Today we celebrate the birthday of one of America’s original U.S. aviation pioneers — Orville Wright. But this year we also celebrate the pioneers of right now — the women and men of NASA who are changing the face of aviation by going “X.” We’re starting the design and build of a series of piloted experimental aircraft – X-planes – for the final proof that new advanced tech and revolutionary shapes will give us faster, quieter, cleaner ways to get from here to there.
So, what is an X-plane?
Since the early days of aviation, X-planes have been used to demonstrate new technologies in their native environment – flying through the air aboard an aircraft that’s shaped differently from the tube-and-wing of today. X-planes are the final step after ground tests. They provide valuable data that can lead to changes in regulation, design, operations, and options for travel. Two of the most famous historical X-planes are the Bell X-1 and the X-15.
Why can’t I fly supersonic now, say from New York to Seattle?
Because of the loud, jarring sonic boom. Commercial supersonic flight over land and, therefore over communities, is currently prohibited. Our supersonic X-plane will fly “quiet”; there’ll still be a sonic boom but it’ll sound more like a soft “thump.” The Low Boom Flight Demonstration X-plane, scheduled for first flight in 2021 and to begin community overflight testing in 2022, will provide the technical and human response data to federal and international regulators so they can consider lifting the ban. If that happens, someday commercial supersonic passenger flights between U.S. coasts would be less than three hours.
This is a preliminary design of the Low Boom Flight Demonstration X-plane. Its shape is carefully tailored to prevent the formation of a loud sonic boom.
Will I ever be able to carry on a conversation when a plane flies overhead?
Yes. Our next X-plane will be one that flies at regular speed, but has advanced design technologies and a nontraditional shape that drop perceived noise level by more than half. It will also reduce fuel consumption by 60-80 percent, and cut emissions by more than 80 percent. Design of this piloted X-plane is expected to begin around 2020.
This possible X-plane design is a blended wing body, which reduces drag and increases lift, and also reduces noise because the engines are placed above the fuselage.
Will I ever fly on an airplane powered like my Prius?
Probably. All- or hybrid-electric aircraft that can carry 12 – 120 passengers are becoming more likely. For a larger aircraft and possible future X-plane, NASA is studying how to use electric power generated by the engines to drive a large fan in a tail-cone and get additional thrust for takeoff and reduce fuel use.
This possible future subsonic X-plane would use electricity to power a large fan in the tail-cone, providing extra thrust at takeoff.
We – along with our government, industry and academic partners – have begun the great aviation transformation. And you’ll witness every important moment of our X-plane stories, here and on every #NationalAviationDay.