NASA's Dryden Research Center has revealed pictures of the hardware set-up installed in its Boeing F/A-18B to test artificial means of forward vision for supersonic business jets with limited forward vision.

The project, a partnership between Gulfstream and NASA's supersonic project office, is part of a broader NASA effort to test flightdeck and related technologies "to support supersonic aircraft designs that would have greatly reduced sonic booms", according to the agency.

Mounted under and behind the front-seat F/A-18B pilot's head-up display is a high-definition camera that feeds a large display above the instrument panel of the back-seat pilot, who flies the aircraft based on the display and peripheral visual cues from holes cut through an interior cover. The front-seat pilot maintains natural vision and acts as the safety pilot.

NASA says the new vision system is being tested "to determine the effectiveness of replacing the normal forward visibility available in such aircraft". Along with human factors issues, researchers are investigating the minimum display resolution requirements for safe flight and ground operations using various camera and display resolution configurations.

While Gulfstream has been silent on its supersonic business jet intentions, NASA recently helped the company secure an "X plane" designation (X-54) to study low-boom technologies for acceptable overland supersonic flight, an evolution the company sees as critical to making the business case for such an aircraft.

Gulfstream in 2005 trademarked the name "Sonic Whisper", an aircraft it says would have "a design that reduces boom intensities during supersonic flight". It is not clear if X-54 or Sonic Whisper are related to NASA's recently approved 2009 budget authorisation, which includes $406 million for flight demonstrations related to investigating sonic booms and setting noise standards.

Gulfstream earlier patented and tested on a NASA Boeing F-15B a 7.3m (24ft) extendable "quiet spike" designed to round the edges of the classic "N"-shaped pressure wave that causes a sonic boom, reducing the perceived noise when the wave passes by. Earlier NASA tests using a modified Northrop F-5E proved the concept that the pressure spike can be modified.

Source: Flight International