Mystery Plane

Guest Post by Threat Watcher Rob at the Threat Axis Log.

This was a flight demonstrator for the Shaped Sonic Boom program. The thought was that a modified underside of the aircraft’s fuselage could potentially reduce the sonic boom that an aircraft made when going supersonic (Mach 1+) speeds.

The newest jet engines – i.e. the F119 on the F-22 Raptor – no longer have to go to afterburner to get to supersonic speeds. One of the reasons that the Concorde wasn’t able to make money (and got retired) was because it was constantly on afterburner (and burned a huge amount of jet fuel). Beyond the fuel costs – the other reason that the Concorde wasn’t successful – was because it was restricted to overwater flights. Because on an overwater flight – there was no homeowner’s association or EPA to complain about the noise pollution.

Have you figured out why DARPA was pushing this research from the comments above?

Militarily – there is no point to have a Stealth (Invisible to radar) aircraft if it leaves a sonic boom footprint/trail along its flight path.

Commercially – think of the opportunity for an airline or express shipper (FedEx or UPS), if they could fly twice as fast for the same amount of fuel. Think of the surcharges!

The only thing standing in the way of either of these possibilities – now that the fuel economy has been improved – is the sonic booms created. Now – we can’t rewrite the laws of aerodynamics as they apply to the sonic boom. But this was an attempt to minimize the impact of the sonic boom so that restrictions on where supersonic flight could take place could be relaxed.


  1. Problem is, surface area induced drag increased. The shape of the aircraft, i.e., area ruled, does increase/decrease the speed attainable by an aircraft, but a boat shaped hull presents all sorts of other problems to surmount. Besides, a sonic boom comes from the shockwave detaching from the airframe. I don’t see how a different shape can alleviate that. Then again, I protected planes in the Air Force, not flew them.

  2. Actually, the main reason Concorde was not a commercial success (once development costs had been written off) was that the USA, lacking an equivalent, did not provide SSTs with the necessary landing priorities. Concordes were forced to fly slowly in landing patterns at some cost in time and great cost in fuel consumption. Yet the whole design was predicated on the idea that flights wouldn’t do that. Of course, it still wouldn’t have succeeded if it had had to cover all its development costs – but the same can be said of just about any jet airliner.

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