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NASA picks supplier for low-boom supersonic demo aircraft

NASA picks supplier for low-boom supersonic demo aircraft

Current regulations ban commercial supersonic aircraft from operating over land, but Lockheed Martin and NASA will be trying to overturn the regulations through noise reduction.

The California-based company has been tasked with developing a "Low Boom Flight Demonstrator", (LBFD) an experimental aircraft that could achieve near-silent supersonic travel.

Gulfstream, a unit of General Dynamics Corp, has said it won't attempt to build a supersonic aircraft until it is cleared to fly open-throttle over land and sea.

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This new contract between Lockheed Martin and NASA is looking to reignite the dream of supersonic commercial aircraft by overcoming the sonic boom.

NASA will still have to get through quite a bit of red tape now preventing supersonic flights from taking place over land.

The space and aeronautics agency on Tuesday awarded Lockheed Martin a $247.5 million contract to build the Low-Boom Flight Demonstrator, a one-off X-Plane with a design meant to eliminate, or at least minimize, the sonic boom characteristic of aircraft breaking the sound barrier.

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Last summer, NASA researchers used the range over Cape Canaveral to conduct sonic boom testing, much to the dismay of local residents who sometimes heard up to 11 sonic booms a day. Peter Coen, manager for the project at NASA's Langley Research Center in Virginia, said the key element in Lockheed Martin's design is "a brand-new shape". This will "create a sound about as loud as a vehicle door closing", NASA officials said in the news conference.

It will fly at a travelling elevation of about 55,000 feet (17,000 meters) and reach a speed of 1.4 times the speed of noise (about 1,000 miles per hour, or 1,600 km/h).

LMAC will be working within a $247.5 million budget to develop the experimental aircraft. That information will then be provided to the FAA and worldwide regulators, to allow new rules for supersonic flight over land.

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"We plan to conduct two community-response tests a year for a total of four to six", he said. The design of the airplane is meant to reduce the "sonic boom" to a thump or a double-thump by the time it reaches the ground.