Do airplanes fly faster than the speed of sound? If so, why don’t all their windows just shatter from sonic booms?

Yes, some airplanes, known as supersonic or hypersonic aircraft, are designed to fly faster than the speed of sound. When an aircraft exceeds the speed of sound, it creates shock waves and generates a sonic boom. However, the windows of these aircraft are not designed to shatter due to sonic booms. Here’s an explanation:

  1. Sonic Booms: When an aircraft travels at a speed greater than the speed of sound (referred to as “breaking the sound barrier”), it generates shock waves. These shock waves coalesce into a single, powerful shock wave that propagates outward from the aircraft in all directions. This results in the characteristic double “boom” sound associated with a sonic boom.
  2. Aircraft Design: Supersonic and hypersonic aircraft are specially designed to withstand the pressures and forces associated with flying at high speeds. The fuselage, including the windows, is constructed to handle the changes in air pressure and forces that occur during supersonic flight.
  3. Reinforced Windows: The windows on supersonic aircraft are typically small and thick, designed to be more robust than those on subsonic aircraft. These reinforced windows can better withstand the rapid changes in air pressure associated with the shock waves generated by the aircraft.
  4. Shock Wave Over the Wing: The sonic boom shock wave generated by an aircraft is concentrated behind the wings, not in front of the aircraft. Therefore, the shock waves do not typically impinge directly on the windows.
  5. Careful Aerodynamics: Supersonic aircraft are designed with careful consideration of their aerodynamics to minimize the intensity of the shock waves and reduce their impact.

While sonic booms are generated by supersonic and hypersonic aircraft, the design and materials used in their construction are intended to prevent damage to the aircraft’s structure, including its windows. However, the experience of a sonic boom is still significant for people on the ground, which is why supersonic flights are subject to regulations to limit the overland supersonic travel of commercial aircraft.

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