NASA’s New “X” Plane Is Designed to Create Quieter Sonic Booms

The X-59’s purpose is to help regulators reassess civilian supersonic travel.

I’m something of an aviation nerd. I love going to airshows. I still have copies of Air & Space Forces Magazine that I got back in high school. And some of my earliest memories involve reading about the Air Force in my grandparents’ World Book encyclopedias and becoming convinced that I’d be a pilot when I grew up. (Sorry, five-year-old me, that career path didn’t pan out.) So of course I’m going to get a little excited when NASA rolls out a new experimental aircraft.

Designed and built in cooperation with Lockheed Martin Skunk Works — the department behind such legendary aircraft as the SR-71 and U-2 — the newly announced X-59 is a supersonic aircraft designed specifically to create quieter sonic booms (i.e., sonic “thumps”). NASA’s hope with the “Quesst” mission is to eventually provide data to regulators and officials to help them reassess civilian supersonic travel, which is currently banned because sonic booms are so loud and disruptive in populated areas.

The X-59 — which first drew my eye because it resembles some of the fantastical aircraft in Namco’s Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere, one of my favorite video games for the PlayStation — will make its first flights later this year, with the plan to begin flights over populated areas sometime in 2025 or 2026. (The War Zone has more info on the X-59’s mission parameters.)

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