Still, the final political hurdle could be easy work, compared with everything it took to get to it. It has been a 30-year race that began with the voice that Plotkin spoke to from the Mojave lake bed, which belonged to Cornell's Albert George. George was Plotkin's thesis adviser at Cornell in the late 1960s, when sonic booms were a hot issue. The Concorde supersonic airliner and its Russian counterpart were flying, and Boeing was designing a 300-foot-long, 1,800 mph monster. But these aircraft were hamstrung by their shattering booms. Working from pure acoustic theory, George had found a way to reshape the boom from the sharp-edged double bang into a soft, harmless pressure wave. His colleague Richard Seebass–"Seebass would have come up with the theory about 30 seconds later," Plotkin says–built a mathematical structure behind it. The result became the Seebass-George theory.
The researchers published their theory in January 1971. Congress scrapped Boeing's supersonic transport two months later, and for more than 30 years the theory would remain exactly that. The math was complicated: It worked for simple shapes but nobody knew how to use it to design a practical airplane. If you tried, the only way to know if you'd got it right, even in part, was to test a model in a wind tunnel, observe mistakes, modify the model and test again–a long, expensive effort with no real assurance that the next test would produce better results instead of different problems. Seebass-George "is an ideal," says Plotkin. "When you get into a real aircraft, the method is not as precise as you need."