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NASA Shows Off its GE Supersonic Engine for the X-59 QueSST

August 21, 2020 | by Rich Gorham and Nick Hurm

NASA has revealed the supersonic engine that will power its state-of-the-art aircraft for the purpose of gathering critical data that may open up a new era of supersonic flight.

The agency has taken delivery of its first General Electric F414-GE-100 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.

“Working with GE to make this engine available has been fantastic,” Raymond Castner, the propulsion lead for the X-59 at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland said in a recent story on NASA’s web site. “They have been an invaluable partner in all of this We are very fortunate to have them as part of the team.”

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.

GE's F414-100 engine is unloaded is unboxed at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California. Photo provided by NASA/Ken Ulbrich

The X-59 QueSST was chosen by Popular Science in 2019 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.

“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 year, 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.

Next year, NASA and Lockheed Martin will perform flight tests to validate operational safety, quiet supersonic technology and robust aircraft performance.

That data used will be passed on to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) 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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GE Aerospace is a world-leading provider of jet and turboprop engines, as well as integrated systems for commercial, military, business and general aviation aircraft.