NASA’s quiet supersonic test aircraft, the X-59, has been removed from its jig system to begin final assembly, including the first power-on of the aircraft to test internal systems.
Once that is complete, the aircraft, officially called the X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology (QueSST), will be shipped to Lockheed Martin’s facilities in Fort Worth, Texas, where structural tests will be conducted.
The first flight of the demonstrator is planned for 2022.
The team has made significant progress on the X-59 QueSST assembly. In October, the team pulled the aircraft away from the jig support system. The jig, which is similar to scaffolding, helped ensure all of the aircraft’s hardware was placed together correctly throughout the manufacturing process.
“It’s pretty simple to move the jig away,” said David Richwine, NASA’s X-59 deputy project manager for technology. “It’s the preparation that’s more time consuming.”
Most of the preparation for the X-59's construction involved more than a decade’s worth of research on quiet supersonic technology. NASA’s quiet supersonic mission plans to bring all of the science and technology developed during those years into the spotlight.
For Richwine, seeing the construction of the aircraft feels personal. “I have been working on supersonics technology, and the predecessor to the concept for the past 15 years,” Richwine said. “I have more of an emotional attachment because I have put so many years into this mission.”
Initial construction of NASA’s X-59 began in 2018 at Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works facility in Palmdale, California.
The X-59 will be flown as part of a mission to collect data on quiet supersonic flight and public reactions to supersonic “thumps”. The plane is shaped in a way that reduces a sonic boom typically associated with supersonic aircraft to a quiet sonic thump to people on the ground. The mission’s findings will be sent to regulators to help create new rules regarding speed limitations on supersonic flight over land.