Supersonic: Wikis


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U.S. Navy F/A-18 approaching the sound barrier . The white halo is formed by condensed water droplets which result from a drop in air pressure around the aircraft (see Prandtl-Glauert Singularity). [1][2]

The term supersonic is used to define a speed that is over the speed of sound (Mach 1). In dry air at 20 °C (68 °F), the threshold value required for an object to be traveling at a supersonic speed is approximately 343 m/s, (1,125 ft/s, 768 mph or 1,236 km/h). Speeds greater than 5 times the speed of sound are often referred to as hypersonic. Speeds where only some parts of the air around an object (such as the ends of rotor blades) reach supersonic speeds are labeled transonic (typically somewhere between Mach 0.8 and Mach 1.2).

Sounds are travelling vibrations (pressure waves) in an elastic medium. In gases sound travels longitudinally at different speeds, mostly depending on the molecular mass and temperature of the gas; (pressure has little effect). Since air temperature and composition varies significantly with altitude, Mach numbers for aircraft can change without airspeed varying. In water at room temperature supersonic can be considered as any speed greater than 1,440 m/s (4,724 ft/s). In solids, sound waves can be longitudinal or transverse and have even higher velocities. Supersonic fracture is crack motion faster than the speed of sound in a brittle material.


Supersonic objects

Most modern fighter aircraft are supersonic, but Concorde and the Tupolev Tu-144 were the only supersonic passenger aircraft. An aircraft that can still sustain supersonic flight without using an afterburner is called a supercruise aircraft. Due to its ability to supercruise for several hours and the relatively high frequency of flight over several decades, Concorde spent more time flying supersonically than all other aircraft put together by a considerable margin. Since Concorde's final retirement flight on November 26, 2003, there are no supersonic passenger aircraft left in service. Some large bombers, such as the Tupolev Tu-160 and Rockwell/Boeing B-1B are also supersonic-capable.

Most modern firearm bullets are supersonic, with rifle projectiles often travelling at speeds approaching and in some cases largely exceeding Mach 3.

Most spacecraft, most notably the Space Shuttle are supersonic at least during portions of their reentry, though the effects on the spacecraft are reduced by low air pressures. During ascent, launch vehicles generally avoid going supersonic below 30 km (~98,400 feet) to reduce air drag.

Note that the speed of sound decreases somewhat with altitude, due to lower temperatures found there (typically up to 25 km). At even higher altitudes the temperature starts increasing, with the corresponding increase in the speed of sound.[3]

A wave traveling through a bull whip is also capable of achieving supersonic speeds. [4]

Breaking the sound barrier

1. Subsonic
2. Mach 1
3. Supersonic
4. Shock wave

In aerodynamics, the sound barrier usually refers to the point at which an aircraft moves from transonic to supersonic speed. The term came into use during World War II when a number of aircraft started to encounter the effects of compressibility, a grab-bag of unrelated aerodynamic effects. The term fell out of use in the 1950s when aircraft started to routinely "break" the sound barrier. Refer to the speed of sound for the science behind the velocity referred to as the sound barrier, and to sonic boom for information on the sound associated with supersonic flight. Captain Charles E. "Chuck" Yeager was the first man to reach supersonic speed in controlled level flight.

Supersonic flight

Supersonic aerodynamics are simpler than subsonic because the airsheets at different points along the plane often can't affect each other. Supersonic jets and rocket vehicles require several times greater thrust to push through the extra drag experienced within the transonic region (around Mach 0.85-1.2). At these speeds Aerospace engineers can gently guide air around the fuselage of the aircraft without producing new shock waves but any change in cross sectional area further down the vehicle leads to shock waves along the body. Designers use the Supersonic area rule and the Whitcomb area rule to minimize sudden changes in size.

It should be kept in mind, however, that the aerodynamic principles behind a supersonic aircraft are often more complex than described above because such an aircraft must be efficient and stable at supersonic, transonic and subsonic flight.

One problem with sustained supersonic flight is the generation of heat in flight. At high speeds aerodynamic heating can occur, so an aircraft must be designed to operate and function under very high temperatures. Duralumin, the traditional aircraft material, starts to lose strength and go into plastic deformation at relatively low temperatures, and is unsuitable for continuous use at speeds above Mach 2.2 to 2.4. Materials such as titanium and stainless steel allow operations at much higher temperatures. For example, the SR-71 Blackbird jet could fly continuously at Mach 3.1 while some parts were above 315°C (600°F).

Another area of concern for continued high-speed operation is the engines. Jet engines create thrust by increasing the temperature of the air they ingest, and as the aircraft speeds up, friction and compression heats this air before it reaches the engines. The maximum temperature of the exhaust is determined by the materials in the turbine at the rear of the engine, so as the aircraft speeds up the difference in intake and exhaust temperature the engine can extract decreases, and the thrust along with it. Air cooling the turbine area to allow operations at higher temperatures was a key solution, one that continued to improve though the 1950s and on to this day.

Intake design was also a major issue. Normal jet engines can only ingest subsonic air, so for supersonic operation the air has to be slowed down. Ramps or cones in the intake are used to create shock waves that slows the airflow before it reaches the engine. Doing so removes energy from the airflow, causing drag. The key to reducing this drag is to use multiple small oblique shock waves, but this was difficult because the angle they make inside the intake changes with Mach number. In order to efficiently operate across a range of speeds, the shock waves have to be "tuned."

An aircraft able to operate for extended periods at supersonic speeds has a potential range advantage over a similar design operating subsonically. Most of the drag an aircraft sees while speeding up to supersonic speeds occurs just below the speed of sound, due to an aerodynamic effect known as wave drag. An aircraft that can accelerate past this speed sees a significant drag decrease, and can fly supersonically with improved fuel economy. However, due to the way lift is generated supersonically, the lift-to-drag ratio of the aircraft as a whole drops, leading to lower range, offsetting or overturning this advantage.

The key to having low supersonic drag is to properly shape the overall aircraft to be long and skinny, as close as possible to a "perfect" shape, the von Karman ogive or Sears-Haack body. This has led to almost every supersonic cruising aircraft looking very similar to every other, with a very long and skinny fuselage and large delta wings, cf. SR-71, Concorde, etc. Although not ideal for passenger aircraft, this shaping is quite adaptable for bomber use.

History of supersonic flight

President Kennedy honors Dr. von Kármán.

The Jewish Hungarian-born American scientist Theodore Karman (May 11, 1881 – May 7, 1963) was the inventor of the mathematical tools to study fluid flow, the mathematical background of supersonic flight, and the swept-back wing. He is often called "the father of Supersonic Flight" due to his work on the stability of laminar flow, turbulence, airfoils in steady and unsteady flow, boundary layers, and supersonic aerodynamics, largely taking place in the 1940s through 60s. He made additional contributions in other fields, including elasticity, vibration, heat transfer, and crystallography. His name appears in at least the following concepts:

  • Foppl-von Kármán equations (large deflection of elastic plates)
  • Born-von Kármán lattice model (crystallography)
  • Chaplygin-Kármán-Tsien approximation (potential flow)
  • Falkowich-Kármán equation (transonic flow)
  • von Kármán constant (wall turbulence)
  • Kármán line (aerodynamics/astronautics)
  • Kármán-Howarth equation (turbulence)
  • Kármán-Nikuradse correlation (viscous flow; coauthored by Johann Nikuradse)
  • Kármán-Pohlhausen parameter (boundary layers)
  • Kármán-Treffz transformation (airfoil theory)
  • Prandtl-von Kármán law (velocity in open channel flow)
  • von Kármán integral equation (boundary layers)
  • von Kármán ogive (supersonic aerodynamics)
  • von Kármán vortex street (flow past cylinder)
  • von Kármán-Tsien compressibility correction

The speed of sound was exceeded for the first time by a manned aircraft in controlled, level flight on October 14th, 1947 in an American research project, using the experimental Bell X-1 research rocket plane, piloted by Charles "Chuck" Yeager. The first production plane to break the sound barrier was an F-86 Canadair Sabre with the first 'supersonic' woman pilot, Jacqueline Cochran, at the controls, although this aircraft was not designed with regular supersonic flights in mind.

See also

Other flow regimes


External links

Simple English

Navy F/A-18E/F Super Hornet in transonic flight.]]

The term supersonic is used to describe a speed that is over the speed of sound (Mach 1). At a typical temperature like 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21.1 °C), the threshold value required for an object to be traveling at a supersonic speed is approximately 344 m/s, 1,129 ft/s, 770 mph or 1,238 km/h. Speeds greater than 5 times the speed of sound are often referred to as hypersonic. Speeds where only some parts of the air around an object (such as the ends of rotor blades) reach supersonic speeds are called transonic (typically somewhere between Mach 0.8 and Mach 1.2).

It can be very hard to reach supersonic speeds, because drag increases a lot near these speeds. This slows a plane down. Dick Whitcomb invented a lot of ways to overcome drag and break the sound barrier.

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