Christian Casinadar from Simple Flying – Reports
NASA is one of the places aviation technology is pushed to new heights. Here are some noteworthy achievements this year.
- NASA collaborates with Boeing to develop the X-66A aircraft, which aims to reduce emissions for future narrowbody aircraft, making aviation greener, cleaner, and quieter.
- The Quesst Mission focuses on developing faster-than-sound air travel over land, with the goal of softening the sonic boom to make commercial supersonic travel viable. The X-59 aircraft is being built in collaboration with Lockheed Martin.
- NASA’s Electrified Powertrain Flight Demonstration project aims to replace conventional turboprop engines with hybrid propulsion systems, reducing the negative environmental impact of regional aviation – the project partners with GE Aerospace and magniX.
The US is one of the world’s aviation powerhouses, producing everything from passenger jetliners to spacecraft. To do so requires hours and hours of research and development, which is what NASA is all about.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was established in 1958 and has pushed the boundaries of aeronautics ever since. It took humanity to the moon and pioneered hypersonic aircraft. Today, the administration focuses on producing efficient, safer, greener aircraft for civil use.
One of NASA’s primary focuses today is to help the US reach its goal of net-zero aviation greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. To this end, it collaborated with Boeing to introduce its latest experimental aircraft, the Sustainable Flight Demonstrator project, or X-66A, as designated by the US Air Force.
The aircraft will be used to demonstrate and test new technology and fuel that can help reduce emissions for narrowbody aircraft in the future. The aircraft will test a new wing format called the Transonic Truss-Braced Wing concept. The wings are thinner, lighter, quieter, and more aerodynamically efficient.
According to a statement, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson had this to say about the project:
“At NASA, our eyes are not just focused on stars but also fixated on the sky. The Sustainable Flight Demonstrator builds on NASA’s world-leading efforts in aeronautics as well as climate. The X-66A will help shape the future of aviation, a new era where aircraft are greener, cleaner, and quieter, and create new possibilities for the flying public and American industry alike.”
NASA plans to spend $425 million over the next seven years on the X66-A and provide technical expertise and facilities, while Boeing and its collaborators have pledged $300 million.
Quesst for speed
Humanity has always wanted to go faster. It’s a dream that NASA has been behind for decades. The administration’s Quesst Mission is focused on faster-than-sound air travel over land and is the project that birthed the Quiet SuperSonic Technology (QueSST) research aircraft, aka the X-59.
The main limitation for civilian supersonic flight is the 50-year federal ban. It was enforced due to the damage caused by the sonic boom. The aircraft is designed to soften the ‘sonic boom to a ‘sonic thump.’ NASA plans to test the aircraft over different communities and survey its effect on people. The results will then be presented to the US and foreign regulators in hopes of getting the ban lifted and making commercial supersonic travel viable.
The aircraft is built in collaboration with Lockheed Martin’s Skunkworks, the entity behind the iconic SR-71. 2023 marked the completion of the X-59, with the first flight planned for 2024.
Electrifying the engine
NASA recently unveiled the paint schemes for the two test aircraft in its Electrified Powertrain Flight Demonstration (EPFD) project. It has partnered with GE Aerospace and magniX, each with its own engine.
The GE Aerospace is being tested on a Saab 340B aircraft, while the magniX has opted for De Havilland “Dash 7” as its testbed. The aircraft will be painted blue and red, respectively. The project aims to replace conventional turboprop engines with hybrid propulsion systems, which will significantly reduce the negative environmental impact of regional aviation worldwide.
Another major project is NASA’s Advanced Air Mobility (AAM). It aims to bring “the movement of people and goods off the ground, on-demand, and into the sky.” The administration is delivering data to help guide the development of air taxis and drones, allowing easier integration into national airspace.
NASA also produced a new 3D-printed high-temperature superalloy, which can be used to make more cost-effective and durable parts for aircraft, particularly supersonic aircraft, in the future.
Finally, NASA has multiple research centers all across the US, which are all focused on their own projects:
- Ames Research Center in California: Smart ATC system that uses machine learning and AI to improve flight coordination and reduce traffic delays.
- Langley Research Center in Virginia: Construction on vertical wind tunnel continues.
- Glenn Research Center in Cleveland: The new Aerospace Communications Facility was opened.
- Armstrong Flight Research Center in California: Tests flights with 100% sustainable aviation fuel.