When it comes to speed, most people don't even think about it until a police officer asks if they know how fast they were going. But world speed records are kept for just about everything that goes. Here are some records for the world's fastest vehicles on land and sea.
Land Speed Record
The land speed record was set on October 15, 1997, by Andy Green, a British fighter pilot in the Royal Air Force. On Black Rock Desert, a dry lake bed in northwestern Nevada, Green's TurboSSC jet-propelled car reached a speed of 763.035 miles per hour, making him the first driver to reach supersonic speed (761 mph) and break the sound barrier.
Green broke his own record of 714.144 miles per hour, which was set on September 25, 1997. The TurboSSC is powered by two after-burning Rolls-Royce Spey engines -- the same engines used in the Phantom jet fighters Green flew for the RAF. The jet engines powering the TurboSSC burn 4.8 gallons of fuel per second and get about 0.04 miles per gallon.
Underwater Speed Records
Official underwater speed records -- usually achieved by military submarines -- are not kept due to the secrecy surrounding the capabilities of these warships. But in 1965, the USS Albacore, a Gato-class submarine, was clocked at 33 knots (38 mph), an unofficial underwater speed record. Claims of higher speeds have been made by submarine manufacturers but have not been officially measured.
Russia's Akula-class submarine allegedly can travel at 35 knots (approximately 40 miles per hour) submerged, while the Alfa-class submarine it replaced was said to reach 44.7 knots (approximately 51.4 miles per hour) for short periods.
Fastest Person on Two Wheels
The fastest person on two wheels is motorcycle racer Chris Carr. On September 5, 2006, at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah -- the site of many land speed records -- Carr broke the motorcycle land speed record with an average speed of 350.8 miles per hour over two passes on a fixed-length course in two opposite-direction runs.
Of the two passes, Carr's fastest was 354 miles per hour. He was riding the Number Seven Streamliner, a specially designed bike with a turbocharged V4 engine.
World's Fastest Speedboat
The world's fastest speedboat was actually built in the backyard of the man who set the record. On October 8, 1978, at Blowering Dam, Australia, motorboat racer Ken Warby captained Spirit of Australia to a world-record average speed of 318.75 miles per hour, breaking his own record of 290.313 miles per hour set the previous year.
Warby designed and built Spirit of Australia himself, using balsa wood, fiberglass, and a military surplus engine he bought for only $69. This is a dangerous sport -- no other speedboat racer has clocked in at more than 300 miles per hour and survived.
Sailing Speed Record
The fastest sailing vessel, and the smallest, is the sailboard, a surfboard with a sail attached. Windsurfing world champion Finian Maynard of Ireland holds the world sailing speed record of 48.7 knots (about 56 miles per hour), set on a 500-meter course near Saintes Maries de la Mer, France, in April 2005. Maynard broke his own record of 46.82 knots (53.9 miles per hour), set on November 13, 2004.
Fastest Long-Distance Sailing Ship
According to the World Sailing Speed Record Council, the fastest long-distance sailing ship is the Orange II, a 125-foot-long catamaran. Piloted by French yachtsman Bruno Peyron, the crew of the Orange II set the record on a transatlantic trip in July 2006, crossing the Atlantic at an average speed of 28 knots (about 32 miles per hour) and completed the trip in 4 days, 8 hours, 23 minutes, and 54 seconds.
Peyron and the Orange II also own the round-the-world sailing record set on March 16, 2005. They circled the globe (27,000 nautical miles) in 50 days, 16 hours, and 20 minutes, with an average speed of 17.89 knots (around 20 miles per hour).
World's Fastest Trains
In the category of trains with wheels, the French TGV, a high-speed train, is the fastest in the world. On April 3, 2007, under test conditions, the high-speed train consisting of two engine cars and three double-decker passenger cars set the record of 357.2 miles per hour.
In the category of magnetic levitation trains -- where the cars float above a guidance track using powerful electric magnets -- the Japanese JR-Maglev three-car train set a record of 361 miles per hour on December 2, 2003.
But, without people on board -- and with rockets attached -- railed vehicles can go much faster. On April 30, 2003, an unmanned four-stage rocket sled (a small railroad car with rockets strapped to it) reached a speed of 6,416 miles per hour at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico.
Bicycle Speed Records
Bicycles require human power to move forward, but that doesn't mean they can't move fast. The record for the fastest speed achieved on a regular (upright) bicycle belongs to Fred Rompelberg, who in 1995, reached a speed of 166.944 miles per hour while being paced by a motor vehicle, which substantially reduced his wind resistance.
The official record for an unpaced upright bicycle is 51.29 miles per hour over 200 meters set by Jim Glover in Vancouver in 1986. Recumbent bicycles -- those funny-looking bikes where the rider sits in a reclined position with legs extended forward -- are aerodynamically faster than conventional bicycles. Canadian cyclist Sam Whittingham set the recumbent bicycle speed record on October 5, 2002, reaching 81 miles per hour over 200 meters with a flying start and no pace vehicle.
Fastest Steam-Powered Vehicle
Probably the longest-running speed record belongs to a steam-powered vehicle, the Stanley Steamer. Between 1902 and 1927, these steam-powered automobiles were produced for the public by the Stanley twins -- Francis and Freelan -- through their Stanley Motor Carriage Company.
In 1906, a Stanley Rocket driven by Fred Marriott set the world land speed record for all automobiles, reaching 127.7 miles per hour at the Daytona Beach Road Course in Florida. While the land speed record has been broken by cars with internal combustion or jet-powered engines, the Stanley Steamer still owns the record for steam-powered cars.
Fastest Electric (Battery-Powered) Vehicle
Electric cars are usually thought to be slow, but not the Buckeye Bullet. This electric (battery-powered) vehicle, designed and built by engineering students at The Ohio State University, holds both the U.S. and international land speed records, which have different sets of rules.
To set the international record, an electric car must run a 1-kilometer course twice in opposite directions within a one hour time period. On October 13, 2004, at the Bonneville Salt Flats, driver Roger Schroer set the new international land speed record of 271.737 miles per hour.
To get the U.S. record, the vehicle had to be impounded for four hours between two qualifying runs so that it couldn't be repaired, adjusted, or tampered with.
On October 15, 2004, the Buckeye Bullet, driven again by Schroer on the same course, set the U.S. land speed record at 314.958 miles per hour.
Fastest Roller Coaster
While it never leaves the park, Kingda Ka roller coaster at Six Flags Great Adventure amusement park in Jackson, New Jersey, is recognized as the world's fastest roller coaster.
Opened in 2005, the Kingda Ka is a hydraulic launch rocket coaster that reaches its top speed of 128 miles per hour in just 3.5 seconds. Its 456-foot-tall tower is also the world's tallest for a coaster. Built by the Swiss ride manufacturer Intamin, the Kingda Ka uses an over-the-shoulder safety restraint system to keep riders in their seats, but there's no guarantee it will keep their lunch in their stomachs.
Fastest Diesel-Powered Vehicle
The word diesel used to conjure up images of smelly buses and slow-moving trucks, but that picture changed on August 23, 2006, when the JCB DIESELMAX diesel-powered car driven by Andy Green averaged 350 miles per hour over two runs at the Bonneville Salt Flats. On the first run, he hit 365.779 miles per hour.
The JCB DIESELMAX was built by the British company JCB, which normally makes diesel-powered backhoes, loaders, and other types of construction equipment.
Our list of land and water records concludes on the next page with the fastest lawn mower.
Fastest Lawn Mower
Most kids hate mowing the lawn, but that might change if their parents bought them this riding mower. On July 4, 2006, at the Bonneville Salt Flats, Bob Cleveland drove his specially-built lawn mower at an average speed of just over 80 miles per hour.
Cleveland assembled the mower himself, using a Snapper lawn tractor with a 23-horsepower Briggs & Stratton V-twin modified engine and other custom accessories. At the time he set the record, Cleveland was an eight-time champion in the National Lawn Mower Racing Series.
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