Friday, March 26, 2004

Man, I don't know what it is, but stories about fast planes and rockets are cool. Yet when it comes to flying in commercial jets, I myself freak just a little bit at every little bump of turbulence. No matter, Tom Wolfe's epic The Right Stuff is a great read about Chuck Yeager (the man who broke the sound barrier), test pilots, and the beginnings of the space program including the Mercury 7 astronauts. The movie based on the book is also great if you don't like reading. One of the interesting things you get out of the book is the tug of war between the Air Force and the newly created NASA. The Air Force's interest was in a space program that was plane based and pilot based, meaning that space flight was attained through the use of fast jets. NASA however believed that the best way to reach space was to build a big roman candle and have the pilot do no more than act as a lever-pulling monkey at the controls. Looks like the monkeys won out....

That's not to say that plane based spaceflight disappeared. I have to say I find it a great investment of money, no matter what the cost, in programs that develop fast jet engines. Just the idea of cruising from NY to Tokyo in 2-3 hours sounds awesome. One of the big "top secret" black projects that stirs up all the Area 51 junkies concerns the Aurora spy plane. I remember reading about this craft in an issue of Popular Mechanics (some Top Secret you say) back in the mid-80s as I waited in a barbershop to get my buzzcut. One of the supposed secrets behind the ability of the Aurora to achieve its phenomenal speed resides in its ability to deflect the wake turbulence it creates so that it resides underneath the plane rather than behind it. The effect of this is that the plane rides the turbulence like a surfer rides the Big Kahuna - rocketing faster forward on a huge swell of energy. Whether or not the Aurora exists, the mere mention of it gets the Russians all paranoid (no doubt Old Europe too I suppose). Well, like John Kerry drones, Bring It On I say. We need more crazy fast jets!


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