Supersonic aircraft

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A supersonic aircraft is designed to exceed the speed of sound in at least some of its normal flight configurations.



The great majority of supersonic aircraft today are military or experimental aircraft. Most of them, including many military fighter aircraft, are designed to exceed the speed of sound only in certain exceptional flight regimes; a handful of aircraft, such as the SR-71 Blackbird military reconnaissance aircraft and the Concorde supersonic civilian transport, are designed to cruise continuously at speeds above the speed of sound.

Supersonic flight brings with it substantial technical challenges, as the aerodynamics of supersonic flight are dramatically different from those of subsonic flight (i.e., flight at speeds slower than that of sound). These challenges have largely been met. However, political, environmental, and economic obstacles of greater magnitude continue to severely limit the actual deployment of supersonic aircraft, particularly in the civilian world. Additionally, the need and demand for supersonic flight have often been insufficient to justify development or deployment of supersonic aircraft, particularly in the domain of civilian transport. The aforementioned SR-71 and Concorde aircraft are no longer flying today although Concorde was highly profitable in service, but because of the low market among operators (due to sonic booms, relatively high fuel consumption and poor range) in turn making it unprofitable for manufacturers to produce these kinds of aircraft. It can cover a distance from UAE to USA in 2 hours.

Supersonic aircraft usually use low bypass turbofans as they give good efficiency below the speed of sound as well as above, or if extended supercruise is needed turbojet engines are desirable as they give less nacelle drag at supersonic speeds.

Supersonic civilian aircraft

A supersonic transport (SST) is a civil aircraft designed to transport passengers at speeds greater than the speed of sound. The only supersonic civilian aircraft to see service are the Soviet produced Tupolev Tu-144 which first flew in 1968 and was retired in 1997, and the Franco-British produced Concorde, which first flew in 1969 and remained in service until 2003. Following the cessation of flying by Concorde in 2003, there are no supersonic civilian aircraft in service.

Tupolev Tu-144 (1968)

Tu-144LL in flight

Concorde (1969)

Concorde's final flight, G-BOAF from Heathrow to Bristol, on 26 November 2003. The extremely high fineness ratio of the fuselage is evident.

Large supersonic military aircraft

These large aircraft, with an empty weight exceeding 25,000kg, are mainly strategic bombers and long range reconnaissance aircraft.

Convair B-58 Hustler (1956)

B-58A Hustler AF Serial No. 59-2458, the "Cowtown Hustler", in front of the National Museum of the United States Air Force's restoration facility at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH

SR-71 Blackbird (1962)

North American XB-70 Valkyrie (1964)

Tupolev Tu-22 (1959)

Rockwell B-1 Lancer (1974)

Tupolev Tu-160 (1981)

Small supersonic military aircraft

These aircraft, with an empty weight less than 25,000 kg, make up the overwhelming majority of supersonic aircraft in the world today, mostly operating in the fighter, and strike capacity.

North American F-100 Super Sabre (1953)

McDonnell F-101 Voodoo (1954)

Convair F-102 Delta Dagger (1953)

Lockheed F-104 Starfighter (1954)

Republic F-105 Thunderchief (1955)

North American A-5 Vigilante (1958)

McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II (1958)

Northrop F-5 (1959)

General Dynamics F-111 "Aardvark" (1964)

Grumman F-14 Tomcat (1970)

McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle (1972)

General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon (1974)

McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet (1978)

Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor (1997)

Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II (2006)

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-19 (1953)

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 (1955)

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23 (1967)

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25 (1964)

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29 (1977)

Sukhoi Su-7 (1955)

Sukhoi Su-9 (1956)

Sukhoi Su-15 (1962)

Sukhoi Su-24 (1967)

Sukhoi Su-27 (1977)

English Electric Lightning (1954)

Panavia Tornado (1974)

SEPECAT Jaguar (1968)

Eurofighter Typhoon (1994)

Dassault Mirage III (1956)

Dassault Mirage IV (1959)

Dassault Mirage 2000 (1978)

Dassault-Breguet Super Étendard (1974)

Dassault Rafale (1986)

Saab 35 Draken (1955)

Saab 37 Viggen (1967)

Saab JAS 39 Gripen (1988)

Rocket powered X-Planes

Bell X-1 (1946)

Douglas D-558-2 Skyrocket (1948)

Bell X-2 (1952)

North American X-15 (1959)

Martin Marietta X-24A (1969)

Future projects

Supersonic business jet

A supersonic business jet (SSBJ) would be a small business jet, intended to travel at speeds above Mach 1.0. Typically intended to transport about ten passengers, SSBJs are about the same size as traditional subsonic business jets. Larger commercial supersonic transports such as the Aérospatiale/British Aerospace Concorde and Tupolev Tu-144 'Charger' had relatively high costs, and high noise, low range and some environmental concerns (although these problems were less evident in Concorde than the Tu-144).

See also