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PostPosted: Thu Mar 17, '11, 5:30 am
Author's Note: This story was a writing experiment made prior to Test Flight and Hydrofoil (Read: not originally intended to be released), if you notice any similarities between this and the other two. I decided to dump it here, so it won't be lost if I accidentally kill my computer- I don't expect it to make any sense to you.

For those of you who need further information on the events of the story, you can read the operations manual for the XR series of spaceplaneshere. You've been warned.


October 29
3:50 PM GMT, 10:50 AM local time
Kennedy Space Center, Runway 33/15

You've been anxiously been sitting in the same place for nearly an hour. Today, you have been offered the chance of a lifetime- you are an acting copilot on board the XR2 Ravenstar, a futuristic spaceplane that is leading the way to space travel for the masses. Forget the suborbital trips from Virgin Galactic, the XR2 regularly rendezvous with the recently commercialized International Space Station, and can even handle Earth-Moon transfers with some assistance from orbital refuel vessels. Your mind is swimming with thoughts and feelings, but the question you want answered the most is, "Where is the pilot?" You've been too busy helping the maintenance crew with preparations to ask, but the launch is only minutes away now. You've flown a variety of aircraft, and have gone through basic astronaut training, but a Cessna is nothing like this beast. Even the passengers have boarded, already. As you are about to activate the radio to ask, you spot a man walking down the runway in a pressure suit. The orange coloration of the suit, and a red stripe on the helmet, indicate that the young, bearded man is indeed your superior officer for your first flight.

He helps himself into the seat to your left and fastens himself in. “Howdy. I don't recognize you, are you my new second?” You indicate as such, and mention how you feel under-trained for such a complex machine. “Have you ever flown a fighter jet?” Before you can answer, “A jet is a piece of crap compared to what you're in now. This puppy pulls two-and-a-half G's down the runway, and that's with just the main engines! That's a naught to sixty of like 1 second, if my math doesn't fail me.”

You find the number to be beyond your grasp, but before you can wrap your head around the concept, he asks, “So, did you get everything geared up?” You point out the fuel gauges, and that all the switches on the upper panel are set to “Closed,” except for the airlock and nosecone, where the pilot climbed in through. “You're pretty sharp for fresh meat. But you missed a couple things.” With a few button presses, a series of lines and numbers appear on the windscreen; there's a Heads Up Display? A few more button presses, and the ship seals off from the outside, the only remaining umbilical being to an external radiator to prevent the ship from overheating on the tarmac, but that will break off when the ship leaves.

“I hope you don't mind, but I'm a lead foot, and I like my music, too.” The pilot connects an MP3 player to a microphone jack on the control panel, and some 80s music starts playing over the radio embedded in your helmet. “KSCX, Ravenstar 101. Request permission for takeoff.”

“Skies are clear, proceed when ready.” Due to the nature of your ship, the area surrounding the space center is marked as a no-fly zone until the XR2 is over the Atlantic. The pilot slams the throttle wide open, singing along with the music as you get thrown into your seat. “Revvin' up your engine, listen to her howl and groan. Metal under tension, beggin' you to touch and go....”

You watch the speed indicators as the beautiful machine barrels down the tarmac, the computer speaking to you and the pilot with a female voice as you build lift under the wings. “One-hundred knots... V1... Rotate.” As the speed exceeds 180 meters per second, you remember something from your scant training: To estimate your speed in miles per hour, you double the meters per second for an estimate, or multiply by 2.2 if you have the time to do so. The pilot engages the “Airspeed Hold” autopilot, which scales back the thrust to maintain just under 450 miles per hour.

“I've been dinged a couple times for going supersonic over Florida, and those fines aren't cheap.” You are amazed at how unprofessional your captain is, when he starts yanking at the control stick like a ten year old playing a fighter sim. “No, don't lecture me on passenger comfort, either. If there was a problem, I'd have already been fired.” The heading indicator on the computer screens in front of you reads “042”, and the pilot rolls the ship level for a moment, and then pulls the nose back to 70 degrees. You give a nervous look back at the pilot, who laughs at you. “We need thinner air, so the ship won't burn up. Trust me, man. I may be a touch crazy, but I know what I'm doing.” As the altitude increases into the kilometers, the pilot turns off the autopilot and jams the throttle back open.

The XR2 levels off a little under 24 kilometers just as the computer reported speeds exceeding Mach 1. The pilot reaches at the upper panel and opens the “SCRAM Doors.” He looks at you. “This is the point where we leave the realm of airplanes, and enter that of science fiction.” Once your computer screen shows the Mach speed as 3.6, the pilot turns off the main engines, and activates twin Scramjet motors, and you notice how the roar of the rockets is replaced with a scream similar to a turbine engine. The pilot sets the autopilot to hold a pitch of 5 degrees, as he reaches over to change one of the displays. “Right now, there are no moving parts pushing us forward. I want you to watch the accelerometers, and the temperature probes.” A simple diagram of the ship pops up on a special touchscreen, and you press it to change the units to Fahrenheit. It's only about 80 degrees right now. As you start to grow bored, the ship finally attains the speed for the motors to work, and you suddenly find yourself thrown into your seat as the Z accelerometer actually pushes 3.7 G! With so much acceleration, you barely notice the temperature on the nose and wings slide over 1,700 degrees, as the friction of composite airfoils on thick air reach immeasurable levels. You point out the temperatures, and the pilot changes the pitch angle slightly to make sure the hull doesn't overheat.

You notice another temperature gauge, measuring heat from the “Scram Diffusers,” in degrees Kelvin. You don't know the exact conversion to Fahrenheit, but 6,000K and rising is pretty warm in your book. The pilot keeps on the throttle until the diffuser gauge turns yellow, at which point he closes the doors, pitches up another 5 degrees, and fires the main engines. “Watch the ApA number; we're going for 200 kilometers.” When the number is reached, you personally pull the throttle lever to off. The pilot deploys the radiator to keep the ship's computers from overheating, and opens the bay doors to jettison the fuel tanks in the cargo hold. He turns to you as you watch a small screen showing the tanks silently glide up and away. “Welcome to space, cowboy. You might wanna check out Earth before the next burn, because the sun sets in five minutes at our current speed.” The pilot uses the RCS to turn the ship sideways so you can get a better look at the world below, and despite the gaudy guitar solo echoing in your head, you find yourself taken aback by the beauty of the planet below....
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