Not that odd

Humans accelerate pretty fast actually:

This adrenaline-packed video shows a top athlete going head-to-head with a fighter jet – with a very surprising result.

As the end of the race nears it seems like a close call but the sprinter just edges into the distance and pips the aircraft to the post.

It’s over 50 metres. For 100 the jet would win easily. And a human can beat a horse over short distances too (and also long, over 25 miles). Usually beat a car for 10 or 20 metres too.

We’re actually pretty zippy off the blocks.

41 thoughts on “Not that odd”

  1. Well of course they’re going to pick a distance they think the bloke can win.

    Still, a very cunning stunt.

  2. We are if we put in the training that lad has. Plenty of butter barrel lard arses around though.

  3. As a boy my acceleration was pathetic. But I was always picked for the 4 x 100 relay. The reason is obvious, innit?

  4. The aircraft’s engines are pretty inefficient at low speeds, too – in that installation, the intakes and exhaust are shaped to take advantage of the aircraft’s normal flying speed, and all sorts of weird, thrust-robbing and drag-inducing things can happen at low airspeeds (hence why some military jets have assorted vents, additional intakes, and other features to try to give better efficiency at takeoff and hence a shorter takeoff run).

    This came up many years ago when “Top Gear” did a drag race between some sports car and a Jaguar GR.3 with similar results, though the unkind commentary was that since the Jag was so underpowered by the end of its life that there were signs at Coltishall saying “Please do not use afterburner while taxying, it scorches the grass” it was an easy one to beat…

    If you built a dragster around an afterburning turbofan (and someone probably has…) it would be eyewateringly quick off the blocks… but nobody’s expecting it to break Mach at altitude.

    One reason why most sensible aircraft carriers use either catapults, or STOVL aircraft (with or without ski-ramp): if you just try to accelerate a jet fighter from a standing start without other assistance like vectored thrust, lift fans or RATO, you need either an unfeasibly huge ship for a long takeoff run, or else you flop off the end of the deck at barely above stall speed, even if only carrying half fuel and minimum weapons. (See the Russian and Chinese experience – the Indians seem to be doing slightly better but that’s with a different aircraft less unsuited to the role)

  5. Physics. Inertia, gravity and air/ground friction

    The jet has considerably more mass than the Human, so the force required to overcome its inertia, gravity and frictional forces is far greater, therefore it takes longer to accelerate from rest over a set distance compared to a Human.

    It is why there is handicapping in horse races.

  6. Jason,

    Thanks for that – you’ve added another reason to my list of why the Russian military might not be a major threat to anyone who is not a member of the Russian military there…

    Overall I like the fact that journalists seem to routinely miss the fact that humans evolved to escape predators (normally four legged and fast) by using acceleration and the ability to change direction (if you’ve ever played with a large dog, it is notable how much worse a predator is at turning at speed than humans). Mind you, they also seem to miss the fact that male humans at least are based on a frame evolved to run a marathon or more to bring down prey, so long-distance running a la Eddie Izzard is hardly superhuman (albeit it takes some level of determination and training). Indeed, both tendencies form a key part in most common human sports, which require the ability to run all game (maybe with breaks) and agililty. Maybe this says something about the normal levels of sporting activity amongst journalists?

  7. The Russian military jets are not usually engaged while rolling down the runway or at very slow speeds.
    Normal air to air combat would happen at high speeds. Range, weapons, countermeasures, pilot ability, aircraft ability and whether one or two seater affects things.

    Though as a cold war joke went –
    Two Soviet officers are sat in a bar in Madrid having a quiet drink after the war.
    By the way, one asks, who won the air war? Does it matter? his companion asks.

  8. Martin,

    It’s not about engaging in combat during takeoff: it’s being able to take off with enough fuel and weapons, to be then able to engage in combat without being the first to go bingo or winchester.

    Having to launch at half fuel with just a few self-defence AAMs might allow you to put on an impressive flying display for the admiring media before quickly landing back on, but it doesn’t give you a Combat Air Patrol or a long-range strike capability.

    When the Kuznetsov went into the Med to posture off Syria last year, her air wing didn’t conduct any strikes from the carrier: they ferried ashore to Bassel Al Assad where they’d load up on fuel and weapons before flying their missions. As it was, though, they still lost at least two aircraft just in that shuttling to and fro, out of an air wing of a dozen or less, and cut the deployment short…

  9. It’s not about engaging in combat during takeoff: it’s being able to take off with enough fuel and weapons, to be then able to engage in combat without being the first to go bingo or winchester.

    And also being able to land without ditching any (expensive) weapons you haven’t used and without having to dump so much fuel that you can’t afford to “go round again” if there is a problem on approach.

    Having said that, after being carrier guard “destroyer” for a couple of watches, everything stinks of AVGAS.

  10. bilbaoboy,

    The Russians have struggled to be a force to fear at sea, with their best effort being a short surge under Gorshkov in the 1970s and 1980s (untested in action, and rather shop-windowish). Their biggest naval battle honours consist of being courageously wiped out in a couple of battles by the Japanese in 1904-5. I’m not too worried about the Russian navy.

    On the other hand, taking on the Russians on home turf (or turf they consider theirs) can become very painful very fast, as evidenced during the punchier part of the fighting in the Ukraine back in 2014; in one example, two battalions of Ukranian armour and mechanised infantry were forming up to counter-attack a group of intruding ‘seperatist militia’ when without any warning the sky fell in on them. When the explosions stopped and the smoke cleared, those units had taken 90% casualties in two minutes…

    One brigade of the Russian Army has almost as much artillery, and more and better air defence, than today’s entire British Army. If push comes to shove with the Russians, we should volunteer to look after the blue bits of the map rather than play on land…

  11. The Russians have struggled to be a force to fear at sea,

    I was trying to tell a Russian this the other day. He’s convinced their navy is extremely powerful, as is their submarine fleet, and the Americans are scared. He says they will use their submarines to cut the US off from Europe in the event of a war, like the Germans tried in WWII. I don’t know if he’s making this up or he’s believing what he’s been told.

  12. Jason,

    You know that Russian artillery still suffers from the same problem as any other ground based-unit against modern military – it can be hit from outside artillery range. Especially as no-one is likely to invade Russia, so their air defences are somewhat irrelevant.

    Also, Russian artillery is effective in winning set piece combat, but do any modern armies (i.e. Ukraine) actual fight set pieces any more?

  13. Indeed, but as the old joke says, quantity has a quality all of its own and while Russian equipment is pretty basic, there is a lot of it to go round.

  14. Bloke in Costa Rica

    Humans are actually terrifyingly good predators. We can do the ambush and sprint stuff, but it’s as pursuit predators that we’re an absolute nightmare. Imagine you’re some wildebeest and this bunch of strange hairless bipeds hoves into view. Off you go until they’re out of sight. So you rest up—phew!—and carry on wildebeesting. And then, there they are again. So off you toddle. And, oh dear, they’re back. A couple of days of this, you fall over, and then they eat you. People (at least trained people, like our ancestors) have astounding stamina. A cheetah can go 60mph for a few seconds and then has to have a lie down. We can track prey for weeks.

  15. Should anyone ever find themselves in a position to make the bet, it is of course possible to beat a horse and rider over a 200 yard race.

    The trick being to make it a 4×50 yard shuttle.

  16. Tony

    Good point, now remind me, do we U.K. have enough ammo to shoot each Russian and do we have enough anti-tank rounds to kill each tank?

  17. Watchman,

    If you want to go and bother the Russian artillery (which quite considerably outnumbers, outguns and outranges ours) you need to find it, then you need to strike it, neither of which are straightforward.

    Unfortunately, unlike us the Russians take air defence very seriously, which is why their front line battalions each have half-a-dozen 2S6 or Pantzyr-S1 protecting them, with SA-13 and/or SA-15 at brigade level, SA-17 backing them up at the divisional level, and the whole under a SA-20 and -21 umbrella that can reach out and touch the unwary or careless past two hundred and fifty miles. (To say nothing of all the MANPADS and an all-arms air defence policy of “it flies, it dies”)

    Those are the air defences you’d need to get through to find and attack their ground forces in any landward fight (such as a liberation of disputed Ukrainian territory, or preventing the reincorporation of those “historically and ethnically Russian” parts of the Baltic States, for example) and they aren’t pleasant for the aviators to behold. (This is the “divisional warfighting near their borders”, not “us trying to get into Russia itself” which gets even worse)

    There are assorted tactics, techniques, procedures and weapons that have proven effective at suppressing or destroying enemy air defences (SEAD/DEAD) if you invest in training and sustaining them. Unfortunately, they’ve been gapped and taken “at risk” because they weren’t needed in Iraq or Afghanistan and therefore were declared no longer relevant.

    What happens if you just grit your teeth and fly through the flak? The Israeli experience in 1973 is instructive, against older, much less capable systems: a third of their air force destroyed in forty-eight hours and the survivors held back rather than face a total wipeout.

    The Russians avoid set piece battles: haltingly in South Georgia, then much more effectively in the Ukraine, they’ve used their firepower and their reconnaissance advantage (they can fly UAVs over their enemy, the Ukranians just know tjhe UAVs blow up and don’t come back) to smash any force big enough to interfere with their plans before it can get to grips with Russian – I mean, wholly independent seperatist militia – troops. It’s worked very well for them so far, playing to their strengths and masking their weaknesses.

  18. Shurely Jason, with enough Tomahawks and hellfires and assorted remotely controlled bangs air defence is less of an issue? (genuien question from ignoramus!)

  19. He’s convinced their navy is extremely powerful, as is their submarine fleet, and the Americans are scared. He says they will use their submarines to cut the US off from Europe in the event of a war, like the Germans tried in WWII.

    This used to be true, for the subs at least. Hence, amongst other things, the Invincible class. Which weren’t a third-rate Aircraft Carrier because that’s the only thing the Mob could get after the crabs stitched us up over CVA-01 (the Ark Royal, of ‘Sailing’ fame) but a serious attempt to provide a platform to do stuff the colonials were, and remain, seriously unwilling to risk their bloody huge airports to do.
    The fuss when an Oscar went ‘missing’ in the NE Atlantic was often fun to behold. Especially if there were CVBGs at sea.

  20. with enough Tomahawks and hellfires and assorted remotely controlled bangs air defence is less of an issue?

    Lots of U.K. (and to a lesser extent) US capabilities have been sacrificed on the altar of “not losing totally embarrassingly in Afghanistan”.

    Suppression (SEAD) and destruction (DEAD) of complex layered air defence is hard. Really hard.

    We have the kit to take out the vehicles. But we need to find out where they are and then get in range. Hellfire is short range. Kill the launch platform.

    Tomahawk is subsonic and large – an ideal target for your short range, mixed cannon and SACLOS guided missile air defence.

  21. Bloke in Italy,

    Remember Tomahawk is forty years old, is a subsonic and not especially sneaky missile, and the SA-10 system explicitly designed to counter it appeared in the early 1980s and has gone through several generations since. It’s not a case of “oh, no, TLAM is useless” but getting them through Russian-style defensive layers requires a lot of planning and support, of the sort we’ve taken a long holiday from being able to do. (Even the Iraqis in 1991 with their degraded air defences were able to shoot down a noticeable percentage of TLAMs – figures range from ten to fifty per cent – and that was with the US doing most of the SEAD)

    Likewise, Hellfire is a good anti-tank missile, but it’s fired from a helicopter and you need to live long enough to get that close; by the time you’re using weapons like that or Brimstone you’ve already defeated the air defences.

    There are a variety of SEAD weapons like HARM (US, proven, effective, we don’t have any) and ALARM (British, very good kit, until we retired it without replacement a few years ago) but the Russians are a tough nut to crack when they choose to be – which is why, when Trump hit a Syrian air base with TLAM recently, the target was carefully chosen for a variety of reasons; it wasn’t a major airfield, and it was outside the coverage of the Russian systems covering their enclave in Latakia.

    We’re pretty well provided for slapping Daesh jihadis and Afghan insurgents, provided we can find them and get the targeteers to clear the strike (a lot of heartache does go into avoiding collateral casualties, whether by manned or unmanned strike) but the focus has been on precision strikes in permissive airspace where the problems are “can you positively confirm the target’s identity?” and “can you confirm no civilians in the blast radius”?

    That’s meant our ability to get into opposed airspace, find the enemy’s BM-30 or Iskander batteries,(the real ones, not the decoys), strike them effectively and get out still alive, has withered considerably from the Cold War days, while the defences have improved considerably.

  22. Bloke in North Dorset


    Its nearly 30 years since I left the army so I found your analysis fascinating, thanks.

    Most of what you describe is really Russia protecting its own borders and given their history hardly surprising, especially since they lost their outer defensive ring of Warsaw Pact countries. IIRC their doctrine was no Russian border with a NATO country during the cold war.

    When I served BAOR/NATO was really in Germany to slow an Soviet attack to give politicians a chance to negotiate before they over ran us by sheer weight if numbers, and the possibility of nuclear war, do they still have that capability?

    Also, they always said/implied nuclear weapons were tactical rather than our strategic, is that still the case?

  23. @Jason Lynch and
    @Surreptitious Evil

    Good info.

    Similar to answers I’ve received on Arrse when eg asking about Kuznetsov & its SUs

    Hadn’t seen that setup before SU is STCAT

  24. Bloke in Costa Rica

    BiND: I think the assumption was that tactical use of nuclear weapons would have escalated to strategic in pretty short order so it was a distinction that made no difference. I remember in the mid-80’s chatting to a bloke from Jane’s who’d been in on a lot of the wargames and that was his takeaway from it all (the Sovs used them first in response to catastrophic losses in aviation and first echelon forces, then we enthusiastically responded, and then everyone died).

  25. When I served BAOR/NATO was really in Germany to slow an Soviet attack to give politicians a chance to negotiate before they over ran us by sheer weight if numbers,

    The Soviet “weight of numbers” was in part illusory. It required counting 1) all the numbers back in the USSR, which was a long way to the front and 2) assuming the Warsaw Pact fought alongside the Russians.

    Assuming that Poles will die for Russians is a big ask. During the Solidarity crisis the Poles massed against the Russians. I would suggest that in a shooting war, you can rely on the Poles to fight against the Russians.

    During the Cold War the Soviets invaded several countries. Allies mostly, as it happens. That suggests their little Pact wasn’t very sound.

    The CIA published figures for the numbers of tanks during the Cold War was always worth a laugh. It counted all Soviet reserve tanks, no matter how crappy, but only active NATO ones. It counted Yugoslavians, as if they were going to fight alongside the Soviets, but not French when they were out. Nor was any account taken of the USSR having to guard against China or Finland etc, nor internally in most of its “allies”.

    The Soviets always had more stuff than NATO, but given their crappy economy they struggled to make the difference big enough to count.

  26. BiND,

    I don’t know the answer re. nuclear weapons, but I did read a fair bit of the discussion then and since on how we planned to use them and what came out of the fUSSR about their doctrine.

    The West saw “weapons of mass destruction” – nuclear, because we didn’t do chemical – mostly as a Great Big Step, where the beginning of battlefield weapons trying to break up Soviet Operational Manoeuvre Groups (“villages and hamlets in North Germany are typically spaced five to ten kilotons apart” – and the fabled ‘neutron bomb’, claimed to be intended to kill civilians but leave their money intact but actually designed to give tank crews a lethal dose of radiation, tanks being remarkably resistant to thermal pulse and blast) would rapidly and irreversibly escalate into a full-on game of Global Thermonuclear War, with occasional dissent from folk like Hackett (“The Third World War”, 1978 or so) who hopefully thought that the first nuclear exchange – he had the Soviets nuke Birmingham, and us striking Minsk in retaliation – might shock everyone into common sense.

    The Soviets saw a continuum of weapons, effects, and risks, and considered that they would move up – or down – that spectrum as the situation demanded, giving them the initiative; especially since they considered the value of striking non-nuclear members of NATO and daring the US, France and/or Britain to retaliate and risk a response in turn. Would the US really accept a few megatons of instant sunshine visiting St Louis, or Minneapolis, or Seattle, to avenge Liege or Antwerp or Wilhelmshaven? What if the Soviets were drenching NATO airfields and ports in mustard gas and thickened VX, while piously promising not to use nuclear weapons (yet)?

    As Chester Draws points out, the Soviet threat was inflated in numbers, but they did think very hard about how they intended to use their forces; it’s still not clear how keen they were to start a fight, but if one came they intended not to lose it.

  27. Bloke in North Dorset

    Thanks Jason.

    I suppose when I was in Germany we got fed the party line on Soviet numbers. I was with an EW regiment and our Int Corps were usually scathing about Soviet equipment.

  28. Unfortunately, unlike us the Russians take air defence very seriously

    The problem, as Streetwise Professor is fond of pointing out, is a software problem, i.e. the quality of the people operating and maintaining the gear. In theory, the system could work well and the equipment is easily good enough. Whether the soldiers could be relied upon to keep it working is open to question. I lived in a supposedly strategic area of Russia and the military bases were open for all to see. Most of the soldiers lived in unbelievably decrepit barracks and in summer the equipment was overgrown with weeds. Obviously it’s not all like this, but how much is like this would determine how well the overall military performs.

  29. Reminds me of a story about an airbase in the Russian far east wherein there had been a shortage of brake fluid which was replaced by vodka. Unknown to the Americans, the airbase was then effectively out of order because the maintenance crew were getting drunk siphoning the vodka out of the jets.

  30. BIND

    Most of what you describe is really Russia protecting its own borders and given their history hardly surprising, especially since they lost their outer defensive ring of Warsaw Pact countries. IIRC their doctrine was no Russian border with a NATO country during the cold war.

    This book is a fascinating read for anyone interested in current military strategies around the world :

    Prisoners of Geography

  31. Bloke in Costa Rica

    The other thing the Jane’s guy said was that one of the biggest problems NATO would have had was traffic management to handle the two million or so Czechs, Poles, Hungarians etc. that would have deserted on day one.

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