NASA concept planes

NASA’s impressive concept planes featuring sleek fuselages and delta wings, could someday make supersonic travel common place.

NASA has developed these amazing concept airplanes with companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman.

Above: This concept of an aircraft that could fly at supersonic speeds over land is being used by researchers, especially at NASA’s Langley Research Center, to continue to test ideas on ways to reduce the level of sonic booms. Its technologies – the F-100-like propulsion system, a tail blister, and the overall shape – are combined to achieve a lower target perceived decibel level.   Image credit: NASA

Aeronautics engineers are also working to define a new standard for sonic booms to improve travel speed and to improve aerodynamics, like the called ‘hybrid wing body.’

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Flying Wing a Regular Sight. This computer-generated image shows a possible future “flying wing” aircraft, very efficiently and quietly in flight over populated areas. This kind of design, produced by Northrop Grumman, would most likely carry cargo at first and then also carry passengers. This design is among those presented to NASA at the end of 2011 by companies that conducted NASA-funded studies into aircraft that could enter service in 2025.   Image credit: NASA/Northrop Grumman


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The “Icon-II” future aircraft design concept for supersonic flight over land comes from the team led by The Boeing Company. A design that achieves fuel burn reduction and airport noise goals, it also achieves large reductions in sonic boom noise levels that will meet the target level required to make supersonic flight over land possible. This concept is one of two designs presented in April 2010 to the NASA Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate for its NASA Research Announcement-funded studies into advanced supersonic cruise aircraft that could enter service in the 2030-2035 timeframe.   Image credit: NASA/The Boeing Company


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This updated future aircraft design concept from NASA research partner Lockheed Martin shows a few changes from another concept seen eight images earlier in this gallery. It is a good example of how simulations and wind tunnel tests, conducted over time, generate data that tell researchers how to improve a design to achieve goals. The goals for a future supersonic aircraft are to produce a much lower-level sonic boom and to reduce emissions. The ultimate goal is to achieve a low enough boom that a current ruling prohibiting supersonic flight over land might be lifted.  Image credit: NASA/Lockheed Martin


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Hybrid Wing Body Goes Hybrid. This idea for a possible future aircraft is called a “hybrid wing body” or sometimes a blended wing body. In this design, the wing blends seamlessly into the body of the aircraft, which makes it extremely aerodynamic and holds great promise for dramatic reductions in fuel consumption, noise and emissions. NASA develops concepts like these to test in computer simulations and as models in wind tunnels to prove whether the possible benefits would actually occur. This NASA concept, called the “N3-X,” uses a number of superconducting electric motors to drive the distributed fans to lower the fuel burn, emissions, and noise. The power to drive these electric fans is generated by two wing-tip mounted gas-turbine-driven superconducting electric generators.  Image credit: NASA


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Three industry teams spent 2011 studying how to meet NASA’s goals for making future aircraft burn 50 percent less fuel than aircraft that entered service in 1998, emit 75 percent fewer harmful emissions; and shrink the size of geographic areas affected by objectionable airport noise by 83 percent. Image credit: NASA

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