The Very Moment When A Jet Breaks The Sound Barrier

The sound barrier or sonic barrier is a popular term for the sudden increase in drag and other effects experienced by an aircraft or another object when it approaches supersonic speed. When aircraft first began to be able to reach close to supersonic speeds, these effects were seen as constituting a barrier, making supersonic speed very difficult or impossible. For an aircraft to break the sound barrier, it must hit speeds of about 770 MPH. The term came into use in this sense during World War II, when a number of aircraft started to encounter the effects of compressibility, a number of several unrelated aerodynamic effects that “struck” their aircraft like an impediment to further acceleration. By the 1950s, new aircraft designs routinely “broke” the sound barrier.

No words can explain the incredibility of the moment when a jet breaks the sound barrier as well as a photo. And Joe Broyles did photograph that moment for us:

Flying through speed of sound

Joe Broyles is a special photographer. He has spent five years attempting to photograph the moment a jet breaks the sound barrier. “I attended an air show at the Oceania Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach, Virginia, picked a spot in the sky and snapped eight images in less than two seconds, hoping I’d get lucky. And I was lucky!” said Joe.

Finally, he succeeded in capturing the split-second moment the aircraft reached “transonic velocity,” or the speed of sound at 766 MPH. “They move so fast. It’s near impossible to time when to start pushing the shutter button,” Broyles added.

What a memorable day for Broyles! Luck was on his side as he captured the moment an F-18 Super Hornet 2 jet that lasted tenths of a second. The photo is amazing not only because the speed makes it seemingly impossible, but also by judging the height that the jet will pass overhead. “I didn’t know if he would come in high, low, or somewhere in the middle. I have experienced all three,” said Broyles.


The photo is a beautiful expression of the moment all the air in front of the aircraft get pushed together and can’t get out of its own way – and when that magic number gets hit, the air finally breaks free and crashes behind the plane causing a sonic boom which is literally an explosion of sound waves that travel with the plane as long as it’s flying at that speed. “When I saw the photograph, I was absolutely ecstatic. I’ve been waiting for this moment for at least five years, so when I saw the image I raised my arm with a closed fist – I finally got it!” shared Broyles. Congratulations Joe Broyles for his bravery and dedication to capture this incredible moment in photography!

Share your comments with us.