Are we close to bringing back supersonic travel?
Remember the Concorde? The supersonic passenger jet that flew from 1969 to almost 2000. It was not cost effective for the airlines, and extravagantly expensive for passengers. It was also cramped. The luxury was being able to fly from New York to London in about 3 hours!
The Concorde had a big problem, the sonic boom it created when flying at supersonic speed. This led to governments restricting where it could fly supersonically and was a major factor in it not being economical to continue flying. That and a very advanced airframe that was getting old.
The return of supersonic passenger travel may be coming closer to reality thanks to NASA’s efforts to define a new standard for low sonic booms.
Several NASA aeronautics researchers will present their work in Atlanta this week at Aviation 2014, an annual event of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. They will share with the global aviation community the progress they are making in overcoming some of the biggest hurdles to supersonic passenger travel.
The research generates data crucial for developing a low-boom standard for the civil aviation industry. NASA works closely with the Federal Aviation Administration and the international aerospace community, including the International Civil Aviation Organization, to gather data and develop new procedures and requirements that may help in a reconsideration of the current ban on supersonic flight over land.
"Lessening sonic booms -- shock waves caused by an aircraft flying faster than the speed of sound -- is the most significant hurdle to reintroducing commercial supersonic flight," said Peter Coen, head of the High Speed Project in NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate at the agency's Headquarters in Washington. "Other barriers include high altitude emissions, fuel efficiency and community noise around airports."
Engineers at NASA centers in California, Ohio and Virginia that conduct aviation research are tackling sonic booms from a number of angles, including how to design a low-boom aircraft and characterize the noise. NASA researchers have studied how to quantify the loudness and annoyance of the boom by asking people to listen to the sounds in a specially designed noise test chamber.
A recent flight research campaign at NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, had residents explore ways to assess the public’s response to sonic booms in a real-world setting. Researchers at Armstrong have an advantage -- pilots are permitted to fly at supersonic speeds because the facility is located on Edwards Air Force Base.
"People here are more familiar with sonic booms," said Armstrong aerospace engineer Larry Cliatt. "Eventually, we want to take this to a broader level of people who have never heard a sonic boom."
Concorde taking off image via Shutterstock.
Read more at Research.gov.