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  • Writer's picturePaul


The Machs Factor: a sonic boom (Pixabay)

In February 1964, NASA and the US Federal Aviation Administration began conducting what they knew as “Operation Bongo II”. Alas, no, this was nothing to do with learning to play the drums. Nor resurrecting Oingo Boingo.

Instead, with an eye to investigating the implications of transcontinental supersonic air travel, NASA and the FAA began investigating the effects of sonic booms on urban areas, their buildings and other structures, and, moreover, their residents.

And unfortunately for the people of Oklahoma City, they were to be the unwitting guinea pigs in this bizarre, supersonic noise pollution test.

Beginning at 7 o’clock in the morning on 3 February, for the next six months NASA and FAA regularly flew aircraft at supersonic speeds—sometimes as often as eight times a day—in the skies above the city.

In total, this created some 1,253 sonic booms. It also caused $12,000 of damage to buildings in the city, and led to some 15,000 city residents raising official complaints with both NASA and FAA. The FAA’s shambolic reaction to those complaints eventually lead to a class action lawsuit being raised against the US government—which they eventually lost on appeal in 1969.

All told, despite the fact that three-quarters of the city residents said that they could live with the daily disruption, the entire Oklahoma incident is seen as playing a pivotal role in the cancellation of the Boeing 2707, a 300-seater supersonic plane touted as the natural successor to the Concorde.

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