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Can supersonic air travel fly again?

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Can supersonic air travel fly again?

By Roy Furchgott, The New York Times Company

Despite the promise of two-hour flights from New York to Los Angeles, the supersonic airline industry never really got off the ground. That is largely because of physics: specifically, the sonic boom, the thunderclap noise made when an aircraft breaks the sound barrier, which essentially doomed supersonic aviation as a viable business.

In 1960s-era tests, booms reportedly broke windows, cracked plaster and knocked knickknacks from shelves; in 1973, the Federal Aviation Administration forbade civilian supersonic aircraft from flying over land. Planes could go supersonic only over the ocean — most famously, the Concorde, the sleek British-French passenger plane that flew a handful of routes in less than half the average time. But potentially lucrative overland routes were off-limits, restricting supersonic travel’s business prospects.

NASA and aviation entrepreneurs, however, are working to change that, with new aircraft designed to turn the boom into a “sonic thump” that is no louder than a car door being slammed 20 feet away. That may induce the FAA to lift the ban, which could allow for two-hour coast-to-coast supersonic flights.

“The main reason NASA is working on this is to enable regulation for supersonic flight,” said Craig Nickol, NASA’s low-boom flight demonstration project manager. “The main objective is to open up new markets.”

The supersonic age dawned Oct. 14, 1947, when Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier while piloting the rocket-powered Bell X-1 over the Mojave Desert. In the following decades, the barrier was also broken by a succession of military jets, once by a passenger airliner (during a test flight of a Douglas DC-8 in 1961) and, ultimately, by regular commercial service from the Soviet Tupolev Tu-144 and the Concorde, both long defunct.

The far more successful Concorde mostly traveled trans-Atlantic routes at about $6,000 to $7,000 per ticket for a 3 1/2 hour flight in a cramped, noisy cabin, which was nonetheless considered glamorous. The Champagne-and-caviar flights were discontinued in 2003 after 27 years of intermittent profitability and one crash that killed 113 people. What the Concorde’s chief pilot called “the airliner of the future” was consigned to the past.

But the possibility of a supersonic renaissance was arriving even as the Concorde was on its way out. The slide rules and log tables used to design it had been pushed aside by supercomputers, which enabled engineers to test and tweak virtual aircraft designs comparatively cheaply and quickly.

That is exactly what DARPA, the research and development wing of the U.S. Defense Department, and NASA did in 2003 with the Shaped Sonic Boom Experiment, which confirmed that computer-designed modifications to a Northrop F-5E jet would hush the sonic boom in the way the software forecasted.

“We flew it and measured it, and our model predicted the boom very well,” Nickol said. “It was the first time we could prove that we could shape the sonic boom in a way we could predict.” That demonstration set the course for research to follow.

Taming the boom is complicated. Air has substance, which an aircraft slices through, much as a boat moves through water. A plane pushes air aside as it flies, creating ripples of air pressure. As an aircraft approaches the speed of sound, pressure builds up on surfaces like the nose and tail, creating waves of high pressure in front and low pressure behind. At the speed of sound, waves pile up and combine to reach the ground as an abrupt change in pressure that is heard as that thunderclap sound.

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Minnesota COVID-19 patients face a lottery for monoclonal treatment that works against omicron

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Minnesota COVID-19 patients face a lottery for monoclonal treatment that works against omicron

Minnesotans who get a serious case of COVID-19 may face long odds of getting one of the life-saving treatments that can fight off the omicron variant because they are in such short supply.

State health officials had steadily increased the availability of monoclonal antibodies — a type of antibody infusion — to help high-risk patients avoid severe COVID-19 infections. Unfortunately, now only one monoclonal antibody formula, Sotrovimab, works against omicron.

“That is in very low supply nationally and in Minnesota,” Jan Malcolm, health commissioner, recently told members of the Minnesota House health committee.

The state has moved to a random selection process to decide who gets what monoclonal antibodies the state has on hand. This week it got just under 600 doses of Sotrovimab, a slight increase from the week before.

The state received larger allocations of the two new antiviral pills — Molnupiravir and Paxlovid — getting about 12,000 total doses of those newly approved pills since they became available in December.

The random selection process the state uses is a weighted system that identifies patients who would most benefit from monoclonal treatments. When treatments are scarce, patients who receive the medicines are picked through a lottery.

In some instances, the process could give consideration to front-line health workers who were sickened while caring for COVID patients. Many Minnesota health systems, but not all, follow the state’s guidance for distributing scarce treatments.

The guidelines do not take into account whether someone has been vaccinated.

The state stopped using race as a factor in that weighted system for allocating monoclonal treatments Jan. 12 after America First Legal threatened a lawsuit against the Minnesota Department of Health alleging racial and ethnic discrimination.

“These racist policies decide questions of life and death based on skin color and must be rescinded immediately,” Stephen Miller, the group’s president and a former adviser to President Trump, said in a statement. “No right is safe if the government can award or deny medical care based on race. End this horrid injustice.”

America First Legal filed a lawsuit Jan. 16 against the New York State Department of Health for a similar policy.

Throughout the pandemic, Minnesota Department of Health data has shown Black, Native American, Hispanic, Asian and multiracial residents have had higher rates of COVID-19 hospitalization and death than white residents.

When asked about the rationale for removing race as a factor, despite it being part of federal guidance, a state Department of Health spokesman said in an emailed statement:

“The State of Minnesota is committed to serving all Minnesotans equitably in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ensuring that communities that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 have the support and resources they need is critical and we are constantly reviewing our policies in order to meet that goal.”

Minnesota continues to experience record high caseloads of COVID-19 driven by the highly contagious omicron variant. The state is reporting, on average, more than 11,000 new infections each day and test-positivity is at 27 percent.

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Nikola Jokic, Nuggets avoid fourth-quarter disaster, end homestand 4-2

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Nikola Jokic, Nuggets avoid fourth-quarter disaster, end homestand 4-2

The Nuggets don’t know easy. It’s just not in their nature.

Denver avoided what would’ve been an ugly double-digit, fourth-quarter collapse Sunday and hung on to beat the Pistons, 117-111. Up 16 points to start the fourth quarter, Detroit chiseled away at the lead, tying it twice in the final two minutes.

Former Nugget Trey Lyles added to the drama with eight of his 18 in the fourth quarter, but the Pistons were rebuffed by Nikola Jokic, who scored six consecutive points late to ice the game.

Jokic finished with 34 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, snapping his four-game triple-double streak. Not that it mattered to Jokic.

The Nuggets, now 24-21, will get the Pistons again Tuesday in Detroit to start their daunting six-game road trip. They ended their six-game homestand with a 4-2 record.

DeMarcus Cousins was relatively underwhelming in his Nuggets debut, finishing with just two points and six rebounds in 12 minutes. But he was part of a strong bench showing, which saw the Nuggets outscore Detroit’s reserves 41-37.

In addition, the Nuggets hung 60 points in the paint to help combat 18 points each from Detroit’s Isaiah Stewart and Cade Cunningham.

Each time the Nuggets looked like they’d create separation, they’d turn it over or fail to capitalize on an open 3-pointer. Finally, with 4:50 left in the third quarter, Jokic found Bryn Forbes lingering outside the 3-point line, and he drained the look. Two minutes later, reserve Davon Reed knocked in a 3, and shortly thereafter, so did Facu Campazzo.

As Campazzo trotted back on defense, he looked to the sky with relief. Zeke Nnaji canned a triple before the quarter was over, and the Nuggets’ second unit had engineered a 92-76 lead heading into the final quarter.

Playing some with Jokic and some with the reserves, Forbes looked more comfortable than he did in his debut.

“When you make a trade, in and of itself, that takes some time because you’re bringing in a new person, a new personality to a locker room, to a culture,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.

His prior experience with well-respected organizations like Milwaukee and San Antonio helped ease the transition.

Entering Sunday, Malone had a healthy fear of the rebuilding Pistons for one specific reason.

“As I told our players, when you’re a team like Detroit, they have nothing to lose,” Malone said pre-game.

He said human nature becomes a factor, and teams inevitably let their guard down against lottery-bound teams.

“… These games scare the hell out of me,” he said.

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Timberwolves’ offensive outburst continues in shootout win over Brooklyn

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Timberwolves’ offensive outburst continues in shootout win over Brooklyn

The Timberwolves’ formula for success has shifted over the past couple weeks.

A team that used its defense to stay afloat amid offensive struggles for the first half of the season is slowly reverting back to the form it showed at the end of last season — all offense, few stops.

And when you have as much offensive talent as Minnesota possesses, that can be enough on a lot of nights, as it was Sunday.

The Timberwolves outscored Brooklyn 136-125 to win at Target Center.

Minnesota has the best offensive rating in the NBA since Jan. 3. It’s won games with offense and a high-degree of shot making. Sunday was no different.

Anthony Edwards finished with 25 points on four triples. D’Angelo Russell added 23 points and 10 assists.

Minnesota shot 52 percent from the floor, 44 percent from 3-point range and went 26 for 31 from the free-throw line.

That was more than enough firepower to stave off Brooklyn — another of the League’s top offenses. The Nets themselves shot 51 percent from the floor and 40 percent from deep, led by 30 points from Kyrie Irving. The Wolves have had defensive slippage of late, but it’s been masked by their offensive aptitude.

Minnesota has scored 108-plus points in each of its last eight games. It’s gone over 119 points in six of those contests, and Sunday marked the third time it cleared 130 points in that stretch.

The offense that was so far behind the defense at the season’s outset — which Timberwolves coach Chris Finch has attributed to the shear amount of attention paid to the defense in training camp — has now caught up and passed the other end of the floor. The Wolves now more closely resemble the team everyone expected at the start of the season.

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