By the end of 2022, NASA will test the first supersonic X-59 QueSST aircraft – Here’s what we know

The X-59 QueSST supersonic aircraft from Lockheed Martin will undergo its initial test by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) this year.

As cool as it sounds, supersonic travel is possible. Even while the NASA X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology, or QueSST, will not carry passengers, the experimental aircraft is moving the organisation closer to realising silent commercial supersonic travel over land.

From the vault

Lockheed Martin created the experimental aircraft known as the X-59 QueSST. In 2021, the aeroplane was handed over to NASA. At a height of 17 km, it should be able to travel at a speed of Mach 1.42 (1,510 km/h).

The X-59’s distinctive design is the result of years of study into supersonic flight at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, including multiple projects under the Commercial Supersonic Technology project, or CST. These initiatives span a variety of supersonic research-related fields, utilising cutting-edge visualisation tools to analyse shockwaves, as well as specialised wind tunnels, supercomputing resources, and systems engineering know-how.


The closest thing to actual X-59 flight data is a computer simulation, which can enhance the level in estimates of the aircraft’s supersonic performance. Additionally, computational fluid dynamics models are used to visualise the X-59 aircraft concept and assist researchers in figuring out which aspects of the aircraft produce shockwaves that are responsible for the sonic boom sound that can be heard below the aircraft.

Don Durston, an aerospace engineer with a model supersonic aircraft, ready for testing in the 9- by 7-foot Unitary Plan Wind Tunnel at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley | NASA/Dominic Hart

QueSST’s unique design for reducing the sound shock wave is noteworthy. The sound shock was lowered to 79 dB by NASA scientists. This figure may drop by many points in the future, probably to 75 dB.

Testing the X-59 in a wind tunnel with scaled-down models of the real thing is one approach to ensure that it will function as intended. Engineers can measure the pressure waves produced when supersonic air passes over expertly constructed tiny models to confirm that the plane operates as predicted.

Although we have advanced technology, measuring supersonic airflow over an aeroplane model in a wind tunnel is still a tricky task even in the twenty-first century. Because the airflows in the tunnels are not perfect, even performing the same test with the same model can result in somewhat different results on different days. You will obtain slightly different results if you place the model in a different wind tunnel.

The recent low-speed wind tunnel tests were a success. The results of the tests matched NASA and Lockheed Martin’s earlier computer predictions. There were no surprises that arose

said Jeff Flamm, NASA’s aerodynamics and performance lead on Quesst
Representative | NASA

When an aircraft flies faster than the speed of sound, this is known as supersonic flight. The resulting shockwave can produce a loud sonic boom, startling people on the ground. To solve this issue, the X-59 is designed to produce a thump.

Sonic Boom | Representative | 9GaG

The X-59 is essential to NASA’s Quesst programme, which aims to increase the use of supersonic flight and provide data to regulators so they can reform the current national and international aviation regulations that prohibit commercial supersonic flying over land.

Although the plane’s design is vital, Quesst also contains other essential mission elements. NASA intends to fly the X-59 over several U.S. localities and poll residents on whether they find the sound tolerable to give authorities information for modifying aviation regulations that forbid commercial supersonic flight over land. The organisation will communicate this information to international and domestic regulators.

ALSO READ – The NASA X-59 QueSST supersonic aircraft inches closer to reality after passing 2 key tests


COVER: SciTechDaily