WASHINGTON-Nasa’s next-generation supersonic passenger airliner will not have a windscreen because its unusually long nose would block any view for the pilots.
Instead, the aircraft will use a combination of monitors and cameras known as an ‘external vision system’ that recreates a similar view to the one pilots would get through the windscreen of a more traditional plane. The 1,100mph (1,770kph) jet – dubbed X-59 Quiet Supersonic Transport (QueSST) – will also feature a small, second set of wings positioned slightly ahead of the main pair, it has been revealed.
An expert at Lockheed Martin, which has paired with Nasa on the project, said the bizarre features are designed to dampen the sound of the X-59’s sonic booms. The two firms are attempting to build an airliner that produces booms no louder than a slamming car door in a bid to get around government bans on noise pollution.
If successful, flights with the X-59 could begin as early as 2021, with the eventual goal to produce a commercial supersonic airliner capable of travelling from London to New York in just three hours.
Dubbed ‘son of Concorde’ by aviation fans, the vehicle could lead to the first supersonic aircraft to carry commercial passengers since the iconic Anglo-French jet was decommissioned 15 years ago.
A new in-depth look at the highly anticipated test vehicle, which is also known as the Low-Boom Flight Demonstrator (LBFD), has revealed fresh details on the project.
Peter Iosifidis, Lockheed’s X-59 program manager, told CNet that building a craft capable of ‘low-sonic-booms’ was vital for commercially viable supersonic travel.
Concorde, which was permanently grounded in 2003, could only fly between London, New York and Paris due to government legislation on noise levels.
Mr Iosifidis said: ‘If you don’t have a low-sonic-boom airplane and you’re only traveling fast over the ocean, you’re limiting your pair cities for travel.
‘The business model to service only a third of the world ultimately doesn’t work … you have to satisfy the entire global community.’
The X-59 has several unusual features designed to disperse sound waves as the vehicle breaks the sound barrier.
The convergence of these waves is what produced the loud sonic booms of concorde, and scientists believe halting it could dampen the plane’s noise levels.
But the X-59’s huge nose, which helps separate sound waves during flights, is so long that it obstructs the view of the runway during landing, Mr Iosifidis revealed.
Concorde got around this problem by including a folding nose, but Nasa’s aircraft will provide pilots with monitors instead.
The aircraft will also achieve its quieter sonic booms using a second pair of wings.
These so-called ‘canards’, positioned slightly further forward than the main wings, ensure sound waves produced when the aircraft breaks Mach 1 do not converge.
‘A low sonic boom is directly attributable to the shape of an aircraft,’ Mr Iosifidis said.
‘If the airplane was shorter, we would not be able to separate those shocks like we need to.’