Published: Sun, March 10, 2019
Research | By Raquel Erickson

NASA’s awesome supersonic shockwave images are breathtaking

NASA’s awesome supersonic shockwave images are breathtaking

This week, NASA released the first-ever images of shockwaves from two supersonic jets interacting, and they are simply stunning.

The photos are more than 10 years in the making, relying on cutting-edge air-to-air photographic technology necessary needed by NASA to develop its pioneering "quiet" supersonic plane.

The images were produced during the fourth phase of the Air-to-Air Background Oriented Schlieren (AirBOS) flights where the space agency tested an upgraded imaging system that can capture shockwaves in high quality.

"What's interesting is, if you look at the rear T-38, you see these shocks kind of interact in a curve" explained Neal Smith, a research engineer with Aerospace Computing Inc at the Ames Research Center.

In a complex move by "rock star" pilots at NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center in California, two supersonic T-38 planes flew only 30 feet (nine meters) separated underneath another plane holding on to photo them with a propelled, rapid camera, the office said.

The NASA project is part of the work to build a new plane that "will fly supersonic, but will produce shockwaves in such a way that, instead of a loud sonic boom, only a quiet rumble may be heard".


L.V. Anderson is Digg's managing editor.

The capacity to catch such nitty gritty pictures of shockwaves will be "crucial" to NASA's improvement of the X-59, the organization stated, a trial supersonic plane it expectations will nearly certainly break the sound wall with only a thunder rather than a sonic blast.

Once a plane goes over the speed of sound, it goes through the barrier of resistance, and it causes a shockwave.

The study of how shockwaves interact with each other, as well as with the exhaust plume of an aircraft, has been a topic of interest among researchers. NASA says this breakthrough will greatly contribute to its Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate. "Just looking at the data for the first time, I think things worked out better than we'd imagined. That is a very big step". The photograph shows details of shockwaves that happen when an aircraft flies at supersonic speeds.

The exercise is in preparation for NASA's Low-Boom Flight Demonstration of the X-59. But if the quieter technology employed by the X-59 proves viable, it could help bring supersonic airliners back from extinction. Accordingly, the X-59 has been unofficially dubbed the "Little Concorde", after the now-retired French-built supersonic airliner.

Like this: