DC sonic boom updates: Plane that crashed lost contact with air traffic control just after takeoff

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NTSB investigating deadly Va. plane crash

The pilot of the private Cessna Citation jet that caused a panic in Washington DC on Sunday when it passed into restricted airspace before crashing into a heavily-wooded area in Virginia was seen “slumped” in the cockpit prior to the accident.

Four people were killed in the disaster, including the adopted daughter and grandaughter of Florida businessman John Rumpel, 75, who had already lost a daughter in a scuba diving accident almost 30 years earlier.

Mr Rumpel, owner of Encore Motors of Melbourne and known as a prominent donor to conservative political causes aligned with Donald Trump, was quoted by The Washington Post as saying that his “entire family” had been on the plane when it crashed.

When the doomed flight, en route from Tennessee to MacArthur Airport in Long Island, New York, entered DC airpsace, a loud sonic boom was heard across the capital as two F-16s were scrambled to intercept the plane as it passed by sensitive sites including the White House and US Capitol.

First responders at the crash site said it had left a “crater” in rural Virginia.

Outside aviation experts speculated the pilot likely lost consciousness from a lack of oxygen inside the jet when it climbed above 10,000 feet, the altitude that typically requires cabin pressurization.

Only minutes into the doomed journey, the pilot stopped responding to air traffic control instructions prompting the alert to military, security and law enforcement agencies.


Plane that crashed in Virginia lost contact with air traffic controllers during ascent, feds say

Only minutes into a doomed journey that ended on a remote Virginia mountain, the pilot of a business jet was not responding to air traffic control instructions and the situation was soon reported to a network that includes military, security and law enforcement agencies, according to federal aviation officials.

Despite being out of contact on its ascent Sunday afternoon, the jet that had just taken off from a Tennessee airport continued toward its intended destination on Long Island, then turning to fly back to Virginia where it slammed into a mountain, killing the four people aboard.

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2021 sonic boom caused concern about earthquake

Sonic booms are still heard in the U.S. from the nation’s military aircraft. In 2021, a sonic boom caused widespread concern that there was an earthquake on the Oregon coast.

Military officials with the 142nd Wing of the Oregon Air National Guard said a single-pilot F-15C and a two-person F-15D Eagle had inadvertently reached supersonic speeds as they flew over the Pacific Ocean.


The Concorde

The Concorde, an Anglo-French supersonic jetliner, saw success for a number of years after making its first commercial flights in 1976. However, its ear-rattling sonic booms irritated people on the ground and led to restrictions on where the jet could fly.

In the U.S., the plane flew mainly to New York and Washington. With four jet engines and afterburners, the plane could fly at twice the speed of sound and cruised at close to 60,000 feet, far above other airliners. It promised to revolutionize long-distance travel by cutting flying time from the U.S. East Coast to Europe from eight hours to three and a half hours.

The Concorde never caught on widely. The plane’s economics were challenging, and its sonic booms led it to be banned on many overland routes. Only 20 were built; 14 of which were used for passenger service.

In 2003, British Airways and Air France both stopped Concorde service.


1960s NASA experiments found sonic booms to be ‘annoying,’ ‘irritating’ and ‘startling’

During the 1960s, NASA collected data on the effects of sonic booms on people who experienced them. Experiments showed that many described the booms as “annoying,” “irritating” and “startling,” NASA found.

In 1973, the Federal Aviation Administration prohibited supersonic flights over land, “based on the expectation that such flights would cause a sonic boom to reach the ground,” the Congressional Research Service wrote.


Soviet Union became first country in 1968 to fly supersonic passenger plane

The Soviet Union became the first country in 1968 to fly a supersonic passenger plane, the Tupolev TU-144. But a fatal crash at the 1973 Paris Air Show ended that ambition.

In 1963, the U.S. government announced a major program to develop a supersonic passenger aircraft. But serious problems soon surfaced, including massive development costs and doubts about financial viability. The program was terminated in 1971.


What is the history of supersonic travel – and booms?

In 1947, test pilot Charles “Chuck” Yeager became the first person to fly faster than sound in an orange, bullet-shaped Bell X-1 rocket plane. His exploits were told in Tom Wolfe’s book “The Right Stuff,” and in the 1983 film it inspired.

In the movie, someone on the ground asks, “What’s that sound?” as Yeager’s plane flies above and breaks the sound barrier.

Interest in supersonic flight initially focused mostly on military planes, according to the Congressional Research Service. But it grew to include supersonic civil aircraft in the 1960s.


‘The air rushing over the surfaces of the aircraft will cause a sonic boom’

Anthony Brickhouse, an associate professor of applied aviation sciences at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, said: “The different surfaces of the aircraft are basically punching through the air. The air actually rushing over the surfaces of the aircraft will cause a sonic boom.”

“When the Space Shuttle orbiter was coming back into the Earth’s atmosphere, you would typically get to sonic booms,” Brickhouse said. “The SpaceX Dragon capsule created sonic booms.”

Brickhouse said the F-16 flying over Washington on Sunday was “probably trying to go as fast it could to catch up” with the wayward Cessna airplane.

The F-16 Fighting Falcon can fly 1,500 mph or twice the speed of sound, known as Mach 2, according to the Air Force.


What is a sonic boom?

Sonic booms are thunderous-like noises that are heard on the ground when airplanes overhead fly faster than the speed of sound. That speed is typically about 760 mph near sea level, but can vary depending on the temperature, altitude and other conditions, according to the Congressional Research Service.

As the plane speeds through the air, the air reacts like fluid. Molecules are pushed aside with great force, “and this forms a shock wave, much like a boat creates a wake in water,” according to NASA.

“When this line of shock wave passes by, listeners on the ground hear a very loud noise,” according to an explanation from Australia’s University of New South Wales.


Jets authorised to ‘travel at supersonic speeds’

When the F-16 jets reached the plane at around 3.20pm ET they fired flares to try and get the pilot’s attention, according to a statement from the Continental US North American Aerospace Defense Command Region.

“The pilot was unresponsive and the Cessna subsequently crashed near the George Washington National Forest, Virginia,” the release said.

“NORAD attempted to establish contact with the pilot until the aircraft crashed.”

The jets were authorised by officials to “travel at supersonic speeds”, which led to a boom across the DC area.

The F-16s did not shoot down the plane, a US official told CNN.

Graeme Massie7 June 2023 06:00


Cessna Citation’s lone pilot seen slumped over before crash

When Sunday’s tragedy struck, the family had been returning home to East Hampton, New York, after a four-day trip to Mr Rumpel’s home in North Carolina, he told The New York Times.

“My family is gone, my daughter and granddaughter,” Barbara Rumpel, an NRA executive, wrote in a Facebook post.

The Cessna Citation’s lone pilot was seen slumped over in his seat before it crashed in a heavily-wooded area near Waynesboro, Virginia, a source told CNN.

The flight had been travelling from east Tennessee to Long Island, New York, at 34,000 feet when it became unresponsive and triggered an interception by military fighter jets protecting the US capital.

Graeme Massie7 June 2023 05:00

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