Rockwell Collins and NASA team up for a faster future

NASA Simulator

Sonic boom display integrated into NASA's QueSST simulator at NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center Click to enlarge

Research into achieving faster flight speeds dates all the way back to the work of Isaac Newton, who discovered the earliest speed of sound calculations. However, it was not until 1947 that veteran pilot Chuck Yeager flew at an altitude of 45,000 feet at a speed of Mach 1, which is faster than the speed of sound, in an experimental aircraft called the Bell X-1. This historical feat launched a great scientific push for a better understanding of the benefits and drawbacks of supersonic travel.

Rockwell Collins, in conjunction with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), is actively exploring the true value and effects that come along with supersonic air travel to make it a reality in the future.

“Our research with NASA has been quite successful, as we worked with its sonic boom experts to understand a complex algorithm to develop a cutting edge concept of supersonic flight operations,” said Laura Smith-Velazquez, senior systems engineer at Rockwell Collins.

The production of sonic booms is one of the main barriers that has held supersonic aircraft back. A sonic boom is the thunder-like noise that occurs when an aircraft travels faster than the speed of sound. The size and impact of any given sonic boom depend on a variety of variables including size and shape of the aircraft, altitude and attitude of the flight path as well as weather and atmospheric conditions. This impact occurs in the form of a shock wave that could lead to adverse effects on the world including disruptions to the general population’s daily activities and sleep. As a result, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) currently prohibits supersonic flight over land and NASA is conducting research into developing low boom supersonic aircraft.

NASA is working with Rockwell Collins to explore three different interest areas relating to technology involved in supersonic flight: architecture, weather data, and a sonic boom avionics display. Rockwell Collins also formed pilot working groups comprised of both NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center pilots and Rockwell Collins commercial pilots to gain a better understanding of supersonic flight operations.

The two-year project reached a major milestone in March 2017 when the usability and pilot working group meeting resulted in a sonic boom impact cockpit display, which will allow pilots to modify flight plans in the hopes of reducing sonic boom impacts or mitigating them all together. The team is currently adding more functionality to the prototype to create flight plan modifications and preview impacts. Their goal is to provide pilots with the guidance to fly a profile where a sonic boom will not reach the ground and cause disruptions to daily life.

Sonic Boom
Sonic boom display prototype illustrating mountain occlusion of the boom.

“The Rockwell Collins sonic boom display prototype was integrated into NASA’s Quiet Super Sonic Technology (QueSST) simulator at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center. We demonstrated this achievement at the year-end technical interchange meetings at the NASA Armstrong facility,” said Smith-Velazquez.

NASA hopes to fly its low boom demonstrator by 2021 and create a new supersonic aircraft market by 2025. Rockwell Collins’ innovative research and development into sonic boom technology has created a lasting relationship with NASA to pursue the commercialization of supersonic travel technologies for a faster future.

Story posted: August 18, 2017

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