NASA's X-59: The World’s Weirdest, Quietest Supersonic Jet

The Lockheed Martin X-59 is probably the strangest airplane ever designed. Its razor-sharp nose takes up half of the airplane’s length, there’s no cockpit in sight, the wings are tiny compared to the entire fuselage, and its oversized tail engine looks like a weird hump about to fall off. Of course, there’s a method to all this madness. The design is the secret sauce that has produced a true unicorn: a supersonic jet that doesn’t BOOM! the heck out of people and buildings on the ground. The sonic boom is a phenomenon that has long been the Achilles’ heel of supersonic flight. When an aircraft travels faster than the speed of sound, the compressed air molecules against the body of the plane produce shock waves that merge to form a sonic boom, a loud and disruptive noise heard on the ground. This noise has historically been a significant impediment to the commercial viability of supersonic flight over land. The X-59, developed alongside NASA, has a boom that’s 75 PLdB (perceived levels of decibels), the equivalent of hearing a dishwasher for less than a second. For comparison, the Concorde’s PLdB was 105, or as loud as listening to a chainsaw at full power. The Concorde’s cruising speed was 1,350mph, while the X-59 cruises at around 925mph — fast enough to make a flight from New York to London in about 3 hours. Lockheed Martin’s vision for commercial supersonic air travel is a 200-foot-long (double the length of the X-59) twin-engine model that will seat 44 passengers. Someday, people might be able to look up and see an alien shape in the sky, with the X-59’s design ushering in a new era for high-speed travel across the globe.