How quiet is NASA’s new supersonic jet?

The X-59 team working on the aircraft’s wiring around the engine inlet prior to the engine being installed. Photo credit: Garry Tice/NASA

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

CNN recently reported on NASA’s new X-59 supersonic jet. Reporter Jacopo Prisco noted that very few people have ever heard a sonic boom, except for those living near military aircraft bases, because the only supersonic passenger plane ever flown, the Concorde, last flew in 2003. It wasn’t allowed to fly at supersonic speeds over land because sonic booms are very loud and disturbing to people. 

I consider myself lucky to have actually seen the Concorde fly and to have heard its sonic boom. I was visiting my parents in New Jersey with my sons, and we went to Fort Hancock and Sandy Hook Proving Ground National Monument at the Jersey Shore. My father was stationed there during World War II. After we toured the fort, we drove to a hilltop to get a view of the Sandy Hook peninsula and the New York City skyline. It was a clear day and the skyline was shimmering in the distance. Then, we heard a sonic boom, and looked up in time to see the Concorde getting ready to land at John F. Kennedy International Airport. 

Even 20 miles away, the sonic boom was disturbing. It would have been much louder if the Concorde had been flying directly over us. That’s why NASA is developing a new generation of quieter supersonic aircraft. The X-59 is the first prototype to fly. Employees at NASA think the X-59 will only produce 75 decibels (dB) at supersonic speeds, compared to the Concorde’s 105 dB.

I learned that NASA is concerned about noise from supersonic passenger planes at the 2022 Acoustical Society of America meeting in Nashville, Tennessee. A detailed plan of how NASA will study the public’s perception of the X-59’s noise was presented at this conference.

It would be great to fly around the world at supersonic speeds, rather than spending hours in a cramped seat to get to Europe, Asia or Africa. I’m not sure how the X-59’s needle-shaped fuselage will be adapted for passenger jets, and I remain skeptical of how quiet the X-59 actually will be. But, it’s interesting to know a quieter supersonic passenger aircraft may be in the future.

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