NASA awarded Lockheed Martin´s Skunk Works division a $ 247,5 million contract to design and build a Low-Boom Flight Demonstrator, also know as X-Plane to test how a supersonic plane can fly with a quieter sonic boom. The full-scale experimental aircraft will make its first flight in 2021.
“It is super exciting to be back designing and flying X-planes at this scale. Our long tradition of solving the technical barriers of supersonic flight to benefit everyone continues”, said Jaiwon Shin, NASA’s associate administrator for aeronautics. “We’re honored to continue our partnership with NASA to enable a new generation of supersonic travel,” said Peter Iosifidis, Low-Boom Flight Demonstrator program manager, Lockheed Martin Skunk Works.
The main goal of the programa is helping NASA to establish an acceptable commercial supersonic noise standard to overturn current regulations banning commercial supersonic travel over land. One of the main difficulties of commercial supersonic aircraft is the high noise caused by breaking the sound barrier.
According NASA, the LFBD will fly up to Mach 1.4 at an altitude of 55,000 feet over populated areas to find out if the sonic boom will be heard by people living in the communities under the flight testing areas.
The new X-Plane build by Skunk Works will use parts from jets such as T-38 (canopy), F-16 (landing gear) and F/A-18 (many components) to be affordable – the engine is a GE 414-400 from Super Hornet fighter.The aircraft will have 94 foot long and small canards ahead of the cockpit.
NASA expects to achieve a sonic boom noise of 70-75 perceived decibel level, lower than the 105 PLdB of the Concorde – the famous Anglo-French supersonic was banned from flying over the US because it made too much noise.