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This Company Is Working on a Super-Quiet Supersonic Jet

Here's an artist’s rendering of a possible quiet supersonic jet design.Here's an artist’s rendering of a possible quiet supersonic jet design.
Here's an artist’s rendering of a possible quiet supersonic jet design.Courtesy of Lockheed Martin

Sounds like Amtrak’s “quiet car” has competition.

The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration awarded a team led by defense contractor Lockheed Martin (LMT) a contract to design a super-quiet supersonic jet.

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Charles Bolden, NASA administrator, announced the winner at a Monday event at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Va., as part of the agency’s 2017 budget. If the agency’s proposed financing is approved, NASA will contribute $20 million over 17 months to the project; subcontractors include GE (GE) Aviation and Tri Models, a wind tunnel-maker.

The ultra-fast passenger flight technology, symbolized by the Concorde jet of the ’60s, fell out of favor and faced repeated bans over the course of its contentious history, mostly due to an association with thunderous sonic booms heard whenever aircraft broke the sound barrier. NASA seeks to eliminate that noise, funding this group to replace the plane’s signature deafening roar with a soft thump, or “heartbeat.”

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“The first phase of the flight research project will validate the ‘low boom’ design and make an initial assessment of the acceptability of the noise levels,” a video accompanying the release said.

“NASA is working hard to make flight greener, safer, and quieter—all while developing aircraft that travel faster, and building an aviation system that operates more efficiently,” Bolden said in a statement, introducing a 10-year “new aviations horizons” initiative that intends to resurrect the agency’s historic X-planes program, a division for exploring experimental aviation technologies.

“To that end, it’s worth noting that it’s been almost 70 years since Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in the Bell X-1 as part of our predecessor agency’s high speed research,” he said. “Now we’re continuing that supersonic X-plane legacy with this preliminary design award for a quieter supersonic jet with an aim toward passenger flight.”

The planes will likely be piloted, designed at half-scale of production aircraft, and start their first flights in 2020, the agency said.