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NASA’s on a Mission to Create a More Awesome Airplane

A rendering of Lockheed Martin's Quiet Supersonic Technology, or QueSST, concept plane. It will be NASA's first modern X-plane.A rendering of Lockheed Martin's Quiet Supersonic Technology, or QueSST, concept plane. It will be NASA's first modern X-plane.
A rendering of Lockheed Martin's Quiet Supersonic Technology, or QueSST, concept plane. It will be NASA's first modern X-plane.Courtesy of NASA

NASA announced its latest mission—create a new generation of experimental aircraft to push the frontiers of modern aviation.

The project, known as New Aviation Horizons, harkens back to past generations when scientists and engineers worked to create what are known as X-planes or X-vehicles. These were cutting edge experiments for their time playing around with wing spans, tail fins, and propulsion methods.

NASA, in partnership with various companies, is now continuing that tradition with plans to put in the sky an array of all-new plane types. The goal is to ultimately create a plane that can burn half the fuel of current aircrafts and generate 75% less pollution during each flight while being much quieter. Or, even better, NASA could create a plane that can do all this at supersonic speeds.

“If we can build some of these X-planes and demonstrate some of these technologies, we expect that will make it much easier and faster for U.S. industry to pick them up and roll them out int the marketplace,” Ed Waggoner, NASA’s Integrated Aviation Systems Program director, said in a statement.

New Aviation Horizons was announced in February as part of President Obama’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The program will run for 10 years and will push a series of research and development investments that aim to create the next generation aircraft that are more efficient, cleaner, and quieter than ever.

The initiative’s first contract was awarded to Lockheed Martin (LMT) in February. The team there will be given $20 million to develop a quieter supersonic passenger jet over the next 17 months using its preliminary Quiet Supersonic Technology.