Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Semiballistics on the Way?

Readers of science fiction grand master Robert A. Heinlein's Friday just might remember the term "semiballistic" in reference to aircraft. The title's namesake heroine, Friday Jones, is on vacation, after having recovered from a near-death on-the-job experience, and she decides to visit Auckland. She leaves Winnipeg via ANZAC's SB service, for a ride which will take forty minutes. As the point-of-view character, Friday describes the experience: "the high-gee blastoff that always feels as if the cradle would rupture and spurt fluid all over the cabin, the breathless minutes in free fall that feel as if your guts were falling our, then the reentry and that long, long glide that beats any sky ride ever built."

The distance from Winnipeg to Christchurch is about 8,200 miles so the fictional SB would be going about about Mach 20. Okay, that sounds impossible, but more chronologically gifted readers might remember a time when Dick Tracy's wrist phone seemed impossible, too.

Case in point— an experimental, unmanned aircraft is being tested by our military, and press reports state that it has gone 22 times the speed of sound. The Falcon Hypersonic Vehicle 2 sits atop a rocket, then detaches and operates within the upper regions of the earth's atmosphere, at speeds of about 13,000 miles per hour. That's almost identical to Heinlein's SB's speed.

What would it mean to be able to travel at Mach 20? It is about 4200 miles from Atlanta to London. At Mach 20, the flight would be less than half an hour. That's great! No need for an in flight beverage, and most folks wouldn't need the restroom, either.

When will the hypersonic vehicle be ready for airline service? Probably not in my lifetime, but my children may very well live to travel at "semiballistic" speed. Sounds like fun, doesn't it?


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