NASA captures images of supersonic shockwaves

NASA captured the first air-to-air images of supersonic shockwaves interacting in-flight

NASA captured the first air-to-air images of supersonic shockwaves interacting in-flight

This week, NASA released the first-ever images of shockwaves from two supersonic jets interacting, and they are simply stunning.

The first-of-their-kind images were captured in a test of an advanced air-to-air photographic technology in flight.

The images depict two T-38 supersonic jets from the US Air Force during a test flight from the research center at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The T-38s in the picture are flying at supersonic speeds approximately 30-feet from each other.

"What is interesting is, if you look at the rear T-38, you see these shocks kind of interact in a curve". NASA flew a Beechcraft Super King Air plane at 30,000 feet while a pair of Northrop T-38 Talon planes flew just 2,000 feet below it, breaking into supersonic speeds at exactly the right moment.

NASA says the ultimate objective of the test is to use AirBOS to study air waves generated by the X-59 Quiet Supersonic Technology (QueSST) aircraft, a joint NASA-Lockheed Martin undertaking that scientists hope will find a way for jets to fly faster than the speed of sound but without the sonic boom, which also creates drag inhibiting further speed increases.

L.V. Anderson is Digg's managing editor.

When jets fly faster than the speed of sound shockwaves generate a noise known as a “sonic boom.”
When jets fly faster than the speed of sound shockwaves generate a noise known as a “sonic boom.”

"I am ecstatic about how these images turned out", NASA scientist J.T. Heineck said.

The flight series saw successful testing of an upgraded imaging system capable of capturing high-quality images of shock waves, rapid pressure changes which are produced when an aircraft flies faster than the speed of sound, or supersonic, Nasa said in a statement.

"With this upgraded system, we have, by an order of magnitude, improved both the speed and quality of our imagery from previous research", Heineck said. The study of how shock waves interact with each other, as well as with the exhaust plume of an aircraft, has been a topic of interest among researchers. NASA hopes that by reducing sonic booms, it might be able to get around the restrictions on supersonic flight over land.

The team used an upgraded camera system with a wider field of view and increased memory, which allowed them to capture 1,400 frames per second.

Heather Maliska, NASA AirBOS sub-project manager, said: "The biggest challenge was trying to get the timing correct to make sure we could get these images". Our operations team has done this type of manoeuvre before. "They know how to get the maneuver lined up, and our NASA pilots and the Air Force pilots did a great job being where they needed to be".

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