NASA Unveils Plans For Supersonic Passenger Plane

Owing to its supersonic boom, the Concorde jet may have been one of the bigger marketing failures of the last 40-years behind New Coke and trying to sell the Chevy Nova in countries that speak Spanish where “no va” translates to “no go.”

NASA Unveils Plans For Supersonic Passenger Plane

NASA has no interest in the Concorde’s noise

The Concorde was a bit of a marvel in engineering and didn’t struggle to reach speeds of around 1,500 miles per hour (generally, speaking it flew at about 1,300 mph). However, commercially it was an absolute flop and that was before its infamous crash. While it crossed the Atlantic at truly breathtaking speed, it cost about $9,000 for a round-trip ticket and it was loud as hell. Originally built to get to California in record time its sonic booms and overall noise was always going to hold it back from flying over the farming communities of rural areas in the “fly-over” states.

But NASA believes that it can build a “low-boom” supersonic passenger plane to replace the Concorde. Or at least help others develop one in the next five(?) years.

The craft that NASA officials unveiled today is a strange looking thing with a long, skinny nose, and almost unparalleled angling of the wings and a tail best described as one of the nerdy kids from your youth’s crazy designs for a paper airplane.

NASA is calling the jet QueSST and believes that it can achieve Mach 1.4 or about 1,100 miles per hour without the noise that the Concorde brought to the skies. The Concorde was in service from 1976 to 2003 and NASA clearly believes that its successor’s time is due and hopes to bring supersonic flight to the “masses.”

The sonic booms of a supersonic jet are caused by a culmination and combination of shock waves rolling off the jet creating that double “BOOM.” But NASA believes that with its design it can reduce the noise of the QueSST to resemble something “more like a soft thump,” NASA administrator Charlie Bolden said Monday.

This “instead of the annoying sonic boom that currently prohibits commercial supersonic flight over land,” he continued.

$20 million to Lockheed Martin

While NASA’s plane is odd looking and sexy, not unlike Grace Jones, it is only a preliminary design. NASA now plans to hand further design work over to private companies including Lockheed Martin which has been given $20 million to ready a more complete design by early next year.

$20 million is not much but the actually construction and testing of a test vehicle that could be ready for takeoff as early as 2019, would take roughly $280 million barring any unforeseen, but almost expected, cost overruns.

While President Obama has asked Congress for the money in his 2017 budget, that offers no guarantees.

“It’s now up to Congress to see the wisdom of what we have proposed,” said Bolden during the unveiling of the design yesterday.

While the Concorde’s sound averaged about 105 decibels, NASA is aiming for 75 decibels when traveling at cruising altitude.

“The goal is to get something on the threshold of audibility,” said NASA’s Peter Coen.

“It’s worth noting that it’s been almost 70 years since Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in the Bell X-1 as part of our predecessor agency’s high speed research. Now we’re continuing that supersonic X-plane legacy with this preliminary design award for a quieter supersonic jet with an aim toward passenger flight,” said Bolden on Monday.

While the first model would only accommodate a single passenger, NASA believes the design could be adapted to provide space for 100 passengers.