NASA's New X-Plane Could Revamp Supersonic Flight With Noise-Quieting Tech
When Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in 1947 with the Bell X-1, we doubt he was concerned about noise complaints filed in the wake of his sonic boom. Things have changed since then, and the introduction of the Concorde jet in the early 2000s proved that the vast majority of people don't want a bunch of 130-decibel sonic booms cracking off over their homes—for comparison, live rock music is usually around 100 decibels, while a chainsaw is about 120 decibels. NASA wants to fix that.
NASA's new budget includes a request to develop a new X-plane that will solve the problem of sonic booms and hopefully allow overland supersonic flights, a practice that was outlawed in 1973. The goal is to make the sonic booms "so quiet it hardly will be noticed by the public, if at all." The sound will be "like distant thunder [or] the sound of your neighbor forcefully shutting his car door outside while you are inside."
The experimental plane will accomplish this by using a "low-sound airframe shape" and changing the placement of its engines to mitigate the jarring sonic crash that happens when all the compressed vibrations created by its engines arrive together. The noise from a normal passenger jet's engine is incredibly loud, but all of those sound vibrations are spread out as the plane passes overhead, creating the low droning noise you usually hear rather than a single "boom."
The new X-plane project will also explore the use of supersonic flight in ferrying people into space, which prompted Vice President Mike Pence to muse about a new generation of space colonists heading out to settle the stars:
"Like the railroads that brought American explorers, entrepreneurs and settlers to tame the Wild West, these groundbreaking new technologies will open untold opportunities to extend the range of American action and values into the new worlds of outer space."
If it takes about eight hours to get from New York to London on a 747, we're guessing it will take a little bit longer to get to a moon resort on a supersonic craft. As long as we get to wear those cool space suits Elon Musk designed (and eat tiny bags of space-pretzels), we'll be happy.