The White House recently released its budget proposal for NASA for the 2019 fiscal year. Part of the proposed budget includes full funding for the Low-Boom Flight Demonstrator (LBFD), an experimental X-plane with supersonic abilities. Developers, and those following the project, believe it could eventually be used to transport commercial passengers at the speed of sound, vastly improving air travel.
Scheduled to make its first test flight in 2021, the main goal of the LBFD is to combine the speed of a supersonic aircraft without subjecting passengers to the ear-piercing sonic boom associated with breaking the sound barrier. This is the main reason why passenger jets do not have supersonic capabilities today. One of the last attempts was The Concorde, built in the 1970s, but it was only ever used for flights over the ocean. The aircraft has since been retired, as the high cost and impractical flight paths made travelling this way inconvenient. NASA also hopes to improve the LBFD’s low fuel efficiency. They plan to achieve this by relying on a so-called “swept wing design,” which was created to decrease drag and reduce fuel consumption.
Preliminary designs have already been tested, though most of them have only involved scale models in supersonic wind tunnels. With the funding proposed by the White House budget request, a full scale LBFD can be constructed. This ensures NASA achieves their goal of a 2021 test flight.
In the budget request, the administration stated that they hoped this type of funding could encourage other, private companies to invest in similar technologies. Already, some commercial space companies are working hard to develop their own supersonic passenger planes, capable of traveling from London to New York City in about half the time. Virgin Galactic and Boom Technology are working together to develop this technology. Spike Aerospace is also developing quiet supersonic jet with similar speed capabilities.