What it would look like if your flight was as fast as New Horizons

1 Sep 2015

New Horizons holds the record for the fastest spacecraft launch – but how would that speed look on a commercial flight? Photo via stockphoto mania/Shutterstock

When NASA’s New Horizons space probe took off, it took the record for the highest speed for a spacecraft launch at almost 58,000 kilometres per hour, which prompted a Googler to wonder what that would be like on a standard passenger aircraft.

Clay Bavor works at Google in California as a product VP working on Gmail, Google Docs, Google Drive, Google Cardboard and virtual-reality systems.

For his own amusement, he enjoys taking photos and “doing complicated art projects”.

But it was Bavor’s blog that captured our attention when his curiosity led to the creation of a video comparing a 747 flight at three very different speeds from the point-of-view of a passenger watching cloud formations through an aeroplane window.

Video via Clay Bavor

The first view is an ambling 747 speed of 885kph. Easy does it.

The second is the same view if the flight were travelling at the speed of a US Air Force SR-71 Blackbird, the current record-holder for the world’s fastest jet-propelled aircraft.

The Blackbird was capable of achieving blistering speeds up to Mach 3.5 (4,288kph), but even this makes for a leisurely cruise at an altitude of 60,000km.

Then last but certainly not least is the perspective from a commercial aircraft flying at the same speed as the New Horizons launch: 57,936 kph. Now that’s a nail-biting journey.

On this hypothetical flight, Bavor points out, you’d get from San Francisco to New York in just five minutes, but there is a catch.

“Of course, you’d also be turned into a ball of searing hot plasma,” he is careful to add.

New Horizons had cooled its jets a bit after its long journey to the far reaches of our solar system and completed its historic Pluto flyby at a speed of almost 50,000kph.

Gigglebit is Siliconrepublic.com’s daily dose of the funny and fantastic in science and tech, to help start your day on a lighter note.

Aircraft take-off image by stockphoto mania via Shutterstock

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.