On Wednesday, 30th September, French capital Paris was rocked with the sound of a massive blast in the city. While people started panicking and clogging emergency lines, the investigations revealed a rather non-lethal phenomenon was the reason behind the noise.
As the people went frenzy over the social media about rather ‘unhappy’ speculations of a terror attack, the police confirmed that the sound came due to a sonic boom created by a fighter jet flying at supersonic speeds over the city.
“A very loud noise was heard in Paris and in the Paris region. It was not an explosion, it was a fighter jet crossing the sound barrier,” Paris police posted on their Twitter account. The police also asked people not to dial emergency lines over this fairly common (in military spheres) yet interesting phenomenon.
According to the sources, the jet (Rafale) which crossed the sound barrier, was scrambled to assist another aircraft that had lost radio contact. The jet in question was authorised to travel at supersonic speed.
In a statement given to AFP, an Armée de l’Air (French Air Force) spokesman said, “A Rafale, carrying out an intervention to assist an aircraft that had lost contact, was authorised to break the sound barrier to reach the aircraft in difficulty.”
— Breaking Aviation News & Videos (@breakingavnews) September 30, 2020
The sonic boom also forced the players at the French Open to halt for a while judging the sound which resembled an explosion, was also seen on the live stream of the match being played.
Players at the tournament were visibly confused and curious. Dominik Koepfer was mid-serve on Court Suzanne Lenglen at the tournament when it happened. As you can see, Koepfer noticed the boom. He expressed how he felt about it all after the match.
“It was kind of weird, we both stopped. We both looked at each other and didn’t know what it is,” Koepfer said. “It was a weird feeling, for one or two points I thought about it.”
His opponent, Stan Wawrinka, also commented on the situation. “I was shocked, like everybody. For sure, it was a worry,” he said. “I asked the umpire to let me know what it was. Everybody had the answer quite early, so was all good.”
On Court Philippe Chatrier, Elina Svitolina and Renata Zarazua were facing off when the noise occurred.
“I was a bit worried because I thought something bad happened. I looked at the chair umpire, he was little bit shocked as well,” Svitolina said. “You never know these days what can happen, what’s going on. It was very strange, very loud, like something big dropped.
A sonic boom is an effect produced by a body breaking the sound barrier and travelling at supersonic speeds. A common example of it we might have heard is the sound of a bullwhip or that of a supersonic bullet, whose cracking sound resembles the sound created by the supersonic aircraft flying high above in the sky, just at a lot greater level in magnitude.
As sonic booms create large amounts of sound energy, and a person standing at the ground could mistake it for the sound of an explosion. Due to this, military aircraft are generally not allowed to carry out supersonic flights over urban areas commonly; however, emergency approval may be granted.
Seldom, the sound energy created by sonic booms are powerful enough to shatter windowpanes and minor damages to infrastructure, which led to the prohibition of routine supersonic flights over metropolitan cities, for whose glass-covered high-rise buildings could be extremely vulnerable to the damages caused by the sonic booms.
Apart from this damage aspect, on the other hand, sonic booms are also often complemented with vapor clouds on the aircraft’s surface, which is a marvel to behold. This creates a very picturesque and unique phenomenon loved by aviation photographers and bystanders alike- as shown in this video.