Jul 07, 2018 I Brett Tingley

Mystery Boom Update and NASA’s New ‘Quiet’ Supersonic Aircraft

One of the more unsettling developing stories over the last few years as been the seemingly growing phenomenon of mysterious and unexplained booms being felt across America. From sea to shining sea, loud explosion noises have shaken homes and terrified homeowners, leaving no explanation in their wake. The FBI and some familiar sounding gentlemen-in-dark-clothing recently began investigating some of these booms in rural Pennsylvania, and it turns out that at least some of these booms have a mundane - yet terrifying explanation.

In late June 2018, the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office in Pennsylvania arrested the owner of a local chemical and solvent retailer who has been accused of detonating improvised explosives in the area. Law enforcement agencies found disturbing drawings and images at the man’s house, leading them to suspect that they might have foiled an attempted domestic terrorism plot. While this arrest solves a small set of these mystery booms, there have been dozens of other reports of unexplained explosion noises in 2018 alone from areas far from rural Pennsylvania. Could all of these have a similar origin, or might there be multiple mysteries afoot here?

Since I’ve started covering these anomalous booms, I’ve always felt that they likely do have a man made origin, but one more related to the clandestine testing of aircraft or weaponry. It’s no secret that the skies and now space have become the most contested front in our new Cold War, so it could be that these mysterious noises are merely sonic booms caused by aircraft or projectiles overhead. Supersonic flight over the United States has been illegal since 1973, so that explanation isn’t typically thrown around. However, a new prototype aircraft recently shown off by NASA might offer some credence to this theory.

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NASA's experimental X-59 QueSST aircraft is designed to break the sound barrier without creating the deafening sonic boom.

For years, NASA has been attempting to design aircraft capable of supersonic flight which do not create sonic booms when breaking through the sound barrier. As part of their current research, Space.com reports that NASA has been testing so-called “quieter sonic booms” to determine “how much sonic noise people on the ground deem acceptable in their everyday lives.” A specially outfitted F/A-18 Hornet will conduct tests this November over coastal towns in the Gulf of Mexico, collecting observations from volunteers on the ground about how loud and disruptive the sonic booms are. NASA’s ultimate goal is to develop aircraft which could fly at supersonic speeds while still meeting regulations concerning sonic booms, a development which could revolutionize commercial and military air travel.

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Sonic booms are caused by the changes in air pressure caused by aircraft as they pass through the air.

Still, this story makes you wonder: could some of the anomalous mystery booms heard recently be caused by testing of similar aircraft? Hypersonic weapons and aircraft have become a hot topic of aerospace research - could tests of these aircraft be behind these booms? Could NASA or the military already be conducting private tests of these ‘quiet’ supersonic aircraft ahead of the public tests later this year?

Or, perhaps more worryingly, could these mystery booms still be something else entirely? Let’s hope they’re not all tests of improvised explosives.

Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician living in the ancient Appalachian mountains.

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