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An artist’s concept of a possible Low Boom Flight Demonstration Quiet Supersonic Transport (QueSST) X-plane design. (Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin)

The historic Concorde supersonic airliner set a record flying from New York to Seattle in just under four hours, but after retiring at Seattle’s Museum of Flight, no successors were waiting in the wings — until now.

At the Paris Air Show, where the Concorde made its debut in 1969, talk of reviving supersonic flight started buzzing again this week. Experts from NASA and Honeywell are among those getting ready to cut flight time in half once again. They say they’re breaking down a major barrier to entry: sonic booms.

Sonic booms are the window-rattling noises that happen when aircraft go faster than the speed of sound. It was such a problem that the Federal Aviation Administration banned supersonic flights over the U.S. in 1973 — unless the flight didn’t “cause a measurable sonic boom.”

On Tuesday, NASA and Honeywell announced the completion of a two-year study to help supersonic jet pilots know where people on the ground might hear a sonic boom.

Sonic boom visualization
The sonic boom visualization cockpit display pioneered by Honeywell and NASA shows an airplane heading across the Columbia River, en route for Seattle. (Honeywell Photo)

The software behind the Cockpit Interactive Sonic Boom Display Avionics looks at the plane’s flight path and gives the pilots a visual of a sonic boom’s impact before the boom is even generated.

Bob Witwer, vice president of advanced technology at Honeywell Aerospace, says the technology brings the return of supersonic travel one step closer by giving pilots more control.

“With predictive technology and knowledge, pilots can change course and minimize the boom over populated areas,” he said in a statement.

According to Brett Pauer, a subproject manager for NASA’s Overland Supersonic Flight project, the predictive software would be helpful for NASA’s experimental Low Boom Flight Demonstration X-plane, which is paving the way for quieter flights as well as new regulations.

“This plane is being designed to gather community noise response data that may help remove the regulatory speed restriction to overland commercial supersonic flight,” he said.

NASA and Honeywell aren’t the only ones thinking about a supersonic revival. Last year, a Denver-based startup called Boom said it was working with Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic to build a new type of supersonic jet. Boom reportedly wants to fly passengers by 2030, and already has 76 orders for their planes from five airlines.

Yet another startup, Boston-based Spike Aerospace, is developing a supersonic business jet and has been considering putting a manufacturing plant in Washington state. And Boeing, which worked on an SST concept in the 1960s and 1970s, is looking into getting back into the supersonic game once again.

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