When jets fly faster than the speed of sound, shockwaves generate a noise known as a "sonic boom".
"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.
The study of how shockwaves interact with each other, as well as with the exhaust plume of an aircraft, has been a topic of interest among researchers. Shockwaves produced by an aircraft flying faster than the speed of sound merge together as they move through the air.
In the recent event, NASA's air-to-air schlieren photographic technology captured images of mingling shock waves from two T-38 supersonic U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School airplanes.
The system will be used to capture data crucial to confirming the design of the agency's X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology X-plane, or X-59 QueSST, which will fly supersonic, but will produce shockwaves in such a way that, instead of a loud sonic boom, only a quiet rumble may be heard. "This data is really going to help us advance our understanding of how these shocks interact", Smith said.
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.
Sonic booms can be a major nuisance, capable of not just startling people on the ground but also causing damage - like shattered windows - and this has led to strong restrictions on supersonic flight over land in jurisdictions like the United States.
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. "That is a very big step".
Scientists captured the images using a NASA B-200 King Air outfitted with an upgraded camera system. The upgraded camera system can capture data with a broader field of view, has a memory upgrade to increase the frame rate to 1400 frames per second, and experiences a better data download rate.
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