Timelapse shows construction of NASA's supersonic aircraft set to fly next year


NASA’s incredible supersonic aircraft dubbed the ‘son of Concorde’ is taking shape as it gears up for its first test flight next year.

The American space agency shared a time lapse video of the X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology’s (QueSST) construction for the craft, which is taking place at Lockheed Martin Skunk Works in Palmdale, California. 

The craft is designed to prevent a startling sonic boom from being heard on the ground when it cruises at Mach 1.4, or 925 miles per hour. For comparison purposes, the speed of sound is 767mph. 

The short 43-second clip shows the development of the fuselage that houses the cockpit, and the 29.5-foot-wide wing that holds the fuel systems and parts of the control systems. 

At the end of the video, viewers see the tail assembly coming together.

This section is built with heat resistant materials that protect the aircraft from the heat given off by the X-59’s GE F414 engine, which sits in the upper section of the craft.

This is one of many purposeful design elements that ensure the aircraft is shaped as desired to produce a quieter noise to people below.

Also nearing completion is the tail designed with heat resistant materials, which will contain the engine compartment.

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NASA's incredible supersonic aircraft that will travel faster than the speed of sound, which is 767 miles per hour, is taking shape as it gears up for its first test flight next year

NASA’s incredible supersonic aircraft that will travel faster than the speed of sound, which is 767 miles per hour, is taking shape as it gears up for its first test flight next year

Jay Brandon, NASA chief engineer for the Low Boom Flight Demonstrator (LBFD) project, said in a statement: ‘We’ve now transitioned from being a bunch of separate parts sitting around on different parts of the production floor to an airplane.’

X-59, first announced in 2018, is being made in collaboration with Lockheed Martin, which said the move ‘marks a milestone to bring supersonic commercial travel over land one step closer to reality.’

NASA awarded the American aerospace and defense company a $247.5 million contract to build the X-59, which is set to finish development this year and begin test flights in 2022.

The team began the venture by creating laser projects of the aircraft’s wing, tail assembly and fuselage to ensure their designs fit perfectly.

The American space agency shared a timelapse of the X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology's (QueSST) construction for the craft dubbed the 'son of Concorde,' which is taking place at Lockheed Martin Skunk Works in Palmdale, California

The American space agency shared a timelapse of the X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology’s (QueSST) construction for the craft dubbed the ‘son of Concorde,’ which is taking place at Lockheed Martin Skunk Works in Palmdale, California

The short clip shows the development of the fuselage that houses the cockpit and the 29.5-foot-wide wing that holds the fuel systems and parts of the control systems

The short clip shows the development of the fuselage that houses the cockpit and the 29.5-foot-wide wing that holds the fuel systems and parts of the control systems

As the project has progressed, Lockheed and NASA have started to put the pieces together, with Lockheed Martin’s program director David Richardson likening it to Legos. 

‘The extensive use of features and pre-drilled, full-size fastener holes has significantly reduced the time it takes to locate and fit parts, especially mating large assemblies like this,’ Richardson said in a statement.

‘It is sort of like how Legos go together. We used the laser tracker to make sure it is all aligned per the engineering specs before we permanently bolted it all together.’

The team celebrated when they confirmed all the hardware would fit in the real craft.

Dave Richwine, NASA’s LBFD deputy project manager for technology, said: ‘A milestone like this – seeing the airplane coming together as a single unit – really reinvigorates and motivates the team.’

Also nearing completion is the tail designed with heat resistant materials, which will contain the engine compartment

Also nearing completion is the tail designed with heat resistant materials, which will contain the engine compartment

The front part of the craft, known as the fuselage, helps form the entire shape of the supersonic craft. This area will soon get its 30-foot-long nose that is specifically designed to minimize resistance associate with shock from the craft traveling faster than the speed of sound.

The front part of the craft, known as the fuselage, helps form the entire shape of the supersonic craft. This area will soon get its 30-foot-long nose that is specifically designed to minimize resistance associate with shock from the craft traveling faster than the speed of sound.

The fuselage (the front part of the craft) helps form the entire shape of the supersonic craft.

This portion of the craft will soon get its 30-foot-long nose that is specifically designed to minimize resistance associated with shock from the craft traveling faster than the speed of sound.

According to NASA, the cockpit will look more like an office with its cutting-edge technology that helps pilots navigate the powerful aircraft.

The cockpit will contain the forward-facing ‘window’ the eXternal Vision System (XVS), which consists of two cameras mounted above and below the X-59’s nose. 

The XVS serves as an additional safety aid to help the pilot maneuver safely through the skies; it’s also the only system that will fit in the cockpit – other variations would protrude through the canopy, according to NASA.

The video also shows the wing, what NASA says is the ‘most recognizable part of the airplane.

Later this year, Lockheed Martin plans to ship the X-59 to a sister facility in Ft. Worth, Texas, where ground testing will be done to ensure the aircraft can withstand the loads and stresses that typically occur during flight

Later this year, Lockheed Martin plans to ship the X-59 to a sister facility in Ft. Worth, Texas, where ground testing will be done to ensure the aircraft can withstand the loads and stresses that typically occur during flight

Dubbed the 'son of Concorde,' the craft is designed to prevent a startling sonic boom from being heard on the ground when it cruises at Mach 1.4 (925mph)

Dubbed the ‘son of Concorde,’ the craft is designed to prevent a startling sonic boom from being heard on the ground when it cruises at Mach 1.4 (925mph)

Richwine explained that this was ‘the most complicated section and first section of the X-59 that was fabricated by Lockheed Martin.’ 

‘The Lockheed Martin team used robotic machines with names that sound like pilot call signs – Mongoose and COBRA – to manufacture the wing before its mate to the tail assembly and fuselage,’ NASA shared in the statement.

‘Mongoose is a tool with the ability to weave together composite wing skins using ultraviolet light to bind the composite material COBRA – Combined Operation: Bolting and Robotic AutoDrill – efficiently created holes that allowed the team to attach the wing skins to the wing frame.’  

Later this year, Lockheed Martin plans to ship the X-59 to a sister facility in Ft. Worth, Texas, where ground testing will be done to ensure the aircraft can withstand the loads and stresses that typically occur during flight. 

The team will also calibrate and test the fuel systems, sending the X-59 back to California for more tests before it hits the skies for its first test flight sometime in 2022.

In 2024, NASA will fly the X-59 over several communities around the nation to gauge people's response to the sonic thump sound produced by the aircraft – if they hear anything at all

In 2024, NASA will fly the X-59 over several communities around the nation to gauge people’s response to the sonic thump sound produced by the aircraft – if they hear anything at all

If the test flight is successful, NASA plans to fly X-59 over the test range at the agency’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California in 2023 to prove it can produce a quieter sonic thump and is safe to operate in the National Airspace System. 

In 2024, NASA will fly the X-59 over several communities around the nation to gauge people’s response to the sonic thump sound produced by the aircraft – if they hear anything at all. 

‘The data collected will be given to the Federal Aviation Administration and the International Civil Aviation Organization for their consideration in changing the existing bans on supersonic flight over land,’ according to NASA.

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