AiS Challenge Team Interim

Team Number: 074

School Name: Santa Fe High School

Area of Science: Physics

Project Title: Shock waves Due to Supersonic Flight



As an airplane flies, it disturbs the air molecules surrounding it. If it passes at relatively low speeds the density of the air will remain constant. However, if it passes at sufficiently high speeds, some of its energy will go into compressing the air and altering the atmosphere's density in the immediate area. At Mach 1 the compression waves merge into a strong shock wave which causes a large drag force on the airplane. The largest shock waves form at the very tip and the very end of the plane. (The bow and the stern.) The larger the object travelling above Mach 1, the larger and more intense the sonic boom is likely to be, except in the case of an airplane flying at extremely high elevations because at that point the sound waves are fairly weak when they reach the ground, so they do very little damage. Our project will create a computer program, which given the speed of the craft and its mass, will project the relative intensity of the sonic boom. There are four ranges of flight velocities: Subsonic, which is up to approximately 700 miles an hour, Transonic, which is between the subsonic and sonic speed ranges and is basically just a transitional phase, Sonic, which is exactly Mach 1, and Hypersonic, which is several times the speed of sound and not very common. Usually rockets and military aircraft are the only objects to reach these speeds.

Our computer program is being designed using Unix programming and will utilize an "if-else" loop. The purpose of this program is to determine whether certain objects will break the sound barrier, thus causing a sonic boom. By entering different variables into the computer we will be able to tell which objects will cause a sonic boom and which will not.

One of our team members unexpectedly left the team, so our team has been in a period of transition. Our computer program is being checked for possible errors, and it is being modified regularly to make it more complex and to insure that it runs smoother. Also, all of our team members are conducting more research on the subject to insure a more complete and thorough final project.

When completed, our program will model the probability of objects to create a sonic boom. If we had more extensive knowledge of computer programming techniques we may have been able to create a computer program with several more variables such as elevation of the object, atmospheric pressure and density, etc. The study of aerodynamics and shock waves has no ramifications as far as space travel is concerned, because the molecular structure of outer space is such that no shock waves can occur. This is true because the molecules in space are very widely spaced and there is no oxygen, so no disturbance of fluid molecules can take place. However, there could be some research undertaken to understand the possible effect sonic booms may have on animals living in or around military proving grounds. Also, in the development of A High-Speed Civil Transport system, the study of shockwaves is particularly important.

Author not specified. "Aerodynamics." Encyclopedia Britannica, 1971 Ed.

Author Unknown."A Primer on the Sonic Boom." URL unknown.

Author Unknown. "Shockwaves and the Sonic Boom." URL unknown.

(Several other physics websites whose URLs are unavailable.)

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