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Psycho-acoustic simulations: Virtual noise assessment for passenger jet of the future

For those living under airport flight paths, the roar of jet engines is an all-too-common nuisance. But could a new generation of aircraft now in development provide some acoustic relief? Researchers in Switzerland have conducted psychoacoustic studies to explore how blended wing body (BWB) planes with engines mounted on top could significantly reduce noise impacts.
BWB designs, with the fuselage seamlessly integrated into the wings, promise less drag and fuel savings. Noise simulations suggest they could also project less noise downward if engines sit atop the wings rather than under them. But decibel estimates alone don't capture subjective perceptions. So engineers built an "auralization" lab to simulate flights' auditory sensations.

Test subjects listened to lifelike spatial overflight recreations of conventional jets and prospective BWB models equipped with noise-mitigating features like trailing-edge flaps and next-gen turbofans. The results showed the BWB designs rated around 4 points lower on an 11-point annoyance scale. The different engine placement created an unfamiliar sound that also seemed less grating.

Of course, many BWB variants are possible as the concept evolves. But researchers found the aircraft shape itself accounts for most noise abatement gains rather than addons like specialized flaps. Shielding the engines above the wings prevents their roar from projecting as much toward communities.

The tests illustrate how aviation research has expanded beyond efficiency and emissions to human impacts like noise pollution. As growth strains capacity at airports like Zurich, better understanding how design informs perception will be key. Technologies like auralization that simulate not just decibels but psychoacoustic experiences are critical to that.

The industry obsession with speed in aviation's early days made supersonic booms an afterthought. But today's focus on sustainability spotlights aircraft noise challenges. If the forecasts for reduced annoyance from emerging designs hold true in real-world flights, it could smooth the expansion of aviation while improving quality of life for those enduring the buzz. The quieter skies simulated offer optimism if innovation keeps communities' ears in mind.

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