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Construction plan set for NASA’s super quiet, supersonic X-Plane

06 April 2018

Lockheed Martin has been awarded $247.5M to build and deliver the X-Plane to NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Centre by the end of 2021.

An artist’s concept of the low-boom flight demonstrator outside the Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company’s Skunk Works hangar in Palmdale, California. (Credits: Lockheed Martin)

“It is super exciting to be back designing and flying X-planes at this scale,” said Jaiwon Shin, NASA’s associate administrator for aeronautics. “Our long tradition of solving the technical barriers of supersonic flight to benefit everyone continues.”

The plane’s construction will be based on preliminary designs developed by Lockheed Martin back in 2016. It will be 94 feet long with a wingspan of 29.5 feet and have a fully-fuelled take-off weight of 32,300 pounds. Its cruising altitude speed of 55,000 feet is Mach 1.42/940mph with a top speed of Mach 1.5/990mph. A single General Electric F414 engine will propel the plane. 

The cockpit has room for a single pilot. Jim Less is one of the two primary NASA pilots at Armstrong who will fly the X-plane after Lockheed Martin’s pilots have completed initial test flights to make sure the design is safe to fly.

“A supersonic manned X-plane!” Less said, already eager to get his hands on the controls. “This is probably going to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me. We’re all pretty excited.”

The programme is divided into three phases and the tentative schedule looks like this:

• 2019 – NASA conducts a critical design review of the low-boom X-plane configuration, which, if successful, allows final construction and assembly to be completed.

• 2021 – Construction of the aircraft at Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works facility in Palmdale is completed, to be followed by a series of test flights to demonstrate the aircraft is safe to fly and meets all of NASA’s performance requirements. The aircraft is then officially delivered to NASA, completing Phase One.

• 2022 – Phase Two will see NASA fly the X-plane in the supersonic test range over Edwards to prove the quiet supersonic technology works as designed, its performance is robust, and it is safe for operations in the National Airspace System.

• 2022 to 2025 – Phase Three begins with the first community response test flights, which will be staged from Armstrong. Further community response activity will take place in four to six cities around the U.S.

Video courtesy of NASA

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