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When Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in the Bell X-1 in 1947, a sonic boom rang out that battered the eardrums of anyone underneath the plane’s 20-second supersonic flight path. Now, NASA has just announced funding for its latest X-plane, a commercial jet capable of flying at those same supersonic speeds (faster than the speed of sound), without the disturbing the peace below.
NASA has awarded Lockheed Martin a $247.5m (£183m approx) contract to build a working example of a prototype it’s been working on for a few years: the Low Boom Flight Demonstrator. It has a long, pointy nose and small, aerodynamic wings, which should minimise the pressure waves that create the noise at supersonic speeds. NASA plans to start flying the plane by 2022, with testing over highly populated areas completed by 2025.
If successful, it won’t be the first commercial supersonic jet. Concorde began taking passengers in 1976, but it was soon banned from flying supersonic over land in the USA and Europe because of the noise it created. Lockheed Martin says this new X-plane won’t be completely silent – the shockwaves should sound more like a car door closing than a deafening boom.