Civil Aviation

Lockheed Martin Skunk Works Rolls Out X-59 QueSST NASA’s Newest X-Plane

X-59 Roll out

Lockheed Martin Skunk Works rolled out the X-59 on Jan. 12, 2024, a unique experimental aircraft designed to quiet the sonic boom, at a ceremony in Palmdale, California. The ceremony marked a significant milestone in Lockheed Martin’s and NASA’s decades-long journey to solve one of the most persistent challenges of supersonic flight – the sonic boom.

“We’re thrilled to take on this challenge alongside NASA, whose quiet supersonic technology mission will have lasting, transformational impacts for people around the world,” said John Clark, vice president and general manager, Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, said in a company news release. “This project is just one example of the broader ingenuity of our industry as we continually strive to push the envelope of what’s possible.”

Rollout ceremonies are a long-standing aviation tradition, and in the case of the X-59, it celebrated technical advancements, collaboration and innovation that stemmed from years of research, development and production of a one-of-a-kind technology demonstrator aircraft that will reduce the loudness of sonic booms to a gentle thump.

First flight later this year

“The entire X-59 team leaned into the expertise of both legendary organizations, NASA and Lockheed Martin, to ensure success for this program. I am extremely proud of everyone who made this historic moment possible,” said Greg Ulmer, executive vice president, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics.

Lockheed Martin, NASA and government leaders attended the ceremony to include:

  • Greg Ulmer, executive vice president, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics
  • John Clark, vice president and general manager, Lockheed Martin Skunk Works
  • Pam Melroy, NASA Deputy Administrator
  • Jim Free, NASA Associate Administrator
  • Bob Pearce, NASA Associate Administrator
  • Dee Dee Myers, California’s Senior Economic Advisor to the Governor

Next, the aircraft will complete ground tests including engine-run and taxi tests before its next major milestone, first flight, later this year. After the aircraft is validated in initial flight tests, it will move into the acoustic testing phase. This phase will include flights over populated areas to provide US and international regulators with statistically valid data required to help approve new rules that could allow quiet commercial supersonic flight over land. This would cut commercial flight times to half of what they are today, transforming travel for people around the world.

The X-59 QueSST

For more than a decade, Lockheed Martin Skunk Works and NASA have collaborated to solve one of the most persistent challenges of supersonic flight – the sonic boom. Lockheed Martin Skunk Works is leading the design, build and flight test of the X-59 quiet supersonic technology (QueSST) X-plane. The technology demonstrator will be flown over populated areas to provide U.S. and international regulators with statistically valid data required to help approve new rules that could allow quiet commercial supersonic flight over land, which could bring us one step closer to quiet supersonic travel for passengers around the globe.

The X-59 is an experimental supersonic aircraft shaped to reduce the loudness of a sonic boom reaching the ground to that of a gentle thump. The X-plane accomplishes this by a tailored design that separates the shock waves that produce sonic booms, making them quieter. The resulting supersonic “heartbeat” is dramatically quieter than the disruptive N-wave boom generated by today’s supersonic aircraft. We look forward to supporting NASA in the effort to obtain the data regulators will need to make informed decisions on appropriate sonic boom levels in the quest to remove the prohibition on supersonic over land flight.

Photo credit: Barry Tice / Lockheed Martin

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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