Luxury and Romance at the Speed of Sound

Supersonic passenger flights have a certain luxury and romance about them – at the very least, anyone who has ever been on a long, international flight can appreciate a significantly reduced flight time.

NASA announced Monday it has awarded a $20 million contract to Lockheed Martin to develop a preliminary design for a quiet demonstration passenger aircraft designed to fly faster than the speed of sound.

The piloted test aircraft would use so-called Quiet Supersonic Technology, or QueSST, to create a supersonic “heartbeat,” a kind of soft thump instead of the annoying sonic booms usually associated with supersonic planes. NASA is calling its quieter sonic boom design “low boom” technology.

To cut costs, the plane will be built using off-the-shelf parts from existing aircraft when possible, including landing gear from F-16 fighter jets. The cockpit likely will be set about 40 feet behind the nose of the aircraft, and pilots likely will use a synthetic generated vision system for takeoffs and landings.

The project is the first in a series of NASA “X-planes” as part of its New Aviation Horizons initiative. The planes are aimed at making flight greener, safer and quieter all while developing aircraft that travel faster, and building an aviation system that operates more efficiently.

If NASA and Lockheed can deliver on all these promises this sounds like a win for speedier international travel.