Fastest Man on Earth

Sitting alone atop the Sonic Wind, Stapp looked like a pathetic figure. A siren wailed eerily, adding to the tension, and two red flares lofted skywards. Overhead, pilot Joe Kittinger, approaching in a T-33, pushed his throttle wide open in anticipation of the launch. With five seconds to go Stapp yanked a lanyard activating the sled's movie cameras, and hunkered down for the inevitable shock. The Sonic Wind's nine rockets detonated with a terrific roar, spewing 35-foot long trails of fire and hurtling Stapp down the track. "He was going like a bullet," Kittinger remembers. "He went by me like I was standing still, and I was going 350 mph." Just seconds into the run the sled had reached its peak velocity of 632 miles per hour -- actually faster than a bullet -- subjecting Stapp to 20 Gs of force and battering him with wind pressures near two tons. "I thought," continues Kittinger, "that sled is going so damn fast the first bounce is going to be Albuquerque. I mean, there was no way on God's earth that sled could stop at the end of the track. No way." But then, just as the sound of the rockets' initial firing reached the ears of far off observers, the Wind hit the water brake. The rear of the sled, its rockets expended, tore away. The front section continued downrange for several hundred feet, hardly slowing at all until it hit the second water brake."

Fastest Man on Earth
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