NASA's X-59 is designed to fly at supersonic speeds without the loud boom (Credit: NASA/ Public Domain)

NASA's X-59 aircraft, unveiled in January 2024, hopes to change the way we travel. The innovative plane is designed to fly at supersonic speeds without producing the characteristic sonic boom. The prototype is part of the US Space Agency's Quiet SuperSonic Technology (QueSST) mission.

"We're definitely ready to write a new chapter in the history of supersonic flight, making air travel over land twice as fast, but in a way that is safe, sustainable, and so much quieter than before, " said Peter Coen, NASA's QueSST mission manager.

The X-59's unique features allow it to break the sound barrier without the sonic boom (Credit: NASA/ Public Domain)

Supersonic speed is the speed of an object that is faster than the speed of sound—about 768 mph (1,236 km/h). When an aircraft breaks the sound barrier, it produces an intense, startling sound that can shake buildings and even crack windows. This noise was a major factor in the failure of the Concorde, the world's first supersonic passenger airplane. Due to the disturbance caused by the noise, the aircraft was only allowed to fly at its top speeds over the ocean. This severely limited its travel routes.

The X-59's "quiet" supersonic flight can be credited to its unique design. Its long, pointed nose breaks up the shock waves that create the noise. The effects of the shock waves are further reduced by removing the cockpit's forward-facing window. Instead, the pilot depends on advanced cameras at the front to fly the plane. Also, the airplane's engine is placed on top. This ensures that noise is directed away from the people on the ground.

The X-59 could pave the way for supersonic passenger flights (Credit: NASA/ Public Domain)

NASA plans to begin testing the X-59 in California in late 2024. Once deemed safe, the X-59 will be flown over select US cities to gather community feedback on the sound it produces. NASA hopes that the data will convince airline officials to reconsider rules prohibiting supersonic flights over land. If successful, the X-59 could pave the way for new commercial cargo and passenger supersonic aircraft by 2030.