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NASA is hoping to resurrect its experimental ‘X-Planes’ program in 2017

NASA wants to improve aviation in the United States by designing planes that are quieter, faster and cleaner to fly. To develop these cutting edge planes, the agency is looking to revive one of the coolest aviations programs in our country’s history — the X-Plane.  The proposed New Aviation Horizons plan was included in the recently released federal budget that begins in October of 2016. If approved, NASA will start working on new X-Plane program beginning in 2017. The ten-year program will provide funding for NASA to design, build and fly a variety of experimental vehicles that will test fuel consumption, limit aircraft emissions, and control noise.

After working on technology demonstrations for several years with government agencies, industry and academia , NASA is ready to dive back into the X-plane field. “We’re at the right place, at the right time, with the right technologies,” said Jaiwon Shin, associate administrator for NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate.  NASA will use the program to test cutting edge technologies, such as coatings that reduce bug buildup on wings and high-tech fans that reduce engine noise. NASA will use the next several years to design and prototype the vehicles, with the first flights planned for 2020. As part of this testing, NASA will work with major airlines, airports, and the FAA.

The X-planes will push the envelope on aircraft design, moving aviation beyond the traditional tube-and-wing configuration. According to NASA, one of the first X-plane models will feature a hybrid wing body shape and will be capable of operating at commercial aircraft speeds. NASA already has been testing the hybrid design in wind tunnels and computer models, making it possible to build a prototype model easily and quickly.

Another one of the agency’s proposed X-planes would be the world’s first near silent supersonic jet. This business jet would be powered by a low carbon biofuel and produce a sonic boom so quiet that most people on the ground wouldn’t even hear it. If all goes as planned, these next-generation X-planes will be manufactured at half-scale and require a pilot to fly the vehicles for testing.

The advancement of this program is contingent upon approval of the 2016 budget. If approved, the technology developed for this program may have a profound effect on the airline industry, allowing commercial airlines to save up to $255 billion in the 25 years following deployment.