A Brief History
On March 30, 1939, the Heinkel 100 prototype fighter airplane flew at 463 mph in level flight, at the time the fastest airplane ever. People have always been fascinated by fast things, whether they be people, animals or machines. Here is a list of 10 famous fast things that at one time were the fastest of their type or currently reign as the modern speed champ.
10. The Swift.
Monty Python posed the question in the movie, the Holy Grail, with the “correct” answer being another question, “European or North African?“ Actually, an entire family of birds appropriately known for being among the fastest fliers of all birds, the swiftest of the swifts is the fastest bird in level flight (White Throated Needletail) and can fly in level flight over 100 mph. There are also lizards known as swifts, but they cannot run 100 mph. The Peregrine Falcon can reach 242 mph in a dive.
9. Apollo Re-entry Vehicle.
The American space capsule used to return astronauts to the Earth from flights to the moon holds the record for manned flight within Earth’s atmosphere at 30 times the speed of sound (Mach 30).
8. F8F Bearcat.
A US Navy fighter plane arriving at the end of World War II, a sample modified for speed holds the official record as the fastest piston engine propeller driven airplane at 528 mph; however, this record is only the official record, and unofficially other piston engine aircraft have flown faster in level flight, perhaps by as much as almost 50 mph. Note: In a dive, piston engine airplanes such as the British Spitfire and the US P-38 Lightning have flown at speeds approaching 700 mph.
7. Formula Rossa Roller Coaster.
Located in the United Arab Emirates at Ferrari World, this thrill ride will take you to a maximum of 149 mph! By comparison, the fastest roller coasters in the US are the Kingda Ka (at Six Flags Adventure) and the Top Thrill Dragster (at Cedar Point) at 128 mph and 120 mph respectively. The incredible speed is achieved in only 5 seconds and is possible by the use of a hydraulic catapult (similar to an aircraft carrier). If you are wondering, the operators will make you wear protective goggles to keep you from being blinded by a bug or debris that may hit your eyes.
6. Bugatti Veyron.
Factory limited to 257 mph, an example with the limiter off holds the record as the fastest production street legal car ever made at 267 mph. To build a car that fast and still meet the myriad of safety and pollution control requirements is astounding. With only 300 of the previous model built and only 30 of the newest Super Sport (and slightly faster) Veyron’s made, there really is not much production to speak of. At a price of over $2 million each, low production is not a surprise. What is a surprise, is that despite its name, the Bugatti Veyron is made by Volkswagen in Germany.
At 763 mph this jet engine powered vehicle is the only land wheeled vehicle to have broken the sound barrier. Unlike a normal race car that achieves its speed by an engine that turns its wheels, the ThrustSSC is basically a coaster with a jet engine pushing it along the ground. The land speed record for a vehicle powered by its wheels is a more sedate 403 mph by the Bluebird CN7.
4. .204 Ruger Caliber Rifle.
With a commercially available round capable of a muzzle velocity of 4400 feet per second, this is the fastest commercially available rifle ammunition in the world. For perspective, this speed is almost twice as fast a bullets fired from the AK-47 rifle and three times as fast as bullets fired from a .44 magnum pistol. This round was designed for hunting varmints, small to medium animals such as prairie dogs and coyotes.
In 1976, the US Air Force allowed one of these top secret reconnaissance jets to publicly break the world record in level flight by an air breathing jet (as opposed to a rocket) by flying almost 2,200 mph. These aircraft have since been retired, causing speculation as to whether or not the USAF has a replacement secret jet even faster.
The fastest runner of all land animals, the cheetah’s top speed was a matter of speculation until recently, when verified clockings over 70 mph were made. A cheetah can reach 62 mph in only 3 seconds, faster than all but the fastest cars. The most famous cultural reference to the cheetah is Chester Cheetah, the cartoon mascot of Cheetos cheese puffs.
1. Usain Bolt.
We have reserved the top honor for the fastest human being of all time (so far). Bolt, a 2 time Olympic champion has run the fastest timed 100 meter race ever, in 9.58 seconds. Translated into miles per hour, during his peak speed in the middle of the race Bolt hit a high speed of 27.7 mph. As fantastic as that is, it is sobering to know a Dachshund (wiener dog) can actually outrun Mr. Bolt! (Is that why some people call them dash-hound?)
Question for students (and subscribers): Who would win a race, Superman or The Flash? If you know your history of comic books, perhaps you know the answer! Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Guinness World Records. Guinness World Records 2014. Guinness World Records, 2013.
Morse, Jenifer Corr. Scholastic Book of World Records 2014 (Best & Buzzworthy). Scholastic Paperbacks, 2013.