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The word “supersonic” used to conjure up images of futuristic inventions, but supersonic aircraft have long been a part of our world. Their current development is making the integration of supersonic flight into everyday transportation even more feasible. Where did this technology begin, and where is it headed? Here’s a look at the past and future of this feat of engineering and technology prowess.
The first supersonic flight took place just under 71 years ago on October 14, 1947, when U.S. Air Force test pilot Captain Charles E. “Chuck” Yeager became the first person to break the sound barrier. He achieved this by flying a Bell XS-1 rocket-powered research airplane.
Research and development moved quickly after that. Just six years later, in November 1953, NACA research pilot Scott Crossfield was at the helm OF the first piloted double-Mach flight in aviation history, flying a D-558-2 beyond Mach 2. This achievement was powered by the development of the delta swept wing, which delayed and minimized transonic and supersonic drag.
Fast forward to 1969 and we have the first Concorde test flight, which would lead to 27 years of noisy, expensive, and often dangerous, supersonic passenger air travel starting in 1976. Now 15 years after the last Concorde was grounded, supersonic is taking off again.
There are three companies working on modern versions of the Concorde – versions that will make less noise and use less fuel as they have only two engines, whereas Concorde had four.
Boom is getting ready to launch a new 55-seat passenger aircraft, which is said will be ready to go in 2023. It has received $10 million investment from Japan Airlines, who also have also the option to obtain 20 of the new aircrafts. The company is building a miniature version, the XB-1, to test the new technologies that they say make supersonic air travel a safe, efficient and viable option.
These include three major aerodynamic advances: an area-ruled fuselage, a chine, and a refined delta wing. Using a carbon composite shell rather than an aluminum one means it is more pliable so can be more streamlined, which boosts efficiency and cuts noise as the craft breaks through the sound barrier.
Over at Spike Aerospace, they are working on the Spike S-512 Quiet Supersonic Jet, an 18-seat passenger aircraft also due to hit the skies in 2023, which they claim is the only one in development that will fly at twice the speed of other jets without creating a loud sonic boom. How will it do that? Through their patent-pending Quiet Supersonic Flight Technology, which is expected to deliver a sonic signature of less than 75 PLdb (perceived loudness level) at ground level, meaning the sound as it breaks the barrier will be on a par with a soft clap or muted background noise.
Environmental information is scant at this time, but the company does say that it is working with marine biologists and atmospheric scientists to ensure that their supersonic flights are sustainable.
A private 12-seat jet, the AS2, is coming from Aerion Supersonic in 2025. Working in partnership with Lockheed Martin and GE Aviation, Aerion is billing the AS2 as the world’s first supersonic business jet. Aerion’s USP is all about the wing and moving on from the traditional delta shape to a thin wing that features a horizontal stabilizer, which apparently cuts drag by 70 percent and increases fuel efficiency.
With three new supersonic jets in development, it seems the history of the aviation industry is set to be transformed once again. The futuristic inventions are becoming a reality.