We’ve all seen that scene in a science fiction film where astronauts are taking off in a rocket, and after the countdown finally reaches zero, they are thrown back violently from the sheer force of being lifted off the ground.
If you saw the new Top Gun: Maverick film, you might remember a scene where Tom Cruise’s character was zooming through the skies at a speed of Mach 10.5.
How many of us have wondered how much force they were experiencing and wondered even more about what that intense feeling must be like? If you’re like any of us at Optical Mechanics, you have been, which is why we wanted to find out exactly what those high speeds feel like for humans.
Could you even go that fast and survive? And if so, then what would it feel like? How much training would you have to do to withstand such speeds? Let’s get into it.
What Does “Mach” Mean?
While we’ve been throwing this term around, we acknowledge that not everybody might have a very good understanding of what it means. To put it simply, Mach refers to how fast an object is going as it relates to the speed of sound. The Mach number is named in honor of Austrian physicist Ernst Mach, who contributed to the understanding of shock waves.
The speed of sound is 343 meters per second or 700 MPH. So, if a plane is traveling that fast, it is moving at Mach 1. Now that we understand this, we can understand just how fast Mach 10 really is: 7,000 miles per hour.
What Do High Speeds Feel Like?
Many of us have been on commercial planes traveling at high speeds through the air. However, those plane rides are mainly only notable for how mundane they usually are.
Even though when you look at how those plane rides feel from an objective point of view, it might seem a bit crazy that they feel so distinctly uneventful. That is, until turbulence hits and the slightest bit of atmospheric irregularity.
So, how does your average commercial flight compare to the high speeds that military jets are known for flying at? Well, let’s take a measly look at the numbers.
A simple glance at most airline statistics and the average speed of commercial planes will tell you that most planes only travel at a Mach of 0.6 to 0.9, meaning they aren’t even coming close to the high speeds that we know you’re curious to learn more about.
So what does something more approachable, say Mach 2 or 3, feel like? Well, in truth, there isn’t much difference when flying at these speeds when it comes to pure physical sensation.
For jets and planes to go faster safely, they must be higher in the atmosphere. The atmosphere is thinner the higher up you go, so the aircraft doesn’t undergo as much drag or pressure from the atmosphere. In fact, many high-speed jet rides don’t actually undergo any kind of turbulence at all, making them very safe compared to the bumpier commercial flights that many of us are more used to.
While there are differences that you can notice when in the cockpit, they are very slight. For example, you will feel lighter when flying over certain parts of the earth at a fast enough speed, which can be quite curious. Another difference is that the faster you go in a jet or plane, the easier it is to see the curvature of the Earth.
This is because you’re moving faster and essentially covering more ground from the air, making it easier to see what the world looks like. Plus, you’re traveling at a much higher height to go faster.
Will You Ever Go At High Speeds?
While mach speed flight is an experience that many people want to experience in their lives, the truth is that these kinds of experiences aren’t very attainable for many folks. The technology required to make machines capable of traveling at these speeds makes them extremely proprietary, so they’re much more difficult to get ahold of for average folks.
Luckily, there are a few careers that you can pursue if traveling at high speeds is something that you’ve been dreaming of doing yourself. Being a fighter jet pilot or astronaut is the most obvious way to get into these types of aerial escapades, whether you are flying a fighter jet or other military aircraft.
What Else Is There to Know About Going Mach 10?
There was a bit of a famous online debate about the realism portrayed in that Top Gun film we brought up earlier, where Tom Cruise was seen ejecting from his fast-flying military aircraft and falling to earth without a scratch on him.
While the atmosphere would be much thinner when ejecting at this speed, the more questionable thing would be his re-entry into the regular atmosphere. You see, you can’t necessarily deploy your parachute at certain heights for a few reasons.
If you’re too high up, you’ll have to worry about passing through lots and lots of moisture, potentially dampening your parachute and making the whole thing a lot less safe and likely to work. So, you have to wait before you can deploy your parachute, which means as you fall, you’ll be picking up an awful lot of speed.
The heat that this experience would generate could be monumentally bad for you and your health. Certainly, something to remember before trying to eject from a plane going so fast.