NASA Is Working on a Quieter Supersonic Passenger Plane
Supersonic flight. It elicits images of a heavily outfitted pilot strapped in, bracing for the moment when they shatter the sound barrier. It doesn't seem like something that could be easily incorporated into commercial travel. But NASA is working to make that a reality.
This August, at the Kennedy Space Center, NASA researchers are testing sonic booms with the ultimate goal of creating quieter supersonic flight. If they are able to achieve this, supersonic flight could go commercial. There have been previous efforts to offer supersonic flight commercially, but it burned an unbelievable amount of fuel (hello climate change), cost passengers roughly $12,000 round-trip, and was more of a thrill-seekers' adventure than a viable means of transportation.
While it might be relatively comfortable for those riding in uber-modern supersonic planes, those living in the houses that they're flying over might not enjoy it as much. In fact, the United States has instituted a ban on overland supersonic flight for forty years. As long as these planes are moving faster than the speed of sound, they create booms, often likened to the wake behind a boat. If supersonic flight is to become commercial, there has to be a way to mitigate the damages of the almost-deafening boom that it creates. These booms are reportedly so intense that they're even capable of damaging property.
Since then, NASA has hired Lockheed Martin to build a super-quiet, supersonic plane. Their goal was and is to create a plane that breaks the sound barrier with "a quiet sonic thump." Now, they've got a prototype of a new supersonic jet that might be able to pull it off—they just need someone to build the final version.
So what happens if NASA's experiments lead to the commercialization of supersonic flight? While the Hyperloop continues to promise faster speeds on the ground and Elon Musk's Boring Company shows the potential of faster speeds below the ground, supersonic flight could make us even faster in the air. Just a little over one hundred years ago human flight was realized, and now, while supersonic flight has existed for decades, it could become a routine part of life.