“NASA has successfully tested an advanced air-to-air photographic technology in flight, capturing the first-ever images of the interaction of shockwaves from two supersonic aircraft in flight. The images, originally monochromatic and shown here as composite colored images, were captured during the fourth phase of Air-to-Air Background Oriented Schlieren flights, or AirBOS, which took place at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California. The flight series saw successful testing of an upgraded imaging system capable of capturing high-quality images of shockwaves, rapid pressure changes which are produced when an aircraft flies faster than the speed of sound, or supersonic. Shockwaves produced by aircraft merge together as they travel through the atmosphere and are responsible for what is heard on the ground as a sonic boom.
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. The ability to fly supersonic without a sonic boom may one day result in lifting current restrictions on supersonic flight over land.”