EXCLUSIVE: The X-59's eXternal Vision System - Part One

NASA and Lockheed Martin’s coveted Skunk Works division have teamed up to develop the X-59 QueSST – an X-plane that will employ low-boom technology, designed to replace the famous sonic boom with a quiet thump.

The X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology (QueSST) – NASA’s first manned supersonic X-plane in decades – is a one-off single-seat demonstrator that has been specifically-designed to undertake the administration’s Low-Boom Flight Demonstration (LBFD) mission. The LBFD has some unique and exciting goals: to prove that sounds generated from supersonic flight can be made quiet enough to allow regulators to change the rules surrounding overland supersonic flight.

NASA will use the X-59 to prove its low-boom theory, which, if successful, could open the door to a new generation of supersonic-capable commercial aircraft that are able to fly faster than sound overland – some that the famed Concorde could never do.

However, there’s a lot more to the X-59 than just its low-boom design. Among its leading unique features is the forward cockpit window for the pilot… or rather, the lack of one. Including a forward windscreen would have made achieving the desired sonic thump problematic, as it would create strong shockwaves. The QueSST’s length and slender design could not accommodate one and maintain its low-boom capabilities, though it still has side windows.

To enable the pilot to see in front, the aircraft will employ NASA’s eXternal Vision System (XVS). This innovative suite uses a combination of sensors, computers, high-definition cameras and displays to ensure safe navigation. It will also provide visual aids during approach, take-off and landing, along with informing the pilot of other aircraft in the X-59’s vicinity.

X-59 [Lockheed Martin Skunk Works]
The X-59 will be NASA’s first manned supersonic X-plane in decades. With its unique design, the demonstrator seeks to prove that passing the sound barrier can be done quietly – the results of which could inform the next generation of faster-than-sound commercial aircraft. NASA/LM Skunk Works

Two camera systems are included in the suite – NASA’s XVS and the Forward Vision System (FVS). The former is a full-colour, ultra-high-definition 4K resolution camera that displays its view on a 24in multifunction display in the cockpit. It is located atop the aircraft’s nose and is used only when the aircraft is in flight.

The FVS is what the X-59 team calls the commercially-sourced Collins Aerospace EVS-3600 multispectral imaging system – a tri-band, three-colour suite, which combines the signals from visible, long-wave and short-wave infrared cameras into a monochromatic image that can be used in both day and night settings. It is retractable, located underneath the aircraft and will be primarily used during taxiing, take-off, approach and landing.