NASA, Lockheed Martin To Build Supersonic X-Plane


NASA has awarded a $247 million contract to Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works to build a piloted quiet supersonic technology demonstrator, with first flight planned for summer 2021, officials announced at a news conference on Tuesday. The testing is intended to be the first step toward changing international regulations that prohibit supersonic flight over land, and enabling private manufacturers to move forward with the development of supersonic business jets. Peter Coen, manager for the project at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia, said the key element in Lockheed Martin’s design is “a brand-new shape.” The rest of the airplane is “off-the-shelf” technology, he said, and will require no new development. The X-Plane will be 94 feet long, and fly at 1.4 Mach at 51,000 feet, Coen said.

NASA plans to complete a critical design review of Lockheed-Martin’s plans in September 2019. Testing of the aircraft will take place through September 2022. Then it will begin its main mission, flying at supersonic speeds above a variety of urban, suburban, and rural areas to test the response of people on the ground to the noise signature. The design of the airplane is intended to reduce the “sonic boom” to a thump or a double-thump by the time it reaches the ground. The noise tests are expected to take place 2023 through 2025. NASA said it received three inquiries in response to its request for proposals for the demonstrator, but Lockheed Martin was the sole bidder for the contract.


  1. This project is spending nearly a quarter billion dollars to REPEAT testing already done nearly 20 years ago by NASA Dryden (now Armstrong) using an airplane built out of an old and reshaped F-5 Aggressor airplane! It was called the Shaped Sonic Boom Demonstrator (SSBD); it’s now displayed at the Tico Air Museum. They’re spending all that money to build a new airplane with a pointy nose that’ll fly at M1.4! WHY? They already know what the shock wave intensity will be +/- … the NASA/NAVY/DARPA testing on the SSBD airplane already measured those intensities right there AT NASA Armstrong both in the air AND on the ground. Further, if they want to know what the population thinks of sonic booms, just go to the Antelope Valley area of the Mojave Desert near Palmdale / Edwards AFB and ask those folks what they think; they live with booms routinely. Never bothered me during the 27 years I lived and worked there. I confronted the project pilot at Airventure 2019 during a NASA dog and pony show about this; he stammered and tap danced trying to answer me but was unsuccessful at providing me with anything substantive which would change my opinion. IMHO, this is nothing more than a boondoggle or make work for both Lockheed Martin and NASA Armstrong. I’m not the only person formerly involved with the SSBD effort who feels this way. Taxpayers should be outraged over this needless expenditure reinventing the wheel. If nothing else, they could have resurrected the SSBD airplane and done the civilian overflights for a helluva lot less money on that airframe.