WASHINGTON — 2023 will be a pivotal year for American aerospace engineering, as well as for NASA. The first flight of the US super-jet – Lockheed Martin X-59 QueSST – is planned for next year. The X-59 is an experimental supersonic aircraft being developed at Skunk Works for NASA’s Low-Boom Flight Demonstrator project.
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The project started years ago. Its main purpose, once manufactured and tested, is to start collecting key data. They will be needed by the United States so that in the coming years it is this data that will shape the future of American commercial supersonic aviation.
History remembers the first supersonic commercial aircraft – the French Concorde. But its existence was short, and it was not crowned with such great success as was expected.
NASA promises the X-59 will be different from the Concorde and solve the shock wave problem. Commercial supersonic aircraft are currently banned in the US precisely because of the shock wave that causes turbulence in the air upon reaching the speed of sound and results in the generation of 100 decibels of sound energy that can be heard nearly 50 km away.
US sources report that the hotly anticipated X-59 has already received its turbofan engine. This is the F414-GE-100 developed by General Electric. The engine can reach a thrust of 98 kN at full afterburner. Engineers estimate that thanks to this engine, NASA’s new superjet will fly at an altitude of 55,000 feet and reach a maximum flight speed of Mach 1.4.
Industry sources report that Lockheed Martin was initially willing to test the F404 engine. This engine is used in certain F/A-18 fighter jets specially designed for NASA. It turned out that the F404 could not generate the desired thrust, so this proposal was rejected.
Also, another reason is that to generate the desired thrust Lockheed Martin needs to integrate two engines into the X-59, but there is no room. Then General Electric realized that they had developed an engine for the Swedish SAAB Gripen fighters, which could serve as the basis of the future super-jet engine.
It did after it was established that the F414-GE-100 could achieve the desired performance. A GE source even says that the two engines are similar [the fighter’s and the X-59’s] and differ only in external design. Of course, the company says that some performance characteristics of the engine compared to the one in the Swedish fighter have been significantly improved.
At the moment, there is no exact date when 2023 the first tests will be carried out. We only know that until now, structural tests have been done with a scale model of the X-59, in which, in addition to NASA, experts from the Japanese Space Agency [JAXA] also took part.
This aircraft will need to collect data over various American cities for the sound network above them. The collected data will be submitted to the International Civil Aviation Organization and Federal Aviation Administration. NASA plans to provide this data in 2027, which means that in 2024 and 2025 real flights should be made. However, some experts think that NASA could delay the planned flights by two years. I.e. it is possible that by the end of the decade the data will be publicly available.
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