Supersonic Flight Without Sonic Booms: Watch NASA Reveal Its New X-59 Plane This Week

For the first time, NASA is about to publicly unveil the X-59, an experimental aircraft that’s designed to pull off a remarkable engineering feat: supersonic flight without a sonic boom. 

The game-changing plane will be rolling out of its Californian hangar on Friday, January 12. NASA is calling this moment a “historic milestone in aviation history” and you’ll be able to watch the whole rollout ceremony from the comfort of your own home via a live stream.

Sonic booms – the loud, explosive noise caused by the shock wave of an object traveling faster than the speed of sound, around 1,225 kilometers (761 miles) per hour at sea level  – can be a real annoyance for cities, causing significant disturbance to humans and even potentially causing minor damage some structures.

An artist’s impression of the X-59 in flight produced in 2022.
Image credit: Lockheed Martin/NASA

In a bid to overcome this problem, NASA launched the Quesst Mission, a project that sought to master supersonic flight without generating loud sonic booms. Together with Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, they developed the X-59, which has been designed to relegate the noisy sonic boom to a quieter sonic “thump”.

After nearly eight years of work, NASA is finally ready to show off X-59 to the public. The “watch party” – which you can view in the video player below – will be broadcast live from 4 pm EST on January 12, 2024.

“When the X-59 emerges from the paint barn with fresh paint and livery, I expect the moment to take my breath away because I’ll see our vision coming to life,” Cathy Bahm, the low boom flight demonstrator project manager, said in a statement late last year. 

“The year ahead will be a big one for the X-59, and it will be thrilling for the outside of the aircraft to finally match the spectacular mission ahead,” added Bahm.


However, don’t expect a test flight just yet. The X-59 was initially pitted to take to the skies in 2023, but “several technical challenges” have meant the first test flight won’t take place until later this year. 

Human engineering first broke the sound barrier on October 14, 1947 with the Bell X-1 rocket engine-powered aircraft. Supersonic flight later became available to the public in the form of Concorde, which first took flight on March 2, 1969. However, Concorde landed for the last time back in 2003, marking an end to supersonic commercial flights.

While there are a bunch of reasons that Concorde met its untimely end, perhaps the X-59 could be the force needed to make commercial supersonic flights a reality once again. 

When assembly and testing is completed, NASA’s Quesst team will select several communities in the US to fly the X-59 aircraft over. The data collected during these experiments will be handed over to international aviation authorities with the hope of potentially repealing the current ban on supersonic flight over land.

“We’ve kind of been stuck with our airliners at about Mach .8 for the past almost 50 years, so being able to get there – wherever there is – much faster is still kind of an unfulfilled dream,” Peter Coen, NASA’s mission integration manager for Quesst, said in 2022. 

“With the X-59 flying on the Quesst mission, I think we’re ready to break the sound barrier once again.”

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