Supersonic air travel has interested everyone from commercial tourists to the military. Who wouldn’t want to travel from New York to London in 3 hours instead of 6? One of the biggest hurdles that supersonic flight incurs is the sonic boom. Read on to learn more about this phenomenon and the research that is taming the boom.
A sonic boom is a sound associated with shock waves created when an object travels through the air faster than the speed of sound (Mach 1), which is approximately 760 mph. When an aircraft passes through the air, it creates a series of pressure waves in front and behind it, similar to the bow and stern waves created by a boat. These waves travel at the speed of sound and, as the speed of the aircraft increases, the waves are forced together, or compressed, because they cannot get out of each other’s way quickly enough. Eventually they merge into a single shock wave generating enormous amounts of sound energy, sounding similar to an explosion or a thunderclap to the human ear.
Since the demise of the Concorde, there has been a tremendous amount of research into creating supersonic aircraft without the sonic boom. NASA, working with Lockheed Martin, has developed an experimental aircraft called the X-59 QueSST which stands for “Quiet SuperSonic Technology”. The X-59 is an experimental aircraft that has been designed with a shape specifically meant to reduce the sonic boom to a quiet thump. The X-59 will fly over several cities in the US as early as 2024 to help NASA collect data on the public’s perception to the quieter “sonic thump.”
A company called Boom Supersonic is building a fleet of Mach 1.7, 55-passenger supersonic airliners using technology from NASA’s X-59. Named the Boom Overture, the airliner is planned to have a range of 4900 miles and cruise at 60,000 ft. Not only will the sonic boom be tamed, but Boom plans on a sustainable aircraft with a net zero carbon footprint. In June 2021, it partnered with United Airlines, which is on track to become the first US airline to fly supersonic jet aircraft thanks to an order for 15 of Boom’s Overture aircraft. Unfortunately, you will have to wait until 2029 for a seat on one of the flights – save up your frequent flyer miles now!
With all the recent disparaging news about air travel including COVID restrictions, unruly passengers, and long waits, the return of supersonic air travel puts some excitement back into the mix. Ready for a supersonic quiet liftoff!