There are currently no supersonic commercial passenger aircraft, and aircraft capable of breaking the sound barrier are banned from doing so over most of the United States. The biggest reason why aircraft aren’t allowed to break the sound barrier is noise created. NASA is working on an experimental aircraft called the X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology aircraft and has announced that it is entering a stage of its construction where it more closely resembles an actual aircraft.
The aircraft is known as QueSST for short, and major sections of the aircraft were recently merged, making it look like an actual flying machine for the first time. The first metal for the experimental aircraft was cut in 2018. NASA chief engineer for the Low Boom Flight Demonstrator, Jay Brandon, says the aircraft’s transition from numerous separate parts located on different parts of the production floor to an airplane is a milestone.
The experimental aircraft is currently under construction at the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works in California. The aircraft is designed to reach supersonic speeds of approximately 660 mph at sea level without producing a sonic boom audible to those on the ground. NASA intends to work with communities around the country to understand the response to the sound produced by the aircraft and will provide that data to regulators.
Hopefully, the data can be used to change rules that currently ban supersonic flight over land. If the rules against supersonic flight were lifted, time in the air could be cut in half for air travelers in the future. NASA says the team used features on the aircraft’s structure to self-locate its wing, tail assembly, and fuselage. The team also used laser projections to verify precise fitment.
Extensive use of features like pre-drilled full-sized fastener holes significantly reduces the time it takes to locate parts. The process is likened to how Legos go together. The laser tracker ensured the aircraft is aligned to the engineering specs before it was permanently bolted together. In the future, the 30-foot-long nose of the aircraft will be mounted to the fuselage.