NASA aims for quieter supersonic passenger jet

NASA hopes to bring the return of supersonic passenger air travel with a new "low boom" type of plane that would not produce sonic booms as it hit the speed of sound.

It has awarded a contract for the preliminary design of a demonstration aircraft.

“NASA is working hard to make flight greener, safer and quieter – all while developing aircraft that travel faster, and building an aviation system that operates more efficiently,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company is leading the project to complete a preliminary design for Quiet Supersonic Technology (QueSST) that will create a supersonic "heartbeat" -- a soft thump rather than the loud building-shaking booms currently associated with supersonic flight.

Lockheed Martin will receive about $20 million for preliminary design work.

It's part of a 10 year long NASA project that aims to reduce fuel use, emissions and noise through innovations in aircraft design that departs from the conventional tube-and-wing aircraft shape.

The so-called X-planes will typically be about half-scale of a production aircraft. NASA hopes to begin test flights in 2020 but still needs funding for that part of the program.