NASA is working on a new X-plane to make the aviation industry go green

NASA may be best known for pioneering space travel and the associated benefits that scientific research in that sector has given us, but it also has a strong history of developing cutting-edge aircraft. While NASA hasn’t dabbled in flight technology for a while, it’s now announced it will develop a new generation of X-planes as part of its newly launched “New Aviation Horizons” initiative.

New Aviation Horizons is intended to “accelerate the adoption of advanced green aviation technologies by industry” over the next ten years. This means NASA is about to undertake a major research initiative to turn the fossil-fuel-powered aviation industry into something a little greener.

“If we can build some of these X-planes and demonstrate some of these technologies, we expect that will make it much easier and faster for US industry to pick them up and roll them out into the marketplace,” said Ed Waggoner, NASA’s integrated aviation systems programme director.

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While that may sound like a lofty ambition, NASA’s X-plane breakthroughs show it has what it takes to do it. The first X-plane, X-1, was the first plane to ever break the sound barrier. Other X-planes pioneered vertical takeoff and landing technologies, the space shuttle programme and unmanned aerial vehicles. The X-15 X-plane was the first aircraft to perform hypersonic flight, flying almost 200 times between 1959 and 1968. If there’s one project that gets results and changes aviation, it’s NASA’s X-planes.

NASA may be preparing to launch a new wave of X-planes, but that doesn’t mean it ever stopped trying to improve aviation technology. Not only has it been working on a drone capable of vertical takeoff and plane-like flight, but it’s also working on a new supersonic plane capable of reducing the sound a sonic boom makes. The Quiet Supersonic Technology-equipped plane is being developed by Lockheed Martin, and could allow for Concorde-style passenger flight to return, albeit now capable of flying over populated areas without making too much noise.

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