NASA learns how to fly supersonic jets without the boom over Galveston

By Ryan Korsgard - Reporter

GALVESTON, Texas - What NASA researchers learn flying an F-18 Hornet in the skies off Galveston more than 30,000 feet over the Gulf of Mexico could change how you fly.

NASA project manager Peter Coen said the agency would "like to essentially cut the flight time in half for most destinations."

Imagine flying supersonic from Houston to New York in about an hour and a half.
Right now, the subsonic flight takes more than double that.

On Tuesday at Ellington Field airport, NASA began studying how to quietly fly supersonic jets over land without the big sonic boom. The research will help NASA figure out how to best collect community response for future flights.



The flights were scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Tuesday at Ellington Field then move to Galveston, but it was delayed until 12:30 p.m. due to weather.

Galveston Mayor Jim Yarbrough said, "I can't think of a significant event or a significant project in world history that didn't start with a crazy idea (such as) commercial flights faster than the speed of sound."

The flights are part of NASA’s Commercial Supersonic Technology Project.

The goal is to figure out how to overcome barriers to practical supersonic commercial air travel. The jets will fly five to 15-20 miles off the coast. A dive maneuver will deliver a brief sonic boom at sea that researchers describe as “startling.” The sound on land is described as more like a distant thunderstorm.

Coen said, "You hear that rumble in the distance. That's a sonic thump. That's what we expect people to hear in the community."



"The current rule says no civil, supersonic flight over land. It's that simple. One sentence,” said NASA Research Pilot Jim Less. "We're trying to make that sonic boom quieter. NASA believes we have the technology to do that."

A team of researchers check to see if it’s possible to reduce the sonic boom to something acceptable to those of us on the ground. That information will help build an experimental jet that could lead the way to private, supersonic travel.



"Supersonic is faster than the speed of sound. So we're talking about going from LA to New York not in five hours but more like 2.5 to 3 hours. We're really talking about cutting travel time by nearly 50 percent," said Principal Investigator Larry Cliatt said. 

The flights started on Tuesday and will last up to 15 days. NASA plans to solicit community feedback to help gauge reactions to the study.



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