Defense contractor Lockheed Martin has been awarded a contract worth $247.5 million by NASA to develop a supersonic jet that produces less noise. This is seen as another step towards building plans which are capable of flying passengers at a quicker pace. Flying at a speed of 1,600 kilometers an hour at 55,000 feet altitude the experimental plane is slated to be unveiled in 2021. The experimental jet will only fit in a pilot but will be used to test design principles which are capable of softening the sonic boom.
Lockheed Martin and NASA are seeking ways in which they can foster technology which is capable of overcoming noise restrictions with regards to supersonic flights which since 1973 have been banned for use in civil aviation. After tests have been conducted for safety the jet will fly over some select communities with a view to seeking feedback on its impact. The ultimate objective is to make faster jet travel possible and spur manufacturers to develop speedier planes.
The Concorde which was a supersonic airline which started services in 1976 was developed by a partnership between the French and the British and was operated by British Airways and Air France before it was shuttered in 2003 partly because flights were limited due to noise complaints.
The experimental plane to be developed by Lockheed will be designed in such a way that it mitigates against the shock waves that emanate from its engine, wings, nose as well as other protruding areas after the breaking of the sound barrier. Existing parts will be used and this includes the F-16 Fighting Falcon’s landing gear and the T-38 Talon’s pilot seat. The experimental plan will have a wing span measuring 29.5 feet and will be 94 feet long.
“It’s about the data that will be collected. It’s that data that is used then to shape the future. We’re very confident as we go forward from here in the design that we have, and being able to achieve that low-boom signature,” Lockheed’s David Richardson said.
Private business jets are expected by NASA to become the first supersonic planes to enjoy commercial success once overland flight bans are lifted. According to NASA, large passenger supersonic airlines will most likely not be feasible until after 2035.
Lockheed Martin is not the only planemaker that is making supersonic jets. Business jet startup Aerion Corp is developing an aircraft that is capable of flying overland at allowed speeds and then above-speed-of-sound speeds over the ocean.