Supersonic X-Plane Testing Explores New Territory


Image: NASA/David C. Bowman

Wind tunnel testing of NASA’s X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology (QueSST) aircraft is breaking new ground, according to NASA aeronautics researcher Corey Diebler. The X-59 QueSST is part of NASA’s Low-Boom Flight Demonstration mission and is one of the first aircraft specifically shaped to prevent shockwaves from creating sonic booms when it exceeds the speed of sound. The goal of the program is to develop aircraft that can travel at supersonic speeds while remaining quiet enough to overfly populated areas.

“Being a flight test project, it’s always good to know what lies out there beyond the edges of our planned flight envelope and understand how the airplane will behave when it gets in those regions … should we find ourselves there,” said Diebler. “We’re going into a region where we don’t have any other data to guide us.” According to NASA, the recent low-speed wind tunnel test series included static stability and control tests, dynamic forced oscillation tests and flow visualization tests using smoke and laser techniques, some of which can be seen in the video below.

The tests were conducted on a subscale model of the supersonic X-plane and were designed to collect low-speed aerodynamic stability and control data. NASA says the data will be used to develop simulation models and refine flight controls for the X-59. The agency awarded a $247.5 million contract to Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works to build the supersonic X-plane last April. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2019, with supersonic test flights over selected communities to gauge reactions to the noise on the calendar for 2023.