NASA Builds Supersonic Concorde Successor, But Not Too Noisy
The X-59 project aims to stop the noisy sonic explosions that resonate. (photo: NASA doc)

JAKARTA - NASA has completed wind tunnel tests on a scaled-down model of a 'quiet' supersonic jet. Tests of the small-scale model were carried out in an 8-foot by 6-foot 'supersonic wind tunnel' by engineers at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio.

The full-scale X-59 QueSST supersonic aircraft, dubbed 'The Son of Concorde', is currently still being built by NASA and aerospace company Lockheed Martin at its Skunk Works division in Palmdale, California.

Once completed, it will travel through the air at supersonic speeds – faster than the speed of sound – just like the Concorde before retiring in 2003.

If allowed for commercial travel, the X-59 QueSST could fly from London to New York in just three hours without emitting a loud sonic boom as the Concorde did during its 27-year aviation history.

The X-59's engine was purposely designed to be positioned at the top of the aircraft to produce a quieter 'thump' when traveling at Mach 1.4, or 1,074 miles per hour.

Its nose, which is 30 feet long, is also specially designed to minimize the shock waves triggered by the movement of airborne particles when the aircraft is flying faster than the speed of sound (767 miles per hour).

NASA posted an online update on a recent test of a scaled-down clone of the final version, which will measure 94 feet long with a wingspan of 29.5 feet when fully built.

"This was the team's opportunity to get data at the low levels of noise generated in the tunnel", said Clayton Meyers, NASA's deputy commercial supersonic technology (CST) project manager, as quoted by the Daily Mail. "It all depends on our ability to measure the thud".

The model underwent weeks of testing in tunnels, to generate shock waves captured by a special 'schlieren' camera.

Schlieren photography is used to capture fluid flows of varying densities. Images from the camera gave engineers a visualization of the shock wave and its position as the air passed through the model.

According to NASA, the shock waves generated by the model matched, in terms of position and strength, to the shock waves from previous computer models for quieter, supersonic flight.

Ultimately, the project X-59 aimed to stop the noisy sonic booms that reverberated over Concorde-era cities, while flying at Mach 1.4.

A sonic boom occurs when shock waves from an object moving in the air faster than the speed of sound combine before reaching the ground. Sonic booms produce enormous sound energy, about 110 decibels, like the sound of explosions or thunder.

The loud bangs heard every time the Concorde broke the sound barrier were often described as unsettling by some members of the public, which eventually restricted the plane to flights over the Atlantic when it began carrying passengers in 1976.

In contrast, the X-59 is designed to stop shock waves triggered by the movement of airborne particles as the aircraft penetrates the sound barrier from merging. Supersonic flight became less noisy anymore.

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