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We’re too cheap to fly faster

We've got the technology to fly much faster than the average commercial plane, so why aren't we using it?
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Liz Fleming, August 15, 2013 4:49:23 PM

Apparently, if our pockets were a little deeper, we’d get where we’re going quicker. We’ve got the technology – we just don’t want to pay for it.

Think about it. In 1947, we shattered the sound barrier and just recently, a jet (carrying no passengers, mind you) hit average speeds of 3,300 miles/hour for almost five minutes. That makes Superman look like a slacker.

So why is it still taking us so damned long to fly from Toronto to Miami? What’s the hold up? Cash. The sad truth is, we’re just too cheap to be fast.

That’s why the Concorde went the way of the dinosaurs. It died because the economic climate was too cold for its ticket prices. Seems the Concorde was a gas guzzler, just like the speedy planes of today.

Fast planes are shaky – something about hitting Mach 1 (about 675 miles/hour) makes them nervous, I guess – and the only thing that calms them down is an ‘afterburner’, a pipe at the rear end that creates more speed. (Too bad…most shaky fliers only need a martini or two…) While very effective, an afterburner sucks a plane’s fuel tank dry in no time – so it’s not an option. The Concorde solved the après-Mach 1 shaking by using “supercruise”, a technology that worked well but at a price too high for our meager budgets.

Boeing offered us the Sonic Cruiser a while back – not quite as speedy as the Concorde at a mere Mach .98, but still no slouch in the fast department. “Nah”, we said in our spoiled passenger voices, “we want you to use less fuel, not more. Keep the ticket prices low.” So the Sonic Cruiser never came to be and instead, they built us an airplane that uses twenty percent less fuel but is ten percent slower than the older models.

So if we’re too cheap to pay for faster flights, what does the future hold for that speedy unmanned jet that just tore up the sky? Not much if it’s hoping to get into the passenger airline business. Poor little thing is just going to have to roar around in the sky empty and alone.

While it’s possible for us to rocket around at Mach 5 and possibly even beyond, our wallets just won’t stretch as far as the imaginations of the scientists and technicians designing aircraft. Like grannies in sensible shoes, we’re shuffling along in a muck of cost-consciousness that will keep us trudging through the air at a sluggish 560 miles/hour.

Ah well – at least we can watch a couple of inflight movies – as long as they’re free and we don’t have to pay for the headsets.

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Liz Fleming
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