Abstract: The Great Boomdoggle: Sonic Booms and the Fight against the American SST Program

David Suisman


After the United States government had invested hundreds of millions of dollars to develop a supersonic transport (SST), the program was killed in Congress in 1971. In this paper I analyze the David-versus-Goliath opposition movement which, against all odds, won. The key to this victory, I argue, was aviation's most conspicuous and unwanted side effect: the powerful, frightening shock waves known as sonic booms. Based on archival sources, government reports, and personal interviews with activists, the paper will argue that opposition to the SST evolved through three distinct phases: from the early 1960s until 1966, revolving largely around the work of one man, Bo Lundberg; circa 1966-1970, driven by Harvard physicist William Shurcliff and his Citizens League Against the Boom; and the final public and Congressional showdown, circa 1970-1971, directed by the Coalition Against the SST. The defeat of the SST, I conclude, was a milestone in the history of technology assessment and a landmark triumph in the emergent environmental movement.