Concorde flew from London to New York in three and a half hours. It soared at nearly twice the speed of sound, leaving an almighty sonic boom in its wake. The noise restricted where it could fly, but now NASA hopes it can resurrect faster-than-sound travel, with quiet supersonic flight.


Enter X-59 QueSST (Quiet SuperSonic Technology), developed by NASA and Lockheed Martin. With its uniquely designed shape, the aircraft should allow NASA to break the sound barrier again – but this time, with no more noise than your neighbour slamming a car door.

The fuselage of the X-59, showing black rectangular panels and a silver grate © Lockheed Martin
At Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works factory in Palmdale, California, an engineer works on the fuselage section of the X-59. The black rectangular panels are air intakes for the plane’s environmental control system (ECS), and the silver grate is the ECS exhaust. These features are placed on the top of the craft to reshape the shock wave pattern © Lockheed Martin
The X-59 being assembled, as seen from above © Lockheed Martin
The general shape of the X-59, including the wings, can be seen here as the craft is assembled © Lockheed Martin
A view inside the engine inlet, a long, thin tube © Lockheed Martin
This image is looking inside the X-59’s engine inlet. Usually, the engine is placed on the bottom of an aircraft, but on the X-59, this section of the inlet and engine are mounted to the top of the plane. This is so the shock waves from the inlet and engine are shielded by the wing to reduce the sonic boom to a sonic thump © Lockheed Martin
The aircraft's engine © GE Aviation
The F414-GE-100 engine sits in the assembly area at GE Aviation’s Riverworks facility in Lynn, Massachusetts as it prepares for checkout tests. The engine will power the X-59 in flight © GE Aviation
Illustration of how the completed X-59 might look © Lockheed Martin
Illustration of how the completed X-59 might look © Lockheed Martin
A view from the cockpit, with the video display in front and the glass panels around the top of the fuselage © Lockheed Martin
Rather than a forward-facing windscreen, the pilot sees the view via an HD video display © Lockheed Martin
A computer simulation of the movement of air around the X-59 © NASA/James C Jensen
A visualisation of the X-59 in supersonic flight to help determine which features of the craft are generating shock waves. The colours shown on the plane indicate surface pressure, (lower pressures in blue, higher pressures in red). The colours shown in the space surrounding the plane indicate airflow velocity, (zero velocity in blue, higher velocities in red) © NASA/James C Jensen
The shock waves produced by two T-38 supersonic fighter jets, for comparison with the X-59. These shockwaves are larger and more intense © NASA/JPL
The shock waves produced by two T-38 supersonic fighter jets, for comparison with the X-59 © NASA/JPL

See more amazing photo galleries:



Andrew is a science, history and sci-fi writer. He studied Natural Sciences at Cambridge University and obtained a PhD in Theoretical Astrophysics from Manchester University. He worked in the scientific civil service, including three years in the Ministry of Defence.