You don’t necessarily have to be a mutant or have Professor X’s permission to fly the new NASA X-Plane, but the brains behind the jet are so genius that they just might be mutants. The X-Plane was designed for a specific mission, to provide crucial data that could make commercial supersonic passenger air travel over land possible. The $247.5 million contract to build the X-Plane was awarded to Lockheed Martin Aeronautics in Palmdale, California, on April 2 with the projected completion date of the end of 2021. Success will be determined by whether the X-Plane—also known as the “Low-Boom Flight Demonstrator” (yeah, “X-Plane,” though less descriptive, definitely sounds better)—can go supersonic and create a sonic boom so quiet that people on the ground won’t notice and possibly not even hear them.
Current regulations are based on aircraft speed and ban supersonic flight over land. The data for the tests will be taken by flying over select cities, yet to be announced, and judging public reaction. The X program started in 1947 when the X-1 broke the sound barrier. Since then, the program has been building toward this moment.
Sonic booms are created when conventional aircrafts cause shockwaves to coalesce when they expand away from the airplane’s nose and tail, causing two distinct and loud claps. The X-plane is designed in such a way that the shockwaves are prevented from coming together, creating instead a quick series of soft thumps. It remains to be seen if it will work.