Major Milestone As NASA’s Quiet Supersonic X-59 QueSST Aircraft Gets Together
A chorus of bolts and machines filled the assembly building with X-59 Quiet SuperSonic, or QueSST, technology, as engineers, systems technicians and aircraft builders worked to merge the aircraft’s main sections together, making it look like a real airplane for the first time since metal was first cut in 2018.
“We have now gone from a set of separate parts spread across different parts of the production floor to an airplane,” said Jay Brandon, ">Nasa chief engineer of the Low Boom Flight Demonstrator (LBFD) project.
NASA’s X-59 QueSST is under construction at Lockheed Martin Skunk Works in Palmdale, Calif., And is designed to fly at supersonic speeds – around 660 mph at sea level – without producing a surprising sonic boom for people. on the ground.
NASA will work with U.S. communities to understand their reaction to the plane’s sound and provide this data to regulators, which could change the rules that currently ban supersonic flights over land, cutting travel time in half. for air travelers in the near future.
With great precision and precision, the team used features on the structure to accurately locate the wing, tail, and fuselage or front section of the aircraft, then used a series of laser projections to verify the precise fit.
“Extensive use of full-size features and pre-drilled mounting holes has dramatically reduced the time it takes to locate and adjust parts, especially when assembling large assemblies like this,” said David Richardson, Principal of the Lockheed Martin program. “It’s kind of like how Legos go together. We used the laser tracker to make sure everything is aligned to tech specs before we bolted everything down permanently. “
This time frame represents the manufacture of the X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology, or QueSST, aircraft from May 2019 to June 2021 and includes the amalgamation of its main sections – the wing, tail and fuselage or front section. . The first flight of the X-59 QueSST is scheduled for 2022. Credit: Lockheed Martin
Mating these major hardware components was a breath of fresh air for the team.
“A step like this – seeing the plane come together as a single unit – really invigorates and motivates the team,” said Dave Richwine, NASA’s LBFD deputy project manager for technology.
The aircraft fuselage contains the cockpit and helps define the shape of the X-59. Eventually, the aircraft’s 30-foot-long nose will be mounted on the fuselage.
Part of the cockpit is something you might see in an office. The pilot will see the sky in front of him through a 4K computer screen, which will display complex computer-processed images from two cameras mounted above and below the nose of the X-59. NASA calls this forward-facing “window” the External Vision System, or XVS.
The XVS serves as an additional safety aid to help the pilot safely maneuver in the air. This state of the art vision system is necessary because the desired shape and long nose of the X-59 will not allow a protruding cockpit canopy.
The unique shape of the X-59 controls how air moves away from the aircraft, ultimately preventing a sonic boom from disrupting communities on the ground.
The most recognizable part of the plane – the wing – was “the most complicated section and the first section of the X-59 that was manufactured by Lockheed Martin,” Richwine explained. The aircraft’s fuel systems and much of its control systems are housed in the 29.5-foot-wide wing.
The Lockheed Martin team used robotic machines with names that sound like pilot call signs – Mongoose and COBRA – to craft the front wing for its tail and fuselage companion.
Mongoose is a tool capable of weaving composite wing skins together using ultraviolet light to bind the composite material. COBRA – Combined Operation: Robotic Automatic Bolting and Drilling – efficiently created holes that allowed the team to attach the wing liners to the wing frame.
The tail unit contains the engine compartment. This section is constructed with heat resistant materials that protect the aircraft from the heat given off by the X-59’s GE F414 engine.
The engine is located at the top of the X-59. Similar to the XVS, this is one of the many useful design elements that ensure the aircraft is shaped the way you want it to produce quieter noise for people below.
What’s the point of the X-59 – other than it’s just a cool “plane”?
The X-59 – the visual centerpiece of the mission – certainly brings the cool factor, but the data part of NASA’s mission – the cheesy part – is what will revolutionize fast commercial air travel on earth.
NASA’s silent supersonic mission is to build the X-59 (happening now) and perform the first flight tests from 2022.
In 2023, NASA will fly the X-59 over the test range of the agency’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California to prove that it can make a quieter thud and that it can operate safely in the national airspace system. More than 175 ground recording systems will measure the sound coming from the X-59.
In 2024, NASA will fly the X-59 over several communities across the country to assess people’s response to the thudding produced by the plane – if they hear anything. The data collected will be forwarded to the Federal Aviation Administration and the International Civil Aviation Organization for review as part of amending existing bans on supersonic flights over land.
This ban went into effect in 1973 and has since plagued supersonic business ventures, restricting faster-than-sound travel to only flights over the ocean. British Airways and Air France used the Concorde were two airlines that offered such a service between 1976 and 2003.
If the rules change because of data from NASA, a new fleet of commercial supersonic aircraft becomes viable, allowing passengers to board a plane and arrive from faraway destinations in half the time. Although the single-pilot X-59 will never carry passengers, aircraft manufacturers may choose to incorporate its technology into their own designs.
The future awaits you
Looking to the future, the team is working rigorously on the final assembly of the X-59, which will mark the end of production.
At the end of 2021, Lockheed Martin will ship the X-59 to a sister facility in Fort. Worth, Texas, where ground testing will be performed to ensure the aircraft can withstand the loads and stresses that typically occur during flight. There, the team will also calibrate and test fuel systems before the X-59 returns to California for further testing.
Although seemingly distant, community flyovers, data collection, and a possible new commercial market for supersonic flights over the earth are fast approaching.