Travel At Speed: Business Aviation Redefines Fast (re-post from Forbes)

First published at Forbes Magazine, Wheels-Up Blog:

Today’s (Thursday June 17th, 2010) posting at Forbes.

Why do people choose to fly privately rather than take the airlines or drive?

Before the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroad Company rails met at Promontory Summit in Utah in May 1869, and the first Transcontinental Railway was formed, it took about 75 days to travel from New York to the West Coast. The new railway cut this down to about 10 days.

In 1930, travel from a townhouse in Manhattan to a bungalow in Santa Monica, California, by the Rail-Air Service provided by TAT took about 48 hours.

Today, the trip from a Manhattan townhouse  to a bungalow in  Santa Monica, by air service provided by Delta Airlines is approximately 9 and a half hours door-to-door.

Privately this same New York-to-California journey by a private/corporate jet (Falcon 7X) will take you approximately 6 hours door-to-door. (The distance between Teterboro Airport (KTEB) and Van Nuys Airport (KVNY) is 2,456 nautical miles.)

As Business/Corporate Aircraft evolved over the years, there were marked increases in top-cruising speeds.

The very businesslike DeHavilland DH83 Fox Moth of 1932 normally cruised at 79 knots. This is quite laughable compared to the new Gulfstream 650, currently the world’s fastest general aviation aircraft at 562 Knots.

What is General Aviation?

It is ‘all aviation except for Military and Airline Operations.’

Here are notable business aircraft, each at one time labeled the fastest:

DH89 Dragon Rapide, 115 Knots

DC3, 130 Knots

Beech 18, 180 Knots

Howard 500, 338 Knots

JetStar 1, 450 Knots

Learjet 23, 460 Knots

Falcon 10 was 492 Knots

Citation X, 527 Knots

Gulfstream 650, 562 Knots – Current World’s Fastest

Concorde, 1,155 Knots – Former World’s Fastest.

Why knots in place of MPH?

Please let me explain:

1 Knot (K) = 1.15 Miles per Hour (MPH.)

The Earth is divided up into 360 degrees of ‘lines of longitude, and latitude’ (meridians.)

The Equator is the ‘Zero Degree’ Line around the ‘girth of the Earth’ (hey that kind-of rhymes). The Poles are each at the 90 Degree marks.

Along the Prime Meridian (Zero Degrees) that which passes through the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, East of London, North to South/South to North circling the globe, there are 360 Lines of Latitude. Each Line is equal to 1 degree; and 1 degree of Latitude is equal to 60 nautical miles. Each minute of Latitude is equal to 1 nm.  Since all navigation is based upon the parameters of Time – Distance – Speed, it has always been more accurate to define speed in Knots.

Shortly after the invention of the sailing vessel, early sailors wanted to determine how fast their vessels were travelling as they sailed out of sight of the land. Ingeniously they achieved this by throwing a wooden log into the water and then observing how fast the vessel moved away from it. This method was named” ‘Heaving the Log’ and was not improved upon until the Sixteenth Century when the ‘Chip Log’ method came into being.

This improved method of speed determination employed the use of a weighted wood panel tied to a reel of knotted rope. This rope had knots tied in it at approximately every fifty feet. When the Chip Log went over the side, the number of Knots that slipped through the hands of the sailor holding the rope, would be counted off during the time that it took for the grains of sand in an inverted ‘Hour-Glass’, Sand-Timer to completely leave the time bulb that was calibrated to time the elapse of thirty seconds. This simple method provided a fairly accurate measurement of the number of nautical miles per hour that the vessel was travelling. For example, if ten knots went overboard in thirty seconds, then the ship was moving forward at the speed of ten knots or ten nautical miles per hour.

Later the ‘Chip Log’ Knot distance was tightened up (not a pun, I promise you) because if you choose to slice Earth along the line that goes through the North and South poles you would get a slightly different result due to the fact that Earth is not a perfect sphere – it is slightly flattened at the poles. The difference between the polar and equatorial diameter being about twenty three point four nautical miles out of six thousand, eight hundred and eighty nautical miles. The exact value for the nautical mile is taken to be the average of the two (i.e. polar and equatorial) which equals:

1 nautical mile = 1.15 miles = 1,852 meters = 6,067 feet

Since the majority of the world now uses the Metric System, interestingly enough, in the seventeenth century the Metre came into being and was defined as one part in ten million of the distance from the North Pole to the Equator along  the meridian (an imaginary circle perpendicular to the horizon) that passes through the city of Paris.

Staying with the Knot, or Nautical Mile, later on in naval history, the hour-glass, sand timer was recalibrated to measure twenty eight seconds, and the knots were spaced out at exactly forty eight feet (which is equivalent to eight fathoms.) Under this arrangement a vessels speed was pretty much ‘spot-on’.

Before I sign off, I felt that it might be fun to consider the speeds of other methods and machines, invented by man, so here goes:

Speed in Knots

Tour de France Rider, 22 Knots (average)

Queen Mary 2 Ocean Liner Top Speed, 30 Knots

BMW Oracle Racing 90 Tri-Maran Top Speed, 40 Knots

Olympic Downhill Skiing, 81 Knots

Olympic 4-Man Bobsled, 103 Knots

Free-Fall Parachute Jumping, 157 Knots

McLaren Mercedes F-1 Race Car, 209 Knots

Class 1 Offshore Power Boat, 217 Knots

Bugatti Veyron, 220 Knots

Japan’s Shinkansen Bullet Train, 239 Knots

Mooney M20TN Acclaim Light Aircraft, 242 Knots

Japan’s Yamanashi Maglev Train, 314 Knots

Rifle Bullet, 593 Knots

Speed of Sound (standard atmosphere and at Sea Level), 668 Knots

NASA Space Shuttle, 15,217 Knots

The Speed of Light (in the vacuum of Space), 583,144,895 Knots

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