Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) has just won the $247.5 million NASA contract to develop a new X plane capable of supersonic speed. The catch is that they want the speed without the deafening sonic boom that comes with breaking the sound barrier.
Supersonic jets could fly from New York to London in under 4 hours, and could circle the globe in just over a day. However, the boom created when the aircraft breaks the sound barrier is so loud that it can dislodge roof tiles and shatter windows, which has resulted in supersonic flights being banned or restricted in many places.
The cost-plus NASA contract for a new supersonic plane without the boom awarded to Lockheed Martin will allow the company’s secretive Skunk Works division to continue development of its Quiet Supersonic Technology—or QueSST—aircraft. This would be “NASA’s first X-plan in a generation,” according to a Lockheed Martin spokesperson.
“We look forward to applying the extensive work completed under QueSST to the design, build and flight test of the X-plan, providing NASA with a demonstrator to make supersonic commercial travel possible for passengers around the globe,” program manager Peter Iosifidis said in a statement.
The new X plane will cruise at 55,000 feet and reach speeds of 940 mph, and will create a sound of less than half the noise level created now by a sonic boom. And under the contract for the low-boom flight demonstration contract, Lockheed Martin will have a prototype for NASA to test fly by the end of 2021.
The goal with the new plane is to clear the way for a successor to the supersonic Concorde, which began service in 1976. That plane produced such a loud crack as it blasted overhead that regulators in the U.S. and Europe banned it from flying at supersonic speeds over people in their respective air spaces, relegating the Concorde to transatlantic routes. The Concorde struggled financially, and eventually shuttered in 2003. A quieter plane could ease the restrictions that killed the Concorde.
“This X-plane is a critical step closer to that exciting future,” said Jaiwon Shin, who runs NASA’s aeronautics research. “People enjoying affordable, quiet, supersonic flights in the future will say April 3rd, 2018 is the day it all began.”