NASA may be called the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, but the agency has been neglecting the aeronautics aspect of its research in favor of space-related projects. Charles Bolden, the agency’s administrator, thinks it’s about time that changed, which is why he announced on Monday that NASA wants to develop a new generation of passenger jets that are not only much faster, but greener and quieter as well. The agency is currently working with Lockheed Martin to develop this new technology, but it’ll be several years before we actually see it implemented, and how long it takes will depend heavily on how much funding NASA receives in the years to come.
The age of supersonic jet travel may be a tiny bit closer to making a comeback. NASA announced Monday it has awarded a $20 million contract to Lockheed Martin to develop a preliminary design for a quiet demonstration passenger aircraft designed to fly faster than the speed of sound. The piloted test aircraft would use so-called Quiet Supersonic Technology, or QueSST, to create a supersonic “heartbeat,” a kind of soft thump instead of the annoying sonic booms usually associated with supersonic planes. The project is the first in a series of NASA “X-planes” as part of its New Aviation Horizons initiative. The planes are aimed at making “flight greener, safer and quieter — all while developing aircraft that travel faster, and building an aviation system that operates more efficiently,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden during the official announcement Monday at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia. Sonic booms come from shock waves created as supersonic planes cut through the air. The waves cause sudden air pressure changes, which trigger booming sounds that can be heard for miles. Last January, sonic booms from new U.S. Navy F-35C fighter jets being tested offshore rattled residents along the U.S. East Coast. Reaction to the booms lit up Twitter, Facebook and other social media.