ABOVE: The X-59 was unveiled during a ceremony at Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works Palmdale, California facility

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Lockheed Martin have formally unveiled the agency’s latest experimental project: the X-59, dubbed the ‘quiet supersonic aircraft’.

This one-of-a-kind aircraft will form the central part of NASA’s Quesst mission, focusing on trying to make supersonic flight quieter and negating the disruptive impact of sonic booms. It is hoped that this data could ‘revolutionize air travel, paving the way for a new generation of commercial aircraft that can travel faster than the speed of sound’.

The aircraft’s unique design is optimised for its mission of attempting to break the sound barrier with minimum noise. A thin, tapered nose accounts for almost a third of the aircraft’s 99.7ft length, intended to break up the shock waves that would ordinarily result in a sonic boom. Owing to this configuration, the cockpit is located almost halfway down the length of the aircraft and lacks a window. Instead, the pilot will use Quesst’s proprietary eXternal Vision System, with a 4K monitor fed from a series of high-resolution cameras. The X-59 is expected to reach speeds of Mach 1.4.

“It’s thrilling to consider the level of ambition behind Quesst and its potential benefits,” said Bob Pearce, associate administrator for aeronautics research at NASA headquarters in Washington. “NASA will share the data and technology we generate from this one-of-a-kind mission with regulators and with industry. By demonstrating the possibility of quiet commercial supersonic travel over land, we seek to open new commercial markets for US companies and benefit travellers around the world”.

Quesst’s next steps will comprise integrated systems testing, engine runs and taxi testing of the X-59. It is set to make its maiden flight later this year, followed by its first supersonic flight. The Quesst team will conduct several flights at Skunk Works before transferring the aircraft to NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Centre in Edwards, California.