The start of a sonic boom


This plane is on the verge of crossing the sound barrier.


This schlieren image shows an Air Force Test Pilot School T-38 in a transonic state, meaning the aircraft is transitioning from a subsonic speed to supersonic
This schlieren image shows an Air Force Test Pilot School T-38 in a transonic state, meaning the aircraft is transitioning from a subsonic speed to supersonic.
NASA/STScI/ACS/ESA/Getty Images

When NASA’s next X-plane takes to the skies, it will produce some pretty cool images.

Thanks to the completion of a recent flight test series at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California, the agency is a step closer to being able to visually capture the shockwaves of NASA’s future Low Boom Flight Demonstration aircraft, or LBFD.

In this schlieren image, an Air Force Test Pilot School T-38 is shown in a transonic state, meaning the aircraft is transitioning from a subsonic speed to supersonic. Above and beneath the aircraft, shockwaves are seen starting to form. These shockwaves propagate away from the aircraft and are heard on the ground as a sonic boom. NASA researchers use this imagery to study these shockwaves as part of the effort to make sonic booms quieter, which may open the future to possible supersonic flight over land.

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