Speed is a very relative concept. Airplanes go fast – and slow. Many consider sailboats slow, but yachtsmen can sail them fast. Cars simply take forever to get anywhere, unless the driver is a teenager. Then it is probably just plain frightening.
When I was a kid, I liked to drive fast. This was in the days before I studied physics and had little idea of how speed can be so dangerous (you know, it’s that mass and velocity relationship – particularly when it comes to stopping).
After a stint as a news reporter-photographer in which I had to go out on assignment and saw firsthand the results of the damage speed could cause, I started to get smart and slow down. I still liked speed, though, even if it might be a little dangerous.
While in the process of learning how dangerous speed is, I also learned about risk management. I then quickly discovered all you had to do when going really fast was manage the risk. After learning this and thinking about it a bit more, I was back to enjoying speed. Legally in the air, rather than speeding along the highways.
I flew bigger and faster airplanes as my thirst for speed increased.
I thought of becoming an airline pilot. Airliners could go fairly fast. Indeed, with a good jetstream on your tail, you could clock across the country at better than 750 knots. There was only one problem. From up at Flight Levels, it did not seem as though you were going fast, even though you really were.
Up there, you sit looking over all the terrain below, sometimes for hundreds of miles. If not for the DME, a pilot would not know they were going fast. I spent enough time as a passenger to know I wanted more action than Flight Level speed.
This led me to the military; it was in the military where I found the best and fastest airplanes.
While serving in the Navy, I found the best job for enjoying my penchant for going fast: low-level attack pilot. What a blast!
From an airliner, looking down at the Sierra Nevada is tantamount to looking down from the top of your roof at a child’s “mountains” in their sandbox in the backyard. From altitude, you can see the Sierras meeting up with the Cascades, stretching all the way from Mexico to Canada, far below. From the cockpit of an attack jet, they are an entirely different sight.
On the ingress to the target, an attack pilot uses the mountains to hide. He or she stays low behind hills and mountains. When crossing over a ridgeline, attack pilots roll their aircraft inverted, popping up and pulling three to five g’s to just clear the ridge by no more than a couple of hundred feet. The reason for this is to keep positive g on the airplane; additionally, if you tried to push over the top of the ridge, you would not be able to see where you were going with the nose in the way – you might run into a rock that way. It truly is the best fun a human can experience. At 540 knots. Roughly nine nautical miles per minute. Or 622 mph.
Yeah, I still like speed, but not on the roads. There are too many crazy drivers out there and one of them just might kill you.
Naw, speed on the highway is just way too dangerous.
© 2010 J. Clark