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NASA: Supersonic Passenger Jets Closer To Returning To Airports Thanks To Sonic Boom Research

MOFFETT FIELD (CBS SF) -- San Francisco to New York in two hours? It's been possible for 40 years, as anyone who flew the Concorde from New York to London can tell you, but it's not allowed because of Federal Aviation Administration regulations about supersonic flights over land. Seems people don't like the sound of sonic booms every few hours over their homes, but new research from NASA Ames Research Center, and the facility at Edwards could make sonic booms more tolerable, and make hour-long cross-country flights a reality.

Technology has now progressed to the point where a practical supersonic jet with a quieter, more tolerable sonic boom is not only possible, but feasible, according to NASA engineers.

"Lessening sonic booms -- shock waves caused by an aircraft flying faster than the speed of sound -- is the most significant hurdle to reintroducing commercial supersonic flight," said Peter Coen, head of the High Speed Project in NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C. "Other barriers include high altitude emissions, fuel efficiency and community noise around airports."

Part of the research, besides testing designs, is to create a government standard for low sonic booms that would allow aerospace companies to build jets that fit the regulations. NASA is presenting the research this week in Atlanta.

In one test, volunteers rated 140 different booms to see what was most tolerable, and least disruptive.

Another research group is looking at designs that minimize the boom, including cylindrical bodies both with and without wings, in addition to full aircraft designs.

NASA's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley is testing designs in wind tunnels. Some of the better examples include the needle-like nose, similar to the retired Concorde, a delta-wing (also used by the Concorde), and highly swept-back wings that all have quieter booms.

There have been two supersonic airliners, the Russian Tu-144, and the well-known Concorde flown by the UK and France. The original Concorde concept dates back to 1959, when the plans were made to create the aircraft, which first flew ten years later. The Concorde was retired, and the remaining aircraft sent to museums three years after a July 25th, 2000 crash that killed all 100 people on board and four on the ground. The cost of maintaining the aircraft and the demand for tickets couldn't sustain the prograam.

MORE: NASA Supersonic Jet Research

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