Supersonic Flight: 760-3,500 MPH (Mach I to Mach 5)
With the desire to fly faster, primarily for military aircraft, aeronautics technologies were developed to fly efficiently above Mach 1. Efficieny is a relative term - the aircraft are still very expensive to operate and most are for military use. To date , only one aircraft, the Concorde, provides commercial transportation above Mach 1. Efforts are underway to develop new technologies so that a more cost-effective supersonic airplane ean be built in the future.
Supersonic aircraft have special high-performance jet engines that can make a lot of thrust, very thin wings that have lots of sweep,and use novel materials to provide strength. Early fuselages tended to be shaped like a wasp's body (thin at the waist). T he thinning of the fuselage helps reduce the drag that the airplane makes when flying near the speed of sound. It is relatively easier to fly above Mach I than near Mach 1. Hefty engines are needed to provide the thrust necessary to push the airplane thro ugh the air at such high speeds. The wings are super thin and swept to slice through the air while making as little disturbance as possible. The most modern supersonic aircraft spend so little time near Mach 1 and have such powerful engines, that they are not shaped as much like a wasp's body. Still,these aircraft have sleek overall shapes that are carefully designed to minimize supersonic drag.
It is interesting that airplanes designed to fly supersonically do not fly very well at subsonic speeds. The same features that let them fly fast do not work well when flying slowly. In fact, flight at the lowest speeds-takeoff and landing-is an extra challenge when designing these aircraft. Vehicles in this category include the commercial airliner Concorde, F-15 Eagle and the SR-71.
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