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lying from Los Angeles to New York City in an hour sounds
great but a sky full of supersonic-capable planes breaking
the sound barrier (767 mph) along with the characteristic sonic
boom would ruffle more than a few feathers.
To lessen this problem and make super or even hyper-
sonic commercial flight viable, University at Buffalo
aerospace engineer, James Chen, is working to solve
problems associated with exceeding the sound
barrier by investigating how air acts at super
and hypersonic speeds.
“Reduction of the notorious sonic
boom is a just a start,” says Chen, PhD,
assistant professor in the Department
of Mechanical and Aerospace Engi-
neering at UB’s School of Engineer-
ing and Applied Sciences. “In
supersonic flight, we must now
answer the last unresolved
problem in classical physics:
“There is so much we don’t know about the airflow when
you reach hypersonic speeds,” he adds. “For example, eddies
form around the aircraft creating turbulence that affect how
aircraft maneuver through the atmosphere.”
To unlock this mystery, Chen’s research extends Ludwig
Boltzmann’s classical kinetic theory into high-speed aero-
dynamics, including hypersonic speed, which begins at Mach
5 or 3,836 mph.
Traditionally, engineers have used wind tunnels or direct
numerical simulations (DNS) to solve such aerodynamic
problems. However, those methods, he says, breakdown when
it comes to studying turbulence patterns at super and hyper-
Instead, Chen work focuses on morphing continuum
theory (MCT), which provides computationally friendly
equations and a theory to address problems with hypersonic
“The Center for Computational Research at UB provides
a perfect platform for my team and me at the Multiscale
Computational Physics Lab to pursue these difficult high-
speed aerodynamics problems with high-performance com-
puting,” says Chen.
Ultimately, Chen says his work could lead to better super-
sonic and hypersonic aircraft design, including everything
from the vehicle’s shape to what materials it is made of. The
goal, he says, is a new class of aircraft that are faster, quieter,
safer and less expensive to operate.
Engineering researchers look to make
supersonic commercial flight viable
A 3D computer simulation of air flowing over a hill creating turbulence
at transonic speed. The ring-like features are eddies of air.
PHOTO CREDIT: JAMES CHEN/UNIVERSITY AT BUFFALO
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