Why all the fuss over a sonic boom?

So, I was on a Concord today, in fact, I was on 2 concords today (Paris air and space museum.) Not all that, I guess it was OK. But researching the plane after I got home as well as the Russian answer and the Boeing proposed answer, it seems people in that day were terrified of sonic booms. Now at first I thought, sure, no one wants to be around an airport were there are air booms going off all the time, kind of like no one wants to live next to that dude with the drum set. But, from what I can gather, it’s different than just the noise. People were really scared of sonic booms! Why? Was there any validity to this? Did they think the atmosphere would implode or what?

A sonic boom can break windows. Lots of windows. Every time the SST takes off.

So did New York, London, Paris, Curacus, Rio, Mexico City, BA, Dallas, UAE, Singapore, et. al. ever actually suffer from this? (I’m really not trying to start a debate, just before my time and curious.) Thanks

To avoid sonic boom damage, Concorde only went supersonic over the ocean. That’s one of the reasons its speed was of limited usefulness and why it was used mostly on routes like New York - London where it was over the ocean most of the time, and why it was not used on, say, New York - LA.

The sonic boom doesn’t happen when the plane takes off. It starts when the plane passes the speed of sound and continues as long as the plane is flying at that speed. In other words, everything in the path of the plane gets the boom every time the plane flies over. Every time. Night or day. All year long.

For that reason, the planes were banned from flying over most land routes and were limited to flying over ocean to port cities.

An interesting page on sonic booms.

When the SSTs got over land, they were required to go sub-sonic. An individual sonic boom might have missed breaking a window here and there, put picture living in the central U.S. with several dozen booms every day as more flights were added to the New York/Los Angeles run (or to/from Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Atlanta, San Diego, Seattle, Denver, Las Vegas) with the potential to break windows on each pass overhead. There were also reports that milk cattle were disturbed by the booms (since they were not part of weather conditions that the cattle associated with thunderstorms and would have been much more frequent).

Sonic booms might have become something everyone came to live with, but between the booms and (reported/conjectured) ozone depletion that were associated with the high-flying SSTs weighed against the economy of scale from the (concurrently developed) Boeing 747, the SSTs were pretty well doomed.

Every once in a while, there’s a sonic boom in Albuquerque. I believe that, when they do occur, it’s from things coming north from White Sands and not somebody getting speed happy in a National Guard F-16 from Kirtland. Last one I can remember was probably more than a decade ago, one morning when I was walking to school. While once in a while they’re pretty cool, I can imagine having to deal with them every day would be pretty bad.

Back in the old days. . . during the Cold War. . .

. . . the military didn’t care where they flew supersonic. If they flew supersonic over a populated area and broke a few windows, scared the crap out of everyone and generally were a nucience then what the heck, it was all for national security.

I witnessed a few of those. After the initial novelty wore off you realized that this was not fun stuff. It was like a concussion firework going off directly overhead with no prior warning. Thankfully, people started complaining and regulations were passed to prevent sonic booms over populated areas. So what if a few CEO’s had to spend a couple of more hours flying to LA. They could enjoy a few more martinis on the company dime. There is something to be said for quality of life.

As others have said, experiencing a sonic boom can be quite startling. There were some scientists who believed that flying through the sound barrier was impossible, just as there were some that believed the first atomic bomb might start a chain reaction that would consume the Earth.
Here’s a very interesting site on the subject. I would highly reccomend exploring the links. There are some very dramatic photos.

I used to live in Cornwall- the pointy out bit of England directed towards the US. The Concorde to NY flew overhead four times a day. It didn’t go supersonic until it was over the sea to the North of us in the Bristol Channel- some fifty miles away. I could tell when it passed each time by the rattling of the sash windows.

Now assume that all traffic was supersonic- everyone in the flight path and for miles each side of it would have this happening every couple of minutes, and much louder directly under it. I think that that was the fear. However, four times a day was acceptable- became part of life- you noticed when one was late. And when they grounded it I missed it.

BTW it was at altitude- I have been unfortunate enough once to have had a training session go supersonic at lower height over the house- and it sounded like thunder directly overhead- the loudest thunder you have heard- and you could feel that in your body! Boy, did I complain to the RAF. That was never going to happen with civilian aircraft anyway.

Oh, one other story. I was hiking down the Paria River (I think we were past Wrather Arch) and taking a rest to stock up on water when some military jet (fighter or trainer of some kind) came flying by inside the canyon. It was fairly slow but loud as anything when you figure it was only a few hundred feet above our heads at most. I still can’t figure out what it was doing there.

Okay, so this isn’t a story about a plane going supersonic. Just a weird story.

Having fun by the sounds of it.

T_SQUARE, have you ever actually heard a sonic boom? I have, many times, when I was growing up. Spartydog already said what I was going to write: a sonic boom sounds like a concussion firework going off directly overhead. And there’s no warning; you don’t hear the sound of the jet approaching, just this frightening boom out of nowhere, like your house has been bombed.

P.S. “et” isn’t an abbreviation.

True. We had an argument here once about whether planes routinely went supersonic anywhere in the U.S. at time in history. I grew up about 50 miles from Barksdale AFB which is home to the B-52 strategic bomber and had the largest concentration of nukes in the U.S. at the height of the Cold War of any place in the U.S. (I provided a cite in an earlier thread. I can find it if you want.) It was also the place that they immediately flew George Bush too on Air Force One when they heard what was happening on 9/11 so it looks like they still have the doomsday infrastructure in place there.

What does this have to do with supersonic flight over the U.S.?

It is only indirect. The military seemed to have supersonic training flights of some type of plane over my home town very frequently when I was in elementary school in the 1980’s. We were remarkably informed for civilians hearing military things. Apparently my town had some nice landmarks including a distinctive part of a river (Toledo Bend/Sabine River junction) that made it ideal for training. Our teachers explained this to us at the time.

It did sound like a single concussion firework although not the loudest ones. It was always a little startling although rattling of windows and startled people was the only damage it ever caused.

I can see how it would a a nuisance. Supersonic aircraft produce sonic booms throughout there travel and it can be heard for miles in every direction. A single supersonic flight from San Francisco to New York may be heard by millions of people. Combine that with many of those flights a day and you have a problem. Some people say that air travel will stay in the subsonic range indefinetely (basically only as fast as it is now). It appears that we may not have any routine faster means of travel in the next 20 years at least.

Sure, I’ve heard a sonic boom. From military aircraft when I was younger. I can certainly see why you wouldn’t want to hear that all the time, day or night. I just couldn’t tell if opposition was a quality of life issue (loud noises are annoying) or some other fear (sonic booms will ignite the atmosphere, or at best a mind control method).

I am not trying to say that sonic booms are not bothersome or that all air travel should be super sonic. I was just attempting to determine the basis of the opposition by the public at the time.

Thanks for the links and posts.

That would have been a Vulcan, right?

Don’t think they flew that fast, would have been great (for a novelty only) to see something like a Lightening tear past at low level :slight_smile:

No. The Vulcan was subsonic.

I think that it might have been a Tornado.

Meh. I grew up just outside of Edwards AFB in California. Sonic booms were part of daily life. There were some folks that claimed some cracking in their drywall was from repeated sonic booms (maybe); but I never saw (or heard of) any windows breaking. It was something that everyone got used to, and weren’t all that frightening.

After I moved to western Colorado, the Shuttle came in for a landing at White Sands. I was at work at a lumber yard/home center when the boom came. I barely noticed it, but some customers freaked out: “What the hell was that?” I actually had to think about it before answering, “Just a sonic boom from the Space Shuttle. No big deal!”

Of course, YMMV. :slight_smile:

Was their belief based on the idea that we couldn’t create an engine to propel the craft to that speed, or that it was all-out-impossible to break the SB? Surely they were familiar with the physics involved in firing a gun?