2023 will be a watershed moment for American aerospace engineering and NASA. The first flight of the Lockheed Martin X-59 QueSST, a US super-jet, is scheduled for next year. The Skunk Works X-59 is an experimental supersonic aircraft being developed for NASA’s Low-Boom Flight Demonstrator project.
The project began many years ago. Once manufactured and tested, its primary purpose is to begin collecting critical data. They will be required by the United States in order for this data to shape the future of American commercial supersonic aviation in the coming years.
The French Concorde is remembered as the first supersonic commercial aircraft. However, its existence was brief, and it was not crowned with the great success that was expected.
NASA promises that the X-59 will be different from the Concorde and will eliminate the shock wave issue. Commercial supersonic aircraft are currently prohibited in the United States due to the shock wave that causes turbulence in the air when they reach the speed of sound and generates 100 decibels of sound energy that can be heard nearly 50 kilometres away.
According to US sources, the X-59’s turbofan engine has already been delivered. The F414-GE-100 is a General Electric product. At full afterburner, the engine can produce 98 kN of thrust. Engineers estimate that NASA’s new superjet will fly at an altitude of 55,000 feet and reach a maximum flight speed of Mach 1.4 thanks to this engine.
According to industry sources, Lockheed Martin was initially willing to test the F404 engine. This engine is used in F/A-18 fighter jets designed specifically for NASA. Because the F404 was unable to generate the required thrust, this proposal was rejected.
Another reason is that Lockheed Martin needs to integrate two engines into the X-59 to generate the desired thrust, but there is no room. Then General Electric realised they had created an engine for the Swedish SAAB Gripen fighters that could serve as the foundation for the future super-jet engine.
It did so after it was determined that the F414-GE-100 could deliver the desired results. According to a GE source, the two engines [the fighter’s and the X-59’s] are identical and differ only in appearance. Of course, the company claims that some engine performance characteristics have been significantly improved over the one used in the Swedish fighter.
There is currently no set date for the first tests to begin in 2023. We only know that structural tests have been conducted with a scale model of the X-59, in which experts from NASA and the Japanese Space Agency [JAXA] participated.
This aircraft will be required to collect data over various American cities for the sound network that will be installed above them. The information gathered will be shared with the International Civil Aviation Organization and the Federal Aviation Administration. NASA intends to release this data in 2027, which means that real flights should take place in 2024 and 2025. However, some experts believe NASA may postpone the planned flights by two years. That is, the data could be publicly available by the end of the decade.