NASA Ready to Roll Out Experimental X-59

Here’s when the aircraft designed to help shape possible future commercial supersonic flight will be revealed at Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works facility.

Artist’s concept of the X-59 quiet supersonic aircraft that NASA and Lockheed Martin Skunk Works will unveil on Friday, January 12. [Courtesy: NASA]

NASA is preparing to soon unveil its low-boom supersonic experimental aircraft, the X-59, at Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works factory in Palmdale, California. 

The one-of-a-kind X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology (QueSST) experimental aircraft is part of NASA’s Low Boom Flight Demonstration project aimed at collecting data to help shape regulations for possible future commercial supersonic flight over land. 

The official unveiling ceremony is set for Friday, January 12, at 1 p.m. PST, Lockheed Martin said Friday. The event will be streamed on NASA+, the space agency's website, as well as on social media.

Artist illustration of the X-59 in flight. [Courtesy: NASA]

The X-59's first flight, originally slated to take place last year, was moved to 2024 in October. 

[Courtesy: Lockheed Martin]

"As part of the demands of developing this unique aircraft, the QueSST team is working through several technical challenges identified over the course of 2023, when the X-59 had been scheduled to make its first flight," NASA said in a statement at the time. "Extra time is needed to fully integrate systems into the aircraft and ensure they work together as expected. The team is also resolving intermittent issues with some of the safety-redundant computers that control the aircraft’s systems."

In November, NASA revealed the aircraft had progressed to the paint barn at Skunk Works and that its primarily white paint scheme would include red wing accents and a NASA "sonic blue" underside.

"The paint doesn’t just add cosmetic value," said NASA, adding that it protects the aircraft from moisture and corrosion, as well as provides key markings needed for ground and flight operations.

Said Cathy Bahm, NASA’s lowe boom flight project manager: “The year ahead will be a big one for the X-59, and it will be thrilling for the outside of the aircraft to finally match the spectacular mission ahead.” 

'Gentle Thump'

The X-59 is designed to lessen the perceived sound of a sonic boom "to that of a gentle thump, similar to a car door shutting in the distance," according to Lockheed Martin. 

NASA will collect data on how communities perceive the sound of the X-59 flights, which will then be used to inform its recommendations for an acceptable noise-level standard for commercial supersonic flights and possibly repeal the current ban of supersonic flight over land.

NASA’s X-59 research aircraft moved from its construction site to the flight line—or the space between the hangar and the runway—at Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works in Palmdale, California, on June 16, 2023. The move allowed the X-59 team to perform safety and structural testing, critical steps toward first flight. [Courtesy: Lockheed Martin]

While the aircraft will showcase new technology, it will also utilize components from existing aircraft, according to NASA. Its life-support system, for example, comes from an F-15 Eagle, and its landing gear from an F-16 Fighting Falcon.

Kimberly is managing editor of FLYING Digital.

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