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QueSST for Success: Fly in Half the Time

May 07, 2020 | by Rich Gorham
Cutting U.S. coast-to-coast air-travel time in half: that’s one goal of an ambitious NASA development program that GE Aviation is excited to be an active partner in.

GE Aviation has now officially shipped its first engine for NASA’s X-59 QueSST (short for Quiet SuperSonic Technology), an experimental piloted aircraft designed to fly faster than sound, cruise at 55,000 feet yet generate significantly less noise than previous supersonic aircraft such as the SST or Concorde.

Despite that goal, the X-59 QueSST made considerable noise of a different ilk in 2019 when it was chosen by Popular Science as one of the top 100 greatest technology innovations of 2019.

NASA selected the F414, a GE fighter-jet powerplant, and the business developed a new single-engine variant dubbed the F414-GE-100. The engine will provide its traditional 22,000 pounds of thrust while also integrating single-engine safety features. At the end of 2019, the Lynn-based team completed acceptance testing of the first F414-100. NASA chief engineer Jay Brandon also visited the site to witness the FETT (First Engine To Test) and speak to employees.

Under the program contract, GE will provide two engines, with an option for a third, and is working closely with airframer Lockheed Martin on integration engineering activities and plans for shipment.

“This is a unique program overall and certainly a new platform for the F414,” said Dave Prescott, GE Aviation Program Manager. “We’re leveraging the proven performance of the engine and allowing it to showcase its versatility.”

Lockheed Martin completed its Critical Design Review (CDR) last September, a major project milestone that accelerates the evolution from paper concept to an airplane ready to roll out of the factory. “The CDR showed us the design was mature enough to continue into the next phase and essentially finish the assembly,” said Craig Nickol, NASA’s project manager for the X-59.

The X-59’s mission is to gather data that has the potential to aid in the opening of a new era of commercial supersonic air travel over land. In 2021, NASA and Lockheed Martin will perform flight tests to validate operational safety, quiet supersonic technology and robust aircraft performance.

That data will then be passed on to the Federal Aviation Administration and international regulators and potentially prompt them to rewrite the rules so that supersonic flight over land is regulated based on noise levels and not the arbitrary speed of Mach 1.

In 2023, NASA will begin community response studies and data collection by flying over several U.S. cities, verifying and validating community responses to the sonic thump. The data gathered will be delivered to the FAA and international regulators for their use in considering new sound-based rules regarding supersonic flight over land, enabling new commercial markets.

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