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The NACA, NASA, and the Supersonic-Hypersonic Frontier

The NACA, NASA, and the Supersonic-Hypersonic Frontier

The NACA, NASA, and the Supersonic-Hypersonic

Chapter 10 The NACA, NASA, and the Supersonic-Hypersonic Frontier Richard P. Hallion Across the history of flight, adversity and seemingly insurmountable challenges have goaded and inspired aerospace scientists and engineers into producing some of aviation’s greatest scientific and technical accomplishments. The advent of the supersonic-hypersonic age 1 and the work of the professional staffs of the NACA and its successor, NASA, certainly exemplify this. Over the first three decades of the NACA, the speed of American operational aircraft rose fourfold, to over 550 mph by August 1945, at the end of World War II. By that time, the anticipated speed of the most advanced American aircraft then under development, the Bell XS-1, was almost double this. Conceived in 1944 and designed and built over 1945, it eventually reached nearly 1,000 mph in 1948. (A derivative of this same design, the X-1A, having greater fuel capacity and thus longer engine-burn time, exceeded 1,600 mph in 1954.) In 1958, the pioneer era of supersonic flight ended, coincident with the closing of the NACA era, the onset of the NASA era, and the beginning of the Space Age signaled by the launch of Sputnik. That year, the last flying X-1 1. The speed of sound in air is approximately 760 mph, decreasing to approximately 660 mph at 40,000 feet. Because it varies, sonic velocity at any altitude is referred to as Mach 1, honoring the 19thcentury Austrian physicist and philosopher Ernst Mach. Though popularly speaking, any flight beyond Mach 1 is supersonic, aerodynamicists classically define three distinctive arenas of flight, reflecting the progression of wind tunnel studies from 1919 onward: subsonic below Mach 0.75, transonic between Mach 0.75 and 1.25, and supersonic from Mach 1.25 to Mach 5. Beyond Mach 5 is the hypersonic realm, with classic aerodynamics receding before aerothermodynamics and magnetohydrodynamics. Mach 5 is a more arbitrary and imprecise demarcation than Mach 1, whose lower velocity is signaled by the formation of standing shock waves, indicating sonic flow formation. 223

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