New air-to-air photographic technology has moved NASA closer to developing a quieter supersonic aircraft – the futuristic sounding X-59 QueSST – after the space agency captured for the first time the interaction of shockwaves travelling faster than the speed of sound.
NASA spent the past decade developing the new technology, which was recently used to photograph two T-38s from the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The T-38s were flying in formation, approximately 30 feet apart, at supersonic speeds. Data gathered using the new tech is moving NASA closer to one day producing the unthinkable – supersonic aircraft that produce a "quiet rumble" instead of an ear-shattering boom when breaking the sound barrier.
“We’re seeing a level of physical detail here that I don’t think anybody has ever seen before,” said Dan Banks, senior research engineer at NASA Armstrong. “Just looking at the data for the first time, I think things worked out better than we’d imagined. This is a very big step.”
According to a press release from the space agency, the images were captured from a NASA B-200 King Air. The upgraded system included the addition of a camera able to capture data with a wider field of view. The system also included a memory upgrade for the cameras, permitting researchers to increase the frame rate to 1400 frames per second, making it easier to capture a larger number of samples.
Armed with the new data, NASA is planning future flights at higher altitudes as it moves toward achieving what may be a landmark achievement in aviation.
NASA will continue to analyze the date with future flights potentially taking place at higher altitudes. Those flights may take NASA a step closer toward a major milestone in aviation.