Of-its-kind air-to-air images reveal interactions between jets' shockwaves

NASA Captures Images Of Supersonic Shockwaves Colliding In Flight

"We're looking at a supersonic flow, which is why we're getting these shockwaves, ' said Neal Smith, a research engineer with AerospaceComputing Inc.at NASA Ames" fluid mechanics laboratory. Sound waves, which of course move at the speed of sound, can't outrun an object like a supersonic jet moving at speed, and as the vehicle cuts through them they form a cone-shaped wave of energy.

The images required precision flying from the US Air Force pilots as the supersonic jets were traveling approximately 30 feet away from each other so that the shockwaves from their aircraft would interact.

"We never dreamt that it would be this clear, this handsome", J.T. Heineck, a physical scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center in California, said in the statement.

A sonic boom is the result of an aircraft or other object breaking the sound barrier.

"We're seeing a level of physical detail here that I don't think anybody has ever seen before", senior research engineer Dan Banks said. For NASA has released awe-inspiring images marking the split-second sonic boom shockwaves as they ripple from supersonic planes - in a world first. It was not simple for scientists to research supersonic shockwaves, as they are incredibly loud, and they create sonic booms.

Two T-38 aircrafts flying in formation at supersonic speeds producing shockwaves that are typically heard on the ground as a sonic boom
Two T-38 aircrafts flying in formation at supersonic speeds producing shockwaves that are typically heard on the ground as a sonic boom

The photos are more than 10 years in the making, relying on cutting-edge air-to-air photographic technology necessary needed by NASA to develop its pioneering "quiet" supersonic plane. The data captured in the photographs is said to be critical to NASA's work on the X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology X-plane.

"Just looking at the data for the first time, I think things worked out better than we had imagined".

The handsome images show a pair of T-38s from the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base.

The flight series saw successful testing of an upgraded imaging system capable of capturing high-quality images of shockwaves, rapid pressure changes which are produced when an aircraft flies faster than the speed of sound, or supersonic, NASA said in a statement. "This data is really going to help us advance our understanding of how these shocks interact". The new system also received a memory boost, which allowed for a faster frame rate of up to 1400 frames per second. "That is a very big step".

NASA hopes that with the lessons learned from the X-59 program, a new supersonic passenger airliner can be introduced that can cross the Atlantic Ocean in as little as three hours.

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