Aerodynamic wave drag
Whitcomb, Richard T. Langley Research Center, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Langley Field, Virginia.
Last reviewed:October 2020
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- Causes of wave drag
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The force retarding an airplane, especially in supersonic flight, as a consequence of the formation of shock waves. Although the physical laws governing flight at speeds in excess of the speed of sound are the same as those for subsonic flight, the nature of the flow about an airplane and, as a consequence, the various aerodynamic forces and moments acting on the vehicle at these higher speeds differ substantially from those at subsonic speeds. Basically, these variations result from the fact that at supersonic speeds the airplane moves faster than the disturbances of the air produced by the passage of the airplane. These disturbances are propagated at roughly the speed of sound and, as a result, primarily influence only a region behind the vehicle (Fig. 1). See also: Aerodynamics; Sound; Speed
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