NASA is conducting a series of quiet supersonic boom research flights over Galveston, Texas, during the first half of this month as it works toward determining acceptable noise levels for overland sonic booms from civil aircraft, including commercial and private jets.
The project comes as civil aircraft-makers are targeting the next decade for the relaunch of supersonic flying. No commercial supersonic aircraft has been in operation since Air France and British Airways grounded the Concorde in 2003. The Concorde was prohibited from flying across the continent, and current U.S. law prohibits overland supersonic civil flying due to the noise concerns.
NASA flew the first research flight over Galveston on Monday and intends to conduct flights on seven more days through Nov. 17. The agency is using two-seat F/A-18 supersonic research aircraft to conduct the tests and is employing flying maneuvers that are designed to create a quieter sonic boom than would be heard from more standard flying. In generating quiet booms NASA hopes to mimic the type of boom that will be emitted by the experimental quiet supersonic aircraft it has under development in partnership with Lockheed Martin. The agency intends to fly that aircraft, called X-59, in 2022.
NASA will use data that it gleans from this month's research tests to help it better understand data -collection methods when it does fly its quiet supersonic aircraft over selected U.S. communities.
The NASA tests are taking place as commercial and supersonic aircraft developers Boom Supersonic, Spike Aerospace and Aerion Supersonic are working on aircraft designs that would emit quieter booms than are created by military aircraft and those that were created by the Concorde. Each of those companies is targeting the 2020s for production release.
The FAA reauthorization bill signed into law by President Trump last month requires the agency to deliver a report on a new regulatory framework for supersonic flight within a year, well before NASA will complete its research related to tolerable sonic boom noise levels.