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Vapor cone

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Subject: Shock waves, Mach number, Supersonic speed
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Vapor cone

A F/A-18F during transonic flight

A vapor cone, also known as shock collar or shock egg, is a visible cloud of condensed water which can sometimes form around an object. A vapor cone is typically observed as an aircraft, or object, flying at transonic speeds. When the localized air pressure around the object drops, so does the air temperature. If the temperature drops below the dew point a cloud forms.

In the case of aircraft, the cloud is caused by supersonic expansion fans decreasing the air pressure, density and temperature below the dew point. Then pressure, density and temperature suddenly increase across the stern shock wave associated with a return to subsonic flow behind the aircraft. Essentially, the tail of the aircraft is in supersonic flight while the bow is still flying subsonically, and is said to be in transonic flight.

Condensation cones appear in what was described as a Prandtl-Glauert singularity.[1] In addition to making the shock waves themselves visible, water condensation can also occur in the trough between two crests of the shock waves produced by the passing of the object. However, this effect does not necessarily coincide with the acceleration of an aircraft through the speed of sound or Mach 1.[1][2]


These condensation clouds can often be seen appearing around space-bound rockets as they accelerate through the atmosphere. For example, they were frequently seen during Space Shuttle launches, about 25 to 33 seconds after launch, when the vehicle was traveling at transonic speeds. Similar effects were also visible in archival footage of some nuclear tests. Scientists observing the Operation Crossroads nuclear tests in 1946 named the transitory cloud a "Wilson cloud" for its superficial similarity to the Wilson cloud chamber effect.[3]


Click on the thumbnail to enlarge.

See also

The sound, generated by the aircraft (aerodynamic and mechanical) is Doppler-concentrated as high frequency ultrasound, accumulating anterior to the plane's nose within the conical sound cone (somewhat improperly termed the "shock cone") propels suspended water droplets and ice crystals in a cloud disc delineated by the sound cone margins. As the aircraft "catches up" with the ultrasound-generated cloud disc at Mach I, it then passes through it as Mach I is exceeded.== References ==

  1. ^ a b
  2. ^
  3. ^

External links

  • Vapor cone on YouTube
  • F-18 Hornet High-speed (transonic) flyby on YouTube
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