The crack of a whip is a well-known sound for anyone who’s worked with cattle or is a fan of Indiana Jones. The sound, which can command attention from people and livestock alike, may actually be more important than the impact of lashings from the whip itself. What you may not know is that a whip can actually travel so quickly that it breaks the sound barrier, creating a sonic boom.
A bullwhip’s long, tapered design allows for extreme flexibility, which in turn helps the whip strike very quickly. It takes some practice to learn how to crack a whip properly. When the right technique is used, a loop travels through the length of the whip at a rate double the speed of sound. As the loop reaches the tip, all of the sound catches up at once, creating a sonic boom.
For reference, the speed of sound is approximately 1,125 feet per second or or a little over 767 miles per hour. A whip traveling at twice that speed strikes as fast as a bullet!
Although there’s some disagreement over exactly when the bullwhip was invented, evidence from ancient Greek and Roman pottery suggests that whips have been in use for thousands of years. This makes the whip mankind’s earliest supersonic technology.