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Will NASA’s X-plane campaign pick up speed?

Artwork shows NASA’s concept for Quiet Supersonic Technology, known as QueSST. (Credit: NASA)
Artwork shows NASA’s concept for Quiet Supersonic Technology, known as QueSST. (Credit: NASA)

NASA is laying out a vision of quieter supersonic jets and environmentally friendly X-planes as part of its agenda for aeronautics, the oft-neglected “A” in its acronym.

X-planes – that is, experimental aircraft like the X-1 and the X-15 – played a big role in the history of NASA’s predecessor agency, known as the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics or NACA. But when NACA was replaced by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the focus gradually shifted from the air to the space frontier beyond.

The federal budget proposal unveiled in February shifted some of the emphasis back to aeronautics, in the form of a 10-year program called “New Aviation Horizons.” As Congress debates the budget, NASA is touting its plan to bring back the X-planes.

About $20 million already has been set aside for one project, known as Quiet Supersonic Technology or QueSST. A team led by Lockheed Martin is working on the design for a supersonic jet that produces a soft series of thumps rather than an annoying sonic boom.

Other projects could result in airliners that burn half the fuel and generate 75 percent less pollution during each flight, compared with today’s standards.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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