NASA X-Plane Provides New Vision

 - July 29, 2020, 4:18 PM
NASA's X-59 supersonic aircraft is being built without a forward-facing window. It instead uses an eXternal Vision System to allow for a more contoured, slender nose that reduces the sonic boom. (Photo: NASA)

In addition to testing sound signatures of new supersonic airplanes, NASA’s X-59 Quiet Supersonic Technology (QueSST) experimental demonstrator is breaking ground in another area: flight without a forward-facing window.

The NASA/Lockheed Martin X-plane will come with an eXternal Vision System (XVS) in lieu of a forward-facing window. The technology already has been tested in NASA’s Beechcraft King Air UC-12B in preparation for the X-59’s first flight in 2021.

XVS uses real-time imagery from two externally mounted cameras that are overlayed with terrain data on a 4K monitor in front of the pilot, NASA said. That monitor will serve as “the central window,” the agency noted, adding it enables pilots to safely “see” traffic in the flight path and provides other visual aids for approach, landing, and takeoff.

“Our goal is to create an electronic means of vision for the X-59 pilot that provides performance and safety levels equivalent to or better than forward-facing windows,” said Randy Bailey, XVS subsystem lead.

However, the aircraft does include a traditional canopy and two portal windows so the pilot may see the horizon.

But NASA said XVS is one of the technologies to ensure the X-59 shape reduces the sonic boom and “may represent the future architecture of supersonic commercial passenger and cargo aircraft.” The technology allows for the slender, contoured aircraft nose design, which then enters supersonic airflow more gently and results in smaller shockwaves, NASA said.

XVS hardware was installed in the King Air cabin, enabling a comparison of sight through forward-facing windows and the monitor. Conducted in Hampton, Virginia, tests measured the pilot’s ability to detect traffic, even in more challenging offset nose-to-nose trajectories.

“I’ve continued to get more and more comfortable with the XVS through flight tests and our [X-59] flight simulators,” Nils Larson, NASA X-59 test pilot, said after the tests that occurred more than a year ago.