martin team consists of subcontractors GE Aviation of Cincinnati and Tri Models Inc. of Huntington Beach, California.

Company engineers will develop baseline aircraft requirements and a preliminary aircraft design, with specifications, and provide supporting documentation for concept formulation and planning. This documentation would then be used to prepare for the detailed design, building, and testing of the QueSST aircraft. Performance of this preliminary design also must go through analytical and wind tunnel validation.

This Low Boom Flight Demonstration (LBFD) phase of the project will also include validation of community response to the new, quieter supersonic design. The detailed design and building of the QueSST aircraft, performed under the NASA Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate's Integrated Aviation Systems Program, will fall under a future contract competition.

NASA’s 10-year New Aviation Horizons initiative has goals of reducing fuel use, emissions, and noise via innovations in aircraft design that departs from the conventional tube-and-wing aircraft shape. The New Aviation Horizons X-planes will be about half-scale of a production aircraft and are likely are to be piloted. Design-and-build will take several years with aircraft beginning their flight campaign around 2020, depending on funding.

For more information about NASA’s aeronautics research, visit:


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