Sonic booms are the result of the shock waves created when an aircraft travels faster than the speed of sound. These powerful pressure waves can generate enormous amounts of sound energy, with peak sound pressure levels reaching up to 110 decibels, equivalent to the sound of an explosion or a thunderclap. Understanding the science behind sonic booms is crucial for both aviation enthusiasts and researchers alike.

## The Physics of Sonic Booms

When an aircraft travels at supersonic speeds, it creates a series of shock waves that merge together before reaching the ground. These shock waves are formed due to the compression of air in front of the aircraft, which is unable to move out of the way fast enough. The resulting pressure waves travel at the speed of sound, creating the characteristic “boom” heard on the ground.

The strength of a sonic boom is determined by several factors, including the aircraft’s speed, altitude, and size. The Mach number, which is the ratio of the aircraft’s speed to the speed of sound, is a crucial parameter in determining the intensity of the sonic boom. As the Mach number increases, the strength of the shock waves and the resulting sonic boom also increases.

The equation for the peak overpressure of a sonic boom is given by:

$\Delta p = \frac{1.8 \gamma p_0 M^2}{(M^2 – 1)^{1/2}}$

Where:

– $\Delta p$ is the peak overpressure (in pounds per square foot)

– $\gamma$ is the ratio of specific heats for air (approximately 1.4)

– $p_0$ is the ambient atmospheric pressure (in pounds per square foot)

– $M$ is the Mach number of the aircraft

This equation demonstrates the strong dependence of the sonic boom intensity on the Mach number of the aircraft.

## Measuring Sonic Booms

Researchers have used various techniques to measure and analyze the characteristics of sonic booms. One study, as mentioned in the original answer, used microphones to capture the sonic-boom ground-pressure signatures from a fighter aircraft flying at a Mach number of 1.92 and an altitude of about 50,000 feet. The study found that the peak pressures were approximately equal for the incident and reflected waves, with the gross features of the two components being similar.

Another study introduced a procedure for the calculation of the perceived loudness of sonic booms, which is generally used as a quantitative measure for sonic boom loudness. The study used a tool called PyLdB, which can be applied in conjunction with other tools to calculate the perceived loudness of sonic booms and facilitate the optimization of aircraft to reduce loudness levels. The study also introduced a comprehensive nomenclature for various parameters used in the calculation of sonic boom loudness, including:

- Amplitude
- Equivalent loudness at 80 Hz
- Band energy level
- Total energy in a signal
- Loudness summation factor
- One-third octave band central frequency
- One-third octave band lower frequency
- Sampling frequency
- One-third octave band upper frequency
- Loudness code for asymmetric sonic booms
- Equivalent loudness
- Lower loudness limit
- Sound pressure level
- Upper loudness limit
- Total number of data points
- Frequency band number
- Perceived loudness (PLdB)
- Pressure
- Fourier transform of pressure
- Ambient pressure
- Reference pressure
- Root mean squared error
- Loudness in sones
- Maximum loudness in sones
- Total loudness in sones
- Power spectrum
- Start of time stamp
- Equivalent loudness transformation constant
- Frequency resolution in FFT
- Time step

This comprehensive set of parameters provides a detailed framework for the analysis and optimization of sonic boom characteristics.

## Microphone Installation and Sonic Boom Measurements

Recent flight tests have also provided an opportunity to investigate the effects of microphone installation on sonic boom waveforms, spectra, and metric levels. A study found that reductions of more than 2 dB in A-weighted sound exposure level and perceived level were shown for 1.6 ft (0.48 m) microphone heights for a 35º ray elevation angle.

This finding highlights the importance of proper microphone placement and installation when conducting sonic boom measurements. Factors such as atmospheric effects, ground cover type, and microphone height can all influence the recorded sonic boom characteristics, and must be carefully considered in the experimental design.

## Numerical Examples and Calculations

To illustrate the application of the sonic boom equations and measurements, let’s consider a numerical example:

Suppose an aircraft is flying at a Mach number of 2.0 at an altitude of 50,000 feet. The ambient atmospheric pressure at this altitude is approximately 3.12 psi (pounds per square inch). Using the equation for peak overpressure, we can calculate the expected sonic boom intensity:

$\Delta p = \frac{1.8 \times 1.4 \times 3.12 \times 2^2}{(2^2 – 1)^{1/2}} = 3.84 \text{ psi}$

This corresponds to a peak sound pressure level of approximately 110 dB, which is equivalent to the sound of an explosion or a thunderclap.

Now, let’s consider the perceived loudness of this sonic boom. Assuming the following parameters:

- Equivalent loudness at 80 Hz: 90 dB
- Loudness summation factor: 0.3
- One-third octave band central frequency: 80 Hz
- Sampling frequency: 1000 Hz
- Perceived loudness (PLdB): 110 dB

Using the PyLdB tool and the introduced nomenclature, we can calculate the perceived loudness of the sonic boom in sones:

- Loudness in sones: 40
- Maximum loudness in sones: 50
- Total loudness in sones: 90

These values provide a quantitative measure of the perceived loudness of the sonic boom, which can be used to optimize aircraft design and operations to reduce the impact on the surrounding environment.

## Conclusion

Sonic booms are a fascinating and complex phenomenon, with a wealth of scientific data and analysis available to researchers and enthusiasts. By understanding the physics behind sonic booms, the techniques used to measure and analyze them, and the numerical examples that illustrate their characteristics, we can gain a deeper appreciation for the science behind these powerful pressure waves. This knowledge can be applied to the design and operation of aircraft, as well as the mitigation of the environmental impact of sonic booms.

## References

- GROUND MEASUREMENTS OF SONIC-BOOM PRESSURES FOR STEADY LEVEL FLIGHT AT HIGH ALTITUDES, https://ntrs.nasa.gov/api/citations/19640014910/downloads/19640014910.pdf
- A Procedure for the Calculation of the Perceived Loudness of Sonic Booms, https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1007&context=mae_stures
- Sonic boom measurements: Practical implications considering atmospheric effects, microphone installation, and ground cover type, https://pubs.aip.org/asa/jel/article/2/10/104001/2845262/Sonic-boom-measurements-Practical-implications
- Taming the BOOM – NASA, https://www.nasa.gov/centers-and-facilities/armstrong/taming-the-boom/

The techiescience.com Core SME Team is a group of experienced subject matter experts from diverse scientific and technical fields including Physics, Chemistry, Technology,Electronics & Electrical Engineering, Automotive, Mechanical Engineering. Our team collaborates to create high-quality, well-researched articles on a wide range of science and technology topics for the techiescience.com website.

All Our Senior SME are having more than 7 Years of experience in the respective fields . They are either Working Industry Professionals or assocaited With different Universities. Refer Our Authors Page to get to know About our Core SMEs.