Late last week, NASA started testing the QueSST plane design in wind tunnel tests. And according to the agency, this may mark another step towards the appearance of supersonic passenger airplanes.
The QueSST airplane’s full name is the Quiet Supersonic Technology X-plane. It is a concept device developed by Lockheed Martin. Their preliminary design is currently being tested. And the first test? High-speed wind tunnel tests at the NASA Glenn Research Center located in Cleveland.
Presently, the agencies will be testing a 9 percent scale model of the QueSST. Nonetheless, this will be put through some serious wind speeds. It will be facing winds with speeds ranging from Mach 0.3 up to Mach 1.6. This amounts to about 150 to 950 mph.
The model will be put through wind tunnel tests in order to better understand its aerodynamics. And the tests will be carried out over the next 8-weeks time period. The scientists will be looking to determine and further analyze the aerodynamics of the future QueSST plane. They will also be looking at its potential propulsion system.
NASA has quite high expectations for the QueSST X-plane. It is hoping and expecting it to pave the way for future supersonic flights. These may quite soon be taking place over land.
The QueSST design is the first from a longer envisioned series of X-planes. It is part of the NASA NAH initiative. Or more exactly, the New Aviation Horizons. This set out with quite a clear purpose. It will be looking to reduce the noise, emissions, and fuel levels of supersonic aircraft. And it will try to do so by developing innovative designs. Ones that depart from our known ‘tube-and-wing’ aircraft shape.
NASA awarded the contract for a preliminary design of an X-plane to Lockheed Martin back in February 2016. They set out to produce the first supersonic X-plane flight demonstrator. And the design phase helped mature the initial details of the QueSST concept.
Work has already been done on its shape, flight demonstrator, and performance. These wind tunnel tests will help further refine the current design. The scientists will be looking to analyze some key aspects of the QueSST and its performance during testing.
As it is, NASA drew attention to the importance of these wind tunnel tests. They are an important step in the development of the QueSST and X-planes in general. The Glenn wind tunnel will be used thanks to its unique features. Its size, as well as its ability to generate various wind speeds, is quite unique.
It will allow the researchers to study the design’s performance during key moments, all in the same tunnel. The scientists will be looking at the concept’s performance just after takeoff. And also at its behavior, as it reaches a supersonic speed. The preliminary stages of its landing approach will also be closely analyzed.
Tests are expected to continue up until sometime in mid-2017. Following test results, NASA could continue to the next development stage. It could award another contract as part of NAH. This would have companies compete for the QueSST’s final design and fabrication. And also for its low-boom flight demonstration aircraft testing.
But this will all depend on funding. If this is approved, the NAH design and build phases will be carried out across several years. Presently, NASA is estimating that a first low boom flight demonstrator might start flying sometime around 2020. Additional NAH X-planes may be added over the following years. But this will also depend on funding.
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