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Thursday, June 11, 2009

World's Fastest Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (and Other Stuff)

It may surprise you that beneath our gentle, gadget-loving exterior, there lies a closeted obsession with speed. Sure, we tend to talk about Twitter and have been known to spend hours debating the best instant-messaging client -- or the best sci-fi villain (it's so obviously IG-88) -- but we turn our heads just like the next person when a Ferrari F430 rolls by.

In honor of our innate love of all things fast, we've gathered up a list of the fastest things on (or nearly on) Earth. You'll find no cheetahs or peregrine falcons here, just the most crazy-quick contraptions humans have ever strapped themselves into. With that, let's punch it....

Fastest Plane: X-15
The title of fastest piloted plane belongs to the incredible X-15. This rocket-powered test plane was designed and built in the early 1960s to see how human pilots could handle flying themselves into space. Carried by a modified B-52, the X-15 would detach at 45,000 feet and immediately ignite its Reaction Motors XLR-99 rocket engine, blasting up to the edge of the stratosphere thanks to 57,000 pounds of thrust. Incidentally, several test pilots received astronaut wings from NASA for their X-15 flights into what's technically outer space.. On October 3, 1967, test pilot Pete Knight took the craft to a mind-bending 4,519 mph, which still stands as the absolute speed record for an airplane. At that speed, you could fly from New York to Los Angeles in approximately 25 minutes.

Fastest Car: SSC Ultimate Aero
Unlike most of the things on this list, the fastest car in the world can not only be driven, it can also be owned (provided, of course, that you have $600,000). Although the Bugatti Veyron is often cited as the fastest thing on four wheels, only the SSC Ultimate Aero actually holds the official title of world's fastest production car. Built by Shelby SuperCars (which is not affiliated with famed car designer Carroll Shelby), this 1,183-horsepower, American-made monster is capable of 256 mph. But, this thing doesn't just rule on straightaways -- the Ultimate Aero also holds the world slalom record (averaging 73.1 mph), which it snatched away from the Italy's greatest supercar, the Ferrari Enzo.

Fastest Boat: "Spirit of Australia"
Proving, like the X-15, that old-fashioned knowhow is often better than new technology, the fastest boat in history was built in the 1970s by a man named Ken Warby in his shed. "The Spirit of Australia" set the world water speed record of 317.6 mph all the way back in 1978, and the record still stands today. Apparently, chasing this record is one of the most dangerous endeavors in the world, since around 85-percent of those who give it a go die in their attempts. For the complete, grisly record, check out this great article from Wired.

Fastest Bicycle: Fred Rompelberg Custom Bike
On October 3rd, 1995, Fred Rompelberg rode his double-geared, custom-designed bike behind a motor dragster and used its slipstream to draft his way to 167 mph, the fastest speed ever on a bicycle. At that speed, he could easily outrun most police helicopters. Not that he'd be able to lose them -- the Bonneville Salt Flats, where Rompelberg set his record, stretch for over 150 square miles.

Fastest Elevator: Taipei 101 Tower
Pack your bags and hit Asia if you want fast elevators -- six of the ten fastest in the world are located there. To ride the fastest of them all, get yourself to Taiwan and the Taipei 101 Tower. Two of the tower's elevators, built by Toshiba and GFC Elevator, will rocket you to the 89th floor observation deck at a gut-wrenching 37 mph. For comparison, the Empire State Building's elevator (the 9th fastest in the world) clocks in at a plodding 16 mph.

Fastest Sailboat: l'Hydroptère
Sure, sailing seems placid, but if you've ever ripped it downwind amidst six-foot ocean swells, you know that 15 mph under sail can feel like 50. That's why the l'Hydroptère's speed of 69 mph is so completely insane. This hydrofoil-equipped trimaran holds the unofficial world record for a sailboat, and apparently is capable of going even faster -- in December of 2008, it topped 70 mph before capsizing in an epic crash that sent its cheering crew sprawling into the Mediterranean. Who ever said sailing wasn't exciting?

Fastest Train: JR Maglev
The distinction of being the fastest train in the world belongs to Japan's JR-Maglev. It set a world speed record for a manned, railed vehicle when it hit 361 mph on December 2nd, 2003. The train uses magnetic levitation to float above its track, which eliminates rail friction and allows it to achieve such swift speeds. Altogether more amazing is the French TGV -- this conventional train rode its metal wheels and track to a baguette-crisping 357 mph. That's only four miles per hour slower (357 mph) than the fancy-pants Maglev train.