How Fast can Man Travel? (Feb, 1929)

Apparently Einstein’s work hadn’t really sunk in yet. It’s the acceleration, not the speed that gets you.

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How Fast can Man Travel?

Is there a limit to the speed which the human body can withstand? Five miles a minute caused no ill effects for the English aviator who recently attained this speed.

RECENTLY broken records for speed in various methods of transportation have bettered the marks of recent years by such a wide margin that scientists are asking the question, “How fast can man travel before the functions of his body cease to be normal? Is there a limit?”

For many years the standard American idea of “fast going” has been travel on the 20th Century Limited. This train travels the 1,500 odd miles between New York and Chicago in 20 hours. The average running speed is reputed to be in the neighborhood of 80 miles an hour.

But, in methods of transportation, there is a new era at hand.

The nation is becoming airminded rapidly, and is accepting the airplane and the new type motorbus as the coming common conveyors. The reason is summed up in the one word, speed!

Tomorrow the 20th Century will be considered slow. New machines synonymous with speed will have come into common usage. How fast will they go? How much faster will they be than present modes of travel? And how much of the speed which these machines have at their command can be utilized for moving human beings?

That is the purpose of recent speed trials in which new automotive and aeronautical records have been shattered. Much has been learned.

For instance, the recent rivalry for the world’s automobile speed record between Malcolm Campbell, Frank Lockhart, and J. M. White produced the knowledge that man can travel at 211 miles an hour without suffering any ill effects. Neither nausea, faintness, nor mental aberration were noticed. It has been assumed that most normal human beings could travel comfortably at such speeds for prolonged periods without suffering.

D’Arcy Greig, English ace, recently flew his Supermarine-Napier seaplane at an average speed of 319.57 m.p.h.

Just how fast are the speeds of these machines in relation to each other? The 20th Century, traveling to Mars, would take 68-1/2 years. J. M. White’s Triplex could make the 40,000,000-mile trip in 26-1/2 years. D’Arcy Greig would be there in 13-2/3 years!

  1. John Savard says: August 30, 200912:24 am

    One could have a meaningful speed for human travel by noting how high an acceleration one can stand… and how fast one would be going if one were being accelerated to that extent for half a lifetime.

    But, indeed, they’re missing something. Such as the speed at which the Earth orbits the Sun.

  2. Sam says: August 30, 200912:43 am

    The equivalence of inertial frames goes back to Galileo, actually.…
    This article is pretty ridiculous, indeed… but that’s what we love, isn’t it?

  3. Bernd says: August 30, 20097:08 am

    Honestly, whatever the editor was smoking while writing that article, i’d whish some of my professors would smoke the same.
    How come D’Arcy would need half the time of White when he was only 1.5 times faster?
    Given the numbers they claim to be using, D’Arcy Greig would actually need 14,28 years, not 13,67.

  4. JMyint says: August 30, 200911:36 am

    It’s Einsteinian physics they needed to grasp it was Newtonian physics and look into Hohmann’s formulas on orbits. Accelerating a comfortable 10 metres per second per second (slightly over 1 g) it would take 347 days to reach the speed of light if’n you started from a complete standstill. Adding rotational and obital velocity would shorten the amount of time subtracting it would increase the time.

  5. -DOUG- says: August 30, 20097:44 pm

    Oh, darn, there’s an intereting one to figure out. The distance between the Earth and Mars is not static, sometimes they are closer, sometimes they are farther. They will be one distance apart as you leave one, another distance apart as you reach the other. For that reason, it is even possible to travel two different speeds and cover the exact same distance going from one to the other?

    To use one of those legendary word problems from grade school, two trains leave cities 3,000 miles apart at the same moment, travelling 50mph. Just as they do, two flies take off from the headlight of one train and head for the other train, one travelling 75mph, the other 100mph. Which one will fly farther to meet the train? Turn the exact problem around with the trains heading AWAY from each other, and it is the opposite fly that will fly farther to reach the other train.

    It’s more complicated to figure this between Earth and Mars since they aren’t truly moving toward or away from each other, they’re merely following differing eliptical orbit patterns at different speeds. Even the Moon is referred to as “Average distance” as it’s movements are in direct relation to the Earth.

    So my thought is that by whatever method he figured this, the estimate was that D’Arcy would travel less than the average of 40 million miles because he could make the trip quicker and take advantage of some perceived oppotunity to travel a shorter distance than White, who would travel more than 40 million miles.

    Then again, maybe not. We can’t consider the source, because there’s no author listed. Physics expert or instant expert? Honoring the boast of “Written so you can understand” on a subject like this can cause distortions that interfere with accuracy. Eienstein’s work in 1929 really hadn’t sunk in, meanwhile. There was much still to come. Did the writer know who Eienstein WAS? Just how far had Eienstein progressed on relevant material by then?

    Far simplier for me to point out the Supermarine S.5 pictured with the Napier Lion engine was a part of the RAF’s ‘High Speed Flight’ unit, formed as a result of the British embarassment in the Scheider Trophy race. An old article on THAT would be fascinating, as this plane evolved into the Supermarine Spitfire, but also because The Flight succeeded at turning failure into success and winning the Scheider Trophy 3 straight times, thus keeping it outright. When the job was done in 1931 Supermarine was put to work on creating what amounted to a short range racing plane with guns to catch incoming bombers that had crossed the English Channel. Although the sturdier Hawker Hurricane chot down more planes over the course of World War II, the Spitfire probably saved more lives.

    D’Arcy Greig was a minor figure, he didn’t fly the victorious S.5 in 1927 and was added to the team for 1929 to fly the then outdated plane in case the newer S.6’s encountered problems, and they did. But as Flight Officer H.R. Waghorn’s malfunctioning plane settled into the water, he was unaware that he had already managed to complete the required distance and had won the race. Greig lost his battle with the top Italian entry and finished 3rd, at least if I remember right. I can’t find confirmation online.

    I’m curious just when Greig flew 319.57mph and set a record, I’d expect it to be in a race. Waghorn won the 1929 race at 328mph, and I’m unaware of prior races Greig may have competed in. November 4, 1928, 3 months before the article he made timed test runs up to 322mph, but none at exactly 319.57mph. His second run, the first of 4 kept on record, was his fastest, so the pair of 319’s after were never the fastest a human had travelled. Perhaps our writer was working from faulty memories and wasn’t qualifying it as such. (Oh gee, I’m so glad I mentioned I can’t be certain D’Arcy was actually 3rd in the race.) Would that extra 3mph take 0.53 years off his time to get to Mars?

  6. Casandro says: September 1, 20092:14 am

    Actually back then all the fuzz was about travelling faster all the time. That trend kinda stopped in the 1980s after the Concorde came out. People realized that data processing was the new frontier.

  7. Toronto says: September 1, 20092:48 pm

    The Supermarine seaplane was an ancestor of the Spitfire.

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