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Vigilant Aerospace Systems’ special supersonic version of its airspace management system, FlightHorizonX, is currently being used by NASA in a series of flight tests to validate a new supersonic transponder and to explore sonic boom mitigation as part of a national supersonic research program.

The flights are part of NASA’s Commercial Supersonic Technology program, for which the agency is utilizing multiple FlightHorizon subscriptions.

Read more about FlightHorizon’s selection for the NASA CST program here: FlightHorizon Selected by NASA Commercial Supersonic Technology Program 2018-2019 for Airspace Situational Awareness, Flight Logging

FlightHorizonX and the New Supersonic Transponder Standard

Vigilant Aerospace developed FlightHorizonX, a supersonic version of FlightHorizon GCS, to support NASA’s Commercial Supersonic Technology Program and its new enhanced ADS-B transponder, which is being designed for tracking supersonic aircraft and spacecraft by NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center. FlightHorizonX is designed around the higher data rates and other transponder features of the new transponder.

NASA Armstrong’s transponder research is being completed to help the FAA to establish a new standard for supersonic aircraft and spacecraft tracking in the US national airspace.

Read more about the development of FlightHorizonX and the enhanced ADS-B transponder here: Vigilant Aerospace Developing FlightHorizonX for Tracking and Safety of Supersonic Aircraft and Spacecraft

A NASA engineer monitors data using FlightHorizon before flights of agency F-18 jets to measure the effects of sonic booms during the SonicBat flights.
Credit: NASA/Bill White

NASA’s QSF18 Program: Quiet Supersonic Transponder Standard

In addition to helping develop a new transponder standard, FlightHorizonX is being used in supersonic boom mitigation research as a part of NASA’s “Quiet Supersonic Flights 2018” (QSF18) flight tests.

According to NASA, the goal of the QSF18 flight tests is to “study techniques for obtaining accurate community response data, using surveys, to the reduced sounds of supersonic flight over a community that is relatively unfamiliar with these sounds.” (NASA Announcement)

Supersonic booms are considered a significant barrier to the re-introduction of supersonic commercial aircraft into the US aviation system.

For the test flights, FlightHorizonX is used on a tablet computer with attached receiver and antenna and is operated by the pilot to monitor the airspace and record flight data. The transponder and FlightHorizonX software are being used during QSF18 to track an F/A-18 aircraft and to provide airspace situational awareness in real-time. In addition, detailed flight logs are generated by signals from the new transponder.

Initial QSF18 test flights were conducted last week at NASA Armstrong with the final QSF18 flights planned for October 29 through November 20, 2018 near Galveston, Texas. The QSF18 program is being conducted as a joint effort between NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, NASA Langley Research Center in Virginia, and NASA Johnson Space Center in Texas.

A NASA F/A-18 is shown here demonstrating a quiet supersonic dive maneuver at NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center in California. The maneuver is designed to produce a quiet “thump” in a particular area in place of the typical sonic boom associated with supersonic flight, or flight that is faster than the speed of sound.

According NASA, the QSF18 flight tests near Galveston will be conducted with a NASA F/A-18 flying in an oval pattern offshore near Galveston, Texas.

The aircraft will “dive from approximately 49,000 feet and briefly go supersonic, before recovering to level flight at approximately 30,000 feet.

This type of dive produces a sonic boom in such a way that the sound is perceived as a quieter ‘thump’, similar to the predicted sound signature of LBFD (low-boom flight demonstration). NASA also will operate audio sensors in the area to measure the acoustic levels of this sound” according to the NASA announcement.

In a recent video published to Facebook from NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine commented on the upcoming tests near Galveston, “We’re going to develop the capability to fly across the United States twice as fast as we’ve ever been able to fly before without creating a very loud sonic boom.”

“There will be a sonic boom,” said Bridenstine from the cockpit of NASA’s F-18 in the hanger. “Actually, not a sonic ‘boom’ so much, but maybe a sonic ‘thump’ or a sonic ‘rumble.’ In order to do that, we’re going to get the public involved in our research methodology.” (Link to video)

These flights will serve as an opportunity for community response to the low-boom supersonic flights and to test the enhanced ADS-B transponder, which will be used in future flight tests with the Low-Boom Flight Demonstrator aircraft (LBFD) in flights over numerous communities in the U.S. as early as 2022.

In the video, Bridenstine explained, “Most of the sonic boom is going to go out over the ocean – over the Gulf of Mexico. But, a portion of the sonic boom is actually going to hit the town of Galveston, where we’re going to have [community] respondents that can give us data in a survey.”

Community responses from the low-boom flight demonstrations are expected to provide more supporting data to help set noise standards for supersonic flight over land:

“This flight campaign will help NASA determine the best way to collect community response data for future supersonic flights, once NASA’s LBFD aircraft is ready to fly” NASA said in the initial QSF18 announcement (NASA Announces Flights).

“We’re going to be able to create a regulatory environment” Bridenstine said in the video. “We [can] use that data to inform the regulators, not only domestically, but also internationally, so, that standards can be developed and this capability can be commercialized, transforming the way we travel across the United States and, in fact, across the world.”

NASA has previously used FlightHorizon GCS in the SonicBAT flight tests off the coast of Florida in 2017 and also in the ND-MAX fuels and emissions test flights in early 2018 in Germany for flight data logging and formation maintenance.

Read more about FlightHorizon in NASA flight operations:

For more information on the NASA Quiet Supersonic Flights 2018 (QSF18), visit

Related NASA articles:

  1. “NASA Announces Quiet Supersonic Flight Series to Validate Community Response Technique.”; 17 April 2018.
  2. “NASA to Announce Quiet Supersonic Research Flights in Galveston.”; 12 April 2018.
  3. “NASA Prepares to Go Public with Quiet Supersonic Tech.”; 29 June 2018.
  4. “NASA’s Experimental Supersonic Aircraft Now Known as X-59 QueSST.”; 27 June 2018.
  5. “NASA’s Administrator Jim Bridenstine from @NASAArmstrong’s F-18 cockpit chatting about supersonic flight.” Facebook Live Video @NASAArmstrong; 28 August 2018.
  Photo Credit: NASA Jim Bridenstine wraps up his tour at NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center with a flight simulation of the X-59 QueSST with the airspace situational awareness and flight logging tablet that will be running FlightHorizonX on the table next to him.

Social Media – NASA Super Boom Flight Updates

Videos – Updates on NASA Sonic Boom Flights

NASA’s Administrator Jim Bridenstine from NASA Armstrong’s F-18 cockpit Chatting About Supersonic Flights

NASA Prepares for Future of Supersonic Experimental Flight

NASA tests its ‘Quiet Suprsonic” F/A-18 technology

Sonic Boom Testing at NASA: Daily Planet

About Vigilant Aerospace Systems

Vigilant Aerospace is the leading developer of detect-and-avoid and airspace management software for uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS or drones). The company’s product, FlightHorizon, is based on two NASA patents and uses data from multiple sources to display a real-time picture of the air traffic around a UAS and to provide automatic avoidance maneuvers to prevent collisions. The software is designed to meet industry technical standards, to provide automatic safety and to allow UAS to safely fly beyond the sight of the pilot. The software has won multiple industry awards and the company has had contracts and users at NASA, the FAA, the U.S. Department of Defense and with a variety of drone development programs. Visit our website at

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