Armstrong’s sonic boom display system leverages existing tools co-developed and enhanced by the U.S. Air Force and NASA to predict sonic boom propagation to the ground. The technology can be used on current-generation supersonic aircraft, which generate loud sonic booms, as well as future-generation low-boom aircraft, anticipated to be quiet enough to be flown over land.
The system processes vehicle and flight parameters as well as data regarding current atmospheric conditions and provides real-time information regarding sonic boom location and intensity, enabling pilots to make necessary flight adjustments to control their placement on the ground.
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When first introduced in 1976, supersonic commercial air travel promised Superman-like speed to commercial airlines and the flying public. But as supersonic aircraft travel at speeds near or above Mach 1 (the speed of sound), they generate thunderous sonic booms that can disturb people on the ground. For this reason, the United States and other countries currently ban supersonic travel over land.
A supersonic shock wave forms a cone of pressurized air molecules that propagates outward in all directions and extends to the ground. As the cone spreads across the landscape along the flight path, the shock wave creates a continuous sonic boom along the full width of the cone’s base. Factors that influence sonic booms include aircraft weight, size, and shape, in addition to its altitude, speed, acceleration and flight path, and weather or atmospheric conditions. NASA’s Real-Time Sonic Boom Display takes all these factors into account and enables pilots to control and mitigate sonic boom impacts.
Prediction data are integrated with a real-time, local-area moving-map display that is capable of displaying the aircraft’s currently generated sonic boom footprint at all times. A pilot can choose from a menu of pre-programmed maneuvers—such as accelerations, turns, or pushovers—and the predicted sonic boom footprint for that maneuver appears on the map display. This allows pilots to select or modify a flight path or parameters to either avoid generating a sonic boom or to place the sonic boom in a specific location. The system also provides pilots with guidance on how to execute a chosen maneuver.
For example, the system was used on NASA’s Farfield Investigation of No Boom Threshold (FaINT) program and the Superboom Caustic Analysis and Measurement Project (SCAMP), both of which increased mission efficiency in gathering valuable sonic boom research data. The technology is also a critical component of NASA’s Fundamental Aeronautics Program High Speed Project, which is seeking to develop and validate tools, technologies, and concepts to overcome barriers to practical high-speed vehicles.
Aerospace companies have the technological capability to build faster aircraft for overland travel; however, the industry has not yet developed a system to support flight planning and management of sonic booms. The Real-Time Sonic Boom Display fills this need. The capabilities of this cutting-edge technology will help pave the way toward overland supersonic flight, as it is the key to ensuring that speed increases can be accomplished without disturbing population centers.
This technology is owned by NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center