NASA’s Next X-Plane Passes Major Review

The X-59 QueSST project is now committed to a three-year timeline.

(Image source: NASA)

NASA has officially committed to a three-year development timeline that will lead to the first flight of its X-59 Quiet Supersonic Technology  (QueSST) aircraft.

This critical milestone comes after a rigorous review, called “Key Decision Point-C (KDP-C),” that confirmed NASA’s continued support of the X-59  in terms of funding. It establishes an achievable development timeline for NASA’s first piloted full-size X-plane in more than three decades.

“This aircraft has the potential to transform aviation in the United States and around the world by making faster-than-sound air travel over land possible for everyone,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

The X-59 QueSST, developed by NASA and Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, is designed to cruise at 55,000 feet at a speed of about 940 mph and create a sound about as loud as a car door closing – approximately 75 Perceived Level decibel (PLdB) – instead of a sonic boom. (Image source: Lockheed Martin)

“We can’t wait to see this bird fly!” added Bridenstine.

KDP-C commits NASA to the full X-59 development effort through flight-testing in 2021. The cost and schedule commitments outlined in KDP-C align the project with program management best practices that account for potential technical risks and budgetary uncertainty beyond the project’s control.

“This is a monumental milestone for the project,” said Jaiwon Shin, NASA’s associate administrator for aeronautics. “I’m extremely proud of the team for its hard work getting to this point, and we all look forward to watching this aircraft take shape and then take flight.”

The X-59 QueSST is shaped to reduce the loudness of a sonic boom to that of a gentle thump, if it’s heard at all. The supersonic aircraft will be flown above select U.S. communities to measure public perception of the noise – data that will help regulators establish new rules for commercial supersonic air travel over land.

Earlier this month, NASA conducted test flights in Galveston, Texas, with a modified McDonnell Douglas F/A-18  supersonic research aircraft in a unique maneuver intended to produce a quieter “thump.” NASA surveyed volunteers from Galveston to determine how audible the supersonic thumps were in order to better understand successful data collection methods for the X-59.

Read more: NASA to test quiet thump supersonic propulsion technique, measure sound levels and community response

Furthermore, NASA will be working with France’s Office National d'Etudes et de Recherches Aerospatiales  (ONERA) to develop an accurate method of determining where the sound waves of sonic booms will impact the ground as supersonic aircraft fly overhead.

Read more: NASA partners with ONERA on low-boom supersonic flight

Management of X-59 QueSST development falls under the Low Boom Flight Demonstrator project , part of the Integrated Aviation Systems Program in NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate. Lockheed Martin’s Palmdale, California-based special projects branch, Skunk Works, will manufacture the X-59 for NASA.

Read more: Lockheed Martin Skunk Works begins manufacturing X-59 supersonic aircraft parts

William Kucinski  is content editor at SAE International, Aerospace Products Group in Warrendale, Pa. Previously, he worked as a writer at the NASA Safety Center in Cleveland, Ohio and was responsible for writing the agency’s System Failure Case Studies. His interests include literally anything that has to do with space, past and present military aircraft, and propulsion technology.

Contact him regarding any article or collaboration ideas by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..