NASA has begun a series of supersonic test flights off the coast of Texas that will use a unique maneuver meant to lessen the sound of a sonic boom.
Years ago, supersonic flight was banned over land because of the noise nuisance. Now, scientists are trying to find new technologies that could usher in a new era of supersonic commercial flight.
The goal of the program, dubbed the Quiet Supersonic Flights 2018, or QSF18, is to determine how communities will respond to a quieter “thump” created by a new maneuver, according to a press release.
Pilots flying F/A-18s will begin the maneuver at 50,000 feet over the water near Galveston. The pilots will enter a special dive that creates regular sonic booms. However, when the sound reaches land, it should be heard as a quieter “thump” instead of the loud boom that typically startles people on the ground.
Sensors and 500 surveys completed by Galveston residents will provide feedback on how the quieter sonic booms are perceived.
“QSF18 is a big step in NASA’s efforts to understand what is required for acceptable supersonic overland flight,” said NASA’s Commercial Supersonic Technology Project Manager Peter Coen. “This is the first time in decades that we have reached out to a large community as part of our supersonic research.”
Coen noted that NASA has performed similar tests at the Armstrong Flight Research Center in California using similar sounds created by the same F/A-18.
“We’ve measured the noise levels and the impact on structures, as well as surveyed people for annoyance, to make certain that these tests are safe and well-planned,” said Coen. “We greatly appreciate Galveston’s interest and support.”
Galveston Mayor James Yarbrough said his city is “both honored and excited to be a part of this project.”
“This is the type of project that motivates engineers and innovators,” said Yarbrough. “In Galveston, we have a long and proud history of being involved in advances in science and technology, whether that’s in medicine, rail or shipping. In this case, our residents will have an opportunity to participate in a study to advance aviation and the design of commercial planes that can break the sound barrier quietly.”
The testing will confirm technology for the planned X-59 Quiet Supersonic Technology X-Plane, an experimental aircraft that will provide even more feedback that could determine the fate of commercial supersonic flight over land.