NASA will test its supersonic jet tech in November to make sure it’s quiet enough

NASA is not used to having to worry about things like noise pollution, but then the sound generated by rockets is both rare and fleeting.

But when NASA is looking into making supersonic jets, that’s a whole different kettle of deafened fish. Supersonic jets have been grounded since Concord took its last flight in 2003, and with the volume hitting deafening heights of 90dBa it was known to break windows, making it most useful for flights over oceans where there would be precious few complaints.

READ NEXT: The science of supersonic jets

Still, it had its advantages: chief amongst them the fact that a flight from London to New York could take just three and a half hours, as compared to the nearly eight hours it takes today. That’s why NASA is beavering away at its quiet supersonic technology: supersonic sans the sonic boom.

Well, not quite ‘sans’. You’re still looking at volumes as high as 65dBa, but that’s quite a big drop, and could open up supersonic flights to domestic travel.

Is that quiet enough? NASA is planning on finding out in November with a bunch of tests above the coastal city of Galveston, Texas. In these tests, the F/A-18 Hornet aircraft will perform dive manoeuvres to create sonic booms out at sea, while generating quieter ‘sonic thumps’ over the town itself. The difference between a boom and a thump can be seen in the video below (0:43 for the boom, 2:34 for the thump).

After the test is complete, NASA is seeking feedback from “at least” 500 residents to check whether the noise levels are considered reasonable by residents.

Whether said residents will ever see a commercial supersonic flight above their heads is very much up in the air – pun gleefully intended. Not only does it depend on the demand of supersonic flights, but we’re some way away from the X-59 being finished, let alone taking off. Test flights aren’t expected to begin until 2021, with community overflights pushed into 2023.

You can read more about the science of supersonic flight here.

Image: Lockheed Martin

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