NASA: Boomless Supersonic Passenger Jets 'Within Reach'

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The resumption of supersonic passenger travel is getting closer to reality, NASA said this week, as the agency's aeronautics researchers are making progress in developing low-sonic-boom technology. "Lessening sonic booms is the most significant hurdle to reintroducing commercial supersonic flight," said Peter Coen, head of the High Speed Project in NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate. Efforts now underway at NASA include research into how people react to a variety of sounds, how to predict the occurrence of the booms, and how to make them quieter. Engineers now believe the design of a practical low-boom supersonic commercial jet is "within reach," NASA said.

The NASA researchers presented the results of their research this week at a conference in Atlanta, Ga., hosted by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Aircraft designs now being tested are characterized by a needle-like nose, a sleek fuselage and a delta wing or highly swept wings -- shapes that result in much lower booms. But sonic booms aren't the only technical issue to overcome before supersonic passenger jets can take off. "Other barriers include high altitude emissions, fuel efficiency and community noise around airports," Coen said.