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NASA and Honeywell claim they can reduce sonic booms over land, potentially bringing supersonic flight to the masses

  • NASA and American multinational conglomerate Honeywell say they now know how to reduce sonic booms
  • Honeywell state that the developments could potentially eliminate one of the primary barriers to the broad adoption of supersonic flight
  • A ban on supersonic travel over U.S. soil has been in place since the Richard Nixon administration
The Anglo-French passenger jet Concorde in flight.
Evening Standard | Getty Images
The Anglo-French passenger jet Concorde in flight.

NASA and American multinational conglomerate Honeywell say they now know how to reduce sonic booms when flying a supersonic aircraft over land following the completion of a two-year study.

A ban on supersonic travel over U.S. soil has been in place since the Richard Nixon administration in the early 1970s, amid fears of disrupted sleep and broken windows. Sonic booms are loud sounds similar to that of an explosion that can be generated by supersonic flights.

But Bob Smith, president of Honeywell's Mechanical Systems, said Tuesday that while the problem of sonic booms over populated areas has been a problem since the early days of Concorde, it could be about to change.

"A sonic boom is effectively just a big pressure change. So if you can effectively smooth that pressure change out it becomes a weaker wave so it becomes a rumble instead of a bang," said Smith.

Smith said NASA has been working on aerodynamic techniques to achieve smoother pressure changes to minimize sonic booms. He explained that Honeywell's input is to take the NASA data and allow a pilot to visualize on screen what impact a sonic boom is having on the ground below the plane.

"So a pilot gets an understanding if they are getting into a region where the impingement of a sonic boom on a populated area was getting more critical or less critical," Smith added. "It gives them a visualization of what of that sonic boom footprint effectively is."

In a statement Honeywell said the technology could prove to be useful for NASA's future planned Low Boom Flight Demonstration airplane. This NASA plane wants to gather data about noise effect on communities that some hope will help remove current restrictions to overland commercial supersonic flight. Honeywell state that the developments could potentially eliminate one of the primary barriers to the broad adoption of supersonic flight and say that it could "bring supersonic flight to the masses" and "cut flight times in half."

Commercial planes traveling faster than the speed of sound have not existed since Concorde was put into retirement in 2003. The return of supersonic travel has been a hot topic at the Paris Air Show after Boom Technology said it hoped to make supersonic passenger travel a reality by 2023.

In 2016, NASA announced it had signed a deal for the design of a modern low-noise supersonic prototype. The designing team for that plane is led by Lockheed Martin Aeronautics.

Increased cost per seat, high development costs, expensive construction materials and increased weight are all seen as additional hurdles to the problem of a supersonic travel.

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