Buying 200 Knots For $200,000
It’s always interesting, as you said, to listen to pilots who pine for more speed. When you ask them what their normal flight mission is, most say that they usually fly about 2-3 hour legs – mostly due to the need for comfort breaks, or that their destinations usually fall within that range. Unless you are talking at least a 35-40 knot speed differential, the arrival times aren’t that much different. People don’t do 500+ nm trips that often. You also touched on the issue of wind direction. A turbocharged engine will get you up above the bumpy air, but the winds up there can be disproportionately higher. If it is a tail wind, wonderful, but a headwind can eat up most of that speed advantage.
For example, a couple years ago, a friend and I were returning from Sun ‘n Fun back to Texas. We both have near identical Cessna Cardinal RG’s. Another friend, has a turbo normalized Cardinal RG. The morning we departed, the weather was CAVU following the passage of a storm front overnight. Unfortunately it came with hefty headwinds and near-surface turbulence. Our turbo friend took off first, about 15 minutes ahead of us. The two of us climbed up just high enough to minimize most of the bumps, but still keeping the headwind as low as possible. We all planned to land at the same small airfield in Mississippi to refuel and have lunch. When the two of us landed, we taxied up and shut down, but our turbo friend was nowhere in sight. We assumed that he had decided to fly on instead. About 10 minuets after we landed, we heard him announce on final. We took great pleasure in informing him that his high altitude superior performance had actually cost him almost 30 minutes of flight time. He gave us a wry smile and said that at least it was a smooth 30 minutes. It all depends on your priorities, I guess.
In my experience, most pilots are always trying to tweak a little more speed out of whatever they fly, be it J3 or F-111. It seems that once you get used to an airplane’s speed you wish it had a bit more. I can remember doing a test run on an F-111 and being somewhat disappointed that it would not top 1450 kt at 50,000 feet. I would be happy to indicate 120 in a C172 a day later. We are an odd lot.
Runway Turnback Reconsidered
I recently completed a BFR by a very knowledgeable, proficient, and thorough CFII. My Bonanza had been down for its annual that did not allow me to perform my BFR in it. My BFR had expired while the airplane was down. With a single yoke and expired BFR, I could not use my airplane once the annual was completed. I was not going to go through the trouble and expense of renting a dual yoke for my BFR. So, I rented a C172 which coincidentally had an 0-360 with CS prop. Somewhat unusual from the run of the mill rental 172’s. To coordinate with his current student load and aircraft availability, I had to drive a couple of hours to a new to me airport and corresponding topography. I had not flown a 172 for about 11 years, the last flight in my former 1956 C172. I was looking forward to getting acquainted again with a 172 even if it was not an old straight tail.
During the BFR, I was directed to land at a beautiful strip surrounded by some lakes, a river, and small mountains. That landing turned out to be a touch and go where upon climb out on this humid 96-degree afternoon he pulled the power. While somewhat anticipating this earlier in the flight, I have to admit with getting re-acclimated to a 172, high wing vs low wing, 180hp/CS prop vs Bonanza variable pitch prop, late into the flight, and panel differences, and the beauty of that strip on final approach and climb-out, I was surprised and startle effect did momentarily happen. But within a couple of seconds, I lowered the nose, turned about 30-35 degrees left and aimed for what appeared to be about 1,000 to 1200 ft field among all the trees that were on top of this small mountain range. While about 600-700 ft agl above the airport elevation, I was less than 3-400ft agl above my present sedate cruise climb configuration and location over those still ascending small mountains which kept me at that same 3-400 ft level agl. He seemed satisfied with my decision, agreed that I would safely make the field as we got closer to it.
While I added power back and began my climb out, he asked me why I did not do a turn back to the runway. Without hesitation, I said with the high density altitude, windmilling constant speed prop in high RPM, low pitch, full of fuel, and not really proficient in this particular airplane with its STC’d mods, 11 year hiatus from my personal 172, new to me panel with fuel, switch locations, I had already decided outside of being 800ft agl above the highest surrounding terrain, I would not even attempt a turn back.
I had reviewed Paul’s video the night before my BFR. I believe there is no one size fits all strategy. It all depends on so many variables. I was familiar with a 172 but not this particular one. It was a very hot, humid day, high density altitude with unfamiliar, moderately rising terrain type of topography at the moment of the power loss. Had this happened at the home base of the airplane just a mere 10 miles away, with level ground and being 700-800ft agl, I would have done a turn back. Even if I did not make the runway, I would make it to level grass with no obstructions within the airport boundaries.
One must form a decision strategy based on current circumstances, airplane being flown, configuration, and conditions. My take away from the video and having to dead stick a Bonanza into a tight field some years ago has mentally prepared me to be far more vigilant about my current environment, particularly at take-off but throughout the flight. This includes a predetermined hard deck for all potential maneuvers should the fan stop no matter what time of the flight this might happen. I think having this sort of strategy in play helps take away the potential for indecision and wishful thinking hoping for a good outcome vs being pro-active at every moment until the airplane comes to a full stop.
Plus, I may be flying with my A game one day, and maybe not quite up to A game performance another day or time. We can be A game flyers in the morning and less than that later in the day for a variety of reasons. I was not an A game flier in this particular airplane, at this particular time, in this particular terrain. I was competent under those conditions and would have safely made to to my intended landing site. Competent and A game are not always the same. That difference has to be known before the fan potentially stops. As Paul says…depends.
Turn back only in airplanes for which you have practiced the turn. Won’t work in most aircraft.
Poll: Will United Airlines Ever Really Offer Supersonic Service?
- Ask the right question: Do airline C-suite denizens believe they will increase their profitability in such an endeavor? The answer should be pretty obvious: There’s an insufficiently sizeable market for high-cost airline fares. This has been known in the airline business for decades as evidenced by the rise of low-cost carriers and the ever-tightening race to the bottom of the quality/cost barrel between the major competitors. So, while it’s technically feasible to build the SST, some question remains as to who would be able to find sufficient value in the proposition to justify the exponentially greater cost per seat or pound-mile. Even the Billionaire Boys Club.
- United is in the best position of all U.S. carriers.
- When all the airline heavyweights put their money on supersonic eVTOL, I’ll begin to care. In the meantime I’ll be OK with reading tomorrow’s news today re: Aviation speculation.
- Trying failed ideas over and over does not seem smart to me.
- It is clearly technologically possible, but I doubt financially feasible.
- Who cares? Waste of energy at those speeds.
- Anything is possible…but…
- I’m an aviation guy through to the core, but even i think supersonic passenger services are a gratuitous use of the world’s limited resources.
- The most likely scenario is that climate change activists will put enough pressure on various governments to prohibit the planes landing in their countries. Not much point buying the planes if you can’t land them anywhere.
- Follow the money. Does any UAL upper management have family working for the supersonic aircraft manufacturer?
- More likely supersonic private aircraft but not airlines.
- It will be a novelty for them, but not a serious money maker.
- This will be done by SpaceX/Starship within 8 years.
- Hope not, for the sake of the environment.
- Does anyone other than a United shareholder have a reason to care?
- It depends on how do you define supersonic.
- Not in the next 20 years.
- The question is, will it be profitable? I think not…