NASA’s X-59, the beacon of hope for the revival of supersonic flight, has taken a significant stride towards becoming a tangible reality. Lockheed Martin, the creative minds behind this futuristic aircraft, recently transferred the X-59 to a paint barn at their facility in Palmdale, California, marking a pivotal moment in the project’s journey. This exciting development was unveiled in a blog post by the venerable space agency.
Since the era of Concorde flights came to a close, the collective desire to soar through the skies at supersonic speeds has lingered in the hearts of many. While fighter pilots revel in the exhilaration of supersonic travel, ordinary civilians harbor hopes that innovative companies like Boom and Spike Aerospace will usher in an era where breaking the sound barrier becomes a commonplace luxury.
Yet, there remains a hurdle that must be overcome before supersonic travel can reach its full potential—the longstanding U.S. ban on supersonic flights over cities. A half-century has passed since this blanket ban was imposed, and the X-59 is on a mission to challenge and overturn it.
The roots of this ban trace back to 1968 when an F-105 Thunderchief, tearing through the skies at supersonic speeds, flew over a school in Colorado. The sonic shockwave shattered 200 windows and left a dozen people injured, sparking widespread public outrage. At that time, supersonic technology was in its infancy, and solutions to mitigate the impact of sonic booms were elusive. Consequently, five years later, a sweeping prohibition on civilian supersonic flight over U.S. land was enacted, a restriction that endures to this day.
For supersonic travel to truly realize its potential—picture a flight from London to New York in a mere 90 minutes—the X-59 aims to play a pivotal role in overturning this longstanding ban. The aircraft embodies NASA’s Quiet SuperSonic Technology (QueSST), measuring an impressive 94 feet in length with a wingspan nearly reaching 30 feet. It serves as a groundbreaking prototype demonstrating that sonic booms can be transformed from thunderous disruptions to more subdued thumps.
Visually reminiscent of the iconic Concorde, the X-59’s pointed nose cone obstructs the pilot’s vision, adding to its unique charm. Despite its visual similarities, the perceived noise level (PLdB) is targeted at 75 dB, louder than regular conversation but softer than the roar of a motorcycle engine.
After undergoing rigorous testing over the years, the X-59, initially seen in an unadorned green body, is now receiving a fresh coat of paint and a distinctive livery at Lockheed Martin’s paint barn. Once the transformation is complete, the X-59 will emerge with a sleek white body, a “sonic blue” underside, and eye-catching red accents on its wings. This aesthetic overhaul isn’t merely a vanity exercise; it serves the practical purpose of safeguarding the aircraft from moisture and corrosion. The markings applied during this process are not just cosmetic but integral to both ground and flight operations.
Cathy Bahm, the project manager for the X-59, anticipates an exciting year ahead, expressing enthusiasm for the aircraft’s exterior finally aligning with the monumental mission that lies ahead. The X-59, with its new look, is poised to soar into the future, promising to bring back the glory days of supersonic flight.