Anderson, John D., Jr. National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC; Department of Aerospace Engineering, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland.
Last reviewed:December 2019
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In the flow of a fluid, the ratio of the flow velocity, V, at a given point in the flow to the local speed of sound, a, at that same point. That is, the Mach number, M, is defined as V/a. In a flowfield where the properties vary in time and/or space, the local value of M will also vary in time and/or space. In aeronautics, Mach number is frequently used to denote the ratio of the airspeed of an aircraft to the speed of sound in the freestream far ahead of the aircraft; this is called the freestream Mach number. The Mach number is a convenient index used to define the following flow regimes: (1) subsonic, where M is less than 1 everywhere throughout the flow; (2) supersonic, where M is greater than 1 everywhere throughout the flow; (3) transonic, where the flow is composed of mixed regions of locally subsonic and supersonic flows, all with local Mach numbers near 1, typically between 0.8 and 1.2; and (4) hypersonic, where (by arbitrary definition) M is 5 or greater.
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