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Jack Smith

The Flight of the SST Boomerang

September 16, 1987|Jack Smith

Ivan Schreiber of Claremont is philosophically disturbed by an ad he saw in the paper recently for a ride in the Concorde, the supersonic Air France passenger plane that looks like a prehistoric winged lizard.

The ad has a picture of the Concorde, its prehensile snout raised as if about to pounce on some delectable prey.

"Catch the Concorde!" the ad exclaims. "A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

This opportunity is a two-hour "Discovery Flight," which takes off from McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, flies almost halfway to Hawaii, without landing anywhere, and comes back to Las Vegas.

It isn't that this flight to nowhere won't be filled with thrills and remarkable experiences. When it crosses California, the Concorde will be flying at Mach I--the speed of sound. And, conditions permitting, this will be increased to Mach II--twice the speed of sound. At ground speed that is about 1,400 m.p.h.

The cost of this supersonic joy ride is $985.

What gives Schreiber pause, to use his phrase, is what this adventure says about the nature of modern man.

"A preview of the millennium," he says. "For a little less than $1,000 we can now fly to nowhere and back at twice the speed of sound.

"In just two hours, we can arrive at exactly where we were with no alteration except for a few white-gloved servings of pate and caviar. The ultimate journey for the jaded jet-setter: the only destination for the solipsistic sybarite. . . ."

In explanation of that "white-gloved servings" I should note that Concorde invites us to "luxuriate in white-gloved service including champagne, wine, caviar, smoked salmon, French pate and more."

Passengers will be able to remember the voyage with an "exclusive souvenir gift package" and a signed certificate commemorating their "once-in-a-lifetime experience."

It adds that there will be a "live commentary" throughout the flight, and that each passenger will be allowed to visit the cockpit.

From an altitude of 10 to 12 miles, which the flight will attain, "the horizon bends; you can see the curvature of the Earth."

It does seem the ultimate in jet-set adventures. Expensive, fast, and going absolutely nowhere.

Schreiber is reminded of T. S. Eliot's observation:

. . . the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

But he thinks a line from Disney's "The Wind in the Willows" is more apt:

We're on our way to nowhere in particular

We're on our way to nowhere, where the roads are perpendicular

I myself am reminded of the title of Robert Paul Smith's enchanting memoir of childhood (and what has become of it): " 'Where did you go?' 'Out.' 'What did you do?' 'Nothing.' "

Or, as my mother used to say, "All dressed up and nowhere to go."

I'm not going to spend $985 for a two-hour flight from Las Vegas to Las Vegas, where I don't want to be in the first place, and to which I wouldn't care to return, except to land safely. Of all the large and popular cities in the world, Las Vegas is the closest to nowhere.

I admit, though, that it might be interesting to know that you were going twice the speed of sound, even though you had no sensation of speed.

I am reminded of one day more than half a century ago when we were giving my blind Uncle Charlie has first ride in an automobile over a dirt road near his farm in the Ozarks. My brother was driving the 1928 Oakland and pushed it up to 40 m.p.h.

"How fast we a-goin' now?" my Uncle Charlie shouted over the sound of the motor.

"Forty miles an hour!" my brother told him.

Uncle Charlie turned around and shouted to his wife: "You hear that, Elsie? We're a-goin' 40!"

Now that was a thrill.

I think I might also be moved by a sight of the Earth curving. Though I have seen that phenomenon in photographs, I will probably never be quite sure that the Earth isn't flat until I see it in reality.

Part of my problem, I'm afraid, is that I don't really care for caviar, salmon and pate. They are delicacies that simply do not satisfy the man in me. I would certainly be happy to partake of the champagne, however, since any emergency in which I might be asked to drive would be unimaginable.

Catch you later, Concorde. Bon voyage.

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