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Super Underwhelming

December 19, 2019 2 min read

Super Underwhelming

Though I’m now a C-17 pilot, that wasn’t always the case. I flew the CT-4B and the PC-9 during Pilot’s Course, then transitioned onto the Hawk-127 before I finally had a crack at the Super Hornet course.

It turned out that I wasn’t a particularly good Fighter Pilot, so after a few months we all enthusiastically agreed that I should move over to the C-17. Though I didn’t make it all the way through the course, I still have some great stories from my short time on the Super Hornet. Here’s one of them:

I’d broken the sound barrier before in the Hawk. This is not an easy thing to achieve - you have to do the painfully long climb up to 40,000 feet, then perform an aggressive zero-G bunt until you’re pointing almost directly at the ground. Maybe, if you’re lucky - depending on the temperature, your particular aircraft and the vibe on the day - you might get a sniff of Mach 1.01 (i.e. 1% faster than the speed of sound).

One of the sortie objectives for my first flight in the Super Hornet was to experience “Supersonic Flight”. I was keen to see how it compared to the hyper-aggressive Hawk-127 manoeuvre.

When I set full afterburner on my first ever Super Hornet takeoff I thought we might actually achieve supersonic while still on the runway - the jet accelerated like nothing I had ever seen before. I think my exact words were “Hoooooooolyyyyy FUCK”.

The instructor gently reminded me to continue flying the aeroplane.

We rocketed out of Amberley out to the training area, and when I eventually caught up to the aeroplane the instructor told me to apply full power until we became supersonic.

I slammed the throttle forward and ignited the afterburners. There was a bit of a kick, but nothing like on the runway. I was excited - I was about the break the sound barrier for the second time!

I’m not sure what I was expecting to happen. Maybe an intense rumbling through the aircraft? A faint ‘boom’ as we became faster than the speed of sound? Maybe the stars around us would become long lengths of light in similar fashion to Han Solo engaging the hyperdrive on the Millennium Falcon?

Instead - the Mach readout increased with ease. Compared to the life threatening supersonic death dive of the Hawk, this was the most benign thing I had ever seen.

Mach 0.8

Mach 0.9

Mach 1.0

Mach 1.1 ..

“Oh”, I said.

“It’s a bit underwhelming isn’t it?”, the instructor said,

“Nothing like the Hawk. Very safe. Now take us out of afterburner, you’re going to run out of fuel”.

This Super Hornet sticker available here.

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