Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Sonic Booms
Since October 14th 1947, when then Captain Charles “Chuck” Yeager became the first human to break the sound barrier, sonic booms have been a regular part of life in the Aerospace Valley and areas surrounding Edwards AFB, the Center of the Aerospace Testing Universe.
Listed below are answers to frequently asked questions regarding sonic booms.
Q – What is a sonic boom?
A – A Sonic boom is an impulsive noise similar to thunder. It can vary from a soft thump to a loud bang.
Q – What causes a sonic boom?
A – Sonic booms are caused by an object moving faster than sound -- about 750 miles per hour at sea level. An aircraft traveling through the atmosphere continuously produces air-pressure waves similar to the water waves caused by a ship's bow. When the aircraft exceeds the speed of sound, these pressure waves combine and form shock waves which travel in all directions and eventually reach the ground. The sound heard on the ground is the sudden onset and release of pressure after the buildup by the shock wave. The change in pressure caused by a sonic boom is only a few pounds per square foot, about the same pressure change we experience on an elevator as it descends two or three floors, but in a much shorter time period.
Q – Why are they so loud?
A – Many factors influence the loudness of a sonic boom when it reaches the ground. The intensity and width of a sonic boom path depends on the physical characteristics of the aircraft and how it is operated. In general, the greater an aircraft's altitude, the lower the overpressure on the ground and the sonic boom may not even be heard. A lower and faster aircraft will cause a louder sonic boom.
Q – Why are there so many, so often?
A – Here in the Center of the Aerospace Testing Universe, we fly test missions that explore the entire aircraft “envelope” – the airspeeds and altitudes where it flies. Every time a new aircraft takes flight or a change to an existing aircraft is made, it needs to be tested across the entire envelope, meaning we need to test it at supersonic speeds in order to make sure it is safe and reliable when needed. With the number and variety of aircraft stationed at Edwards we fly supersonic nearly every day.
Q – Why do you have to make the booms over my house all the time?
A – We fly most of our supersonic flights at very high altitude, so the sonic boom is never heard or is very weak. However, some test missions require us to fly supersonic at lower altitudes and faster speeds which increases the strength of the sonic boom. We fly these missions in FAA approved airspace that is as far away from populated areas as possible in order to minimize the impact on people. Edwards is one of the few places in the world where this airspace exists and that’s one of the things that makes the Center of the Aerospace Testing Universe so special.
Q – My window shattered because of a sonic boom. How do I file a claim?
A – Sonic booms on occasion, may cause minor damage. If you feel a sonic boom has caused damage to your property, you must complete and file a Noise Complaint and contact the 412th Test Wing Legal Office at (661) 277-4310. Make sure you have all the details such as the date, time of day the incident occurred, and extent of damage if any, caused.
Q – Where do I go to file a complaint?
A - Noise complaints may be filed online via our website – Noise Concerns
All complaints received are investigated to ensure flight operations have been conducted in accordance with USAF and FAA regulations.