Quiet Spike

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NASA's F-15B Research Testbed, aircraft #836 (74-0141), with the Quiet Spike attachment

Quiet Spike is a collaborative program between Gulfstream Aerospace and NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center to investigate the suppression of sonic booms.

An eventual outcome of the project is to develop technology that may allow next generation supersonic transports to overfly populated areas at above Mach 1 without the high intensity of sonic boom that proved problematic for first generation supersonic transports such as Concorde (c.f. Operation Bongo). Gulfstream has a particular interest in resolving this problem because of its desire to build a supersonic business jet.

The boom caused by Concorde generated substantial public opposition in the United States and eventually in other countries around the world under routes the aircraft was supposed to fly, and made it impossible for Concorde to be a commercial success. The issue of sonic boom was also a significant factor in the eventual cancellation of the Boeing 2707.[1]

Shock waves develop around aircraft as they near Mach 1. At ground level, these are perceived as a loud double boom or bang. Their intensity varies due to factors such as weather, refraction from different layers of atmospheric density, and size of the aircraft, but in general, from a supersonic aircraft of the size of a civilian airliner, the overpressure created at ground level is enough to rattle windows.

For example, the sonic boom from the Concorde travelling at a speed of Mach 2 was about 2 pounds per square foot.[2]

Because of sonic boom intensity, many countries now prohibit supersonic overflight over land or population centres. The FAA prohibits supersonic flight over land, except in special military flight corridors. The Quiet Spike is a key enabling technology, but alone is not enough to reduce sonic booms sufficiently to lift the current prohibition on supersonic overflight.

Various structural approaches have been proposed to mitigate sonic booms, mainly focusing around changes to aircraft noses, the use of chines, changes in aircraft planform and even creating pathways through the aircraft structure to mitigate parasitic drag that leads to shock waves.

As part of the Quiet Spike project, a retractable, 24 feet (7.3 m) long lance-like spike has been mounted on the nose of NASA Dryden's F-15B research testbed aircraft. The spike, made of composite materials, creates three small shock waves that travel parallel to each other all the way to the ground, producing less noise than typical shock waves that build up at the front of supersonic jets.

Since the project's first flight, conducted on 10 August 2006, several more flights have put the system's structural integrity to the test before moving on to sonic boom suppression measurements.

The program concluded in February 2007, having completed over 50 flights, more than double those completed on the SSBD project only two years earlier.

Project Milestones

  • First Flight - 10 August 2006
  • First In-Flight Extension of the Quiet Spike - 25 September 2006
  • First Supersonic Test Point - 20 October 2006
  • Near Field Probing by 2nd F-15–13 December 2006
  • Mach 1.8 Test Point - 19 January 2007
  • Landing with Quiet Spike Extended - 19 January 2007
  • Return to Savannah, GA for demod - 14 February 2007

On March 4, 2008, the NASA-Gulfstream Quiet Spike team was awarded the Aviation Week Laureate Award in the Aeronautics/Propulsion category.[3]

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