A Single Boeing 777 Engine Delivers Twice the Horsepower of All the Titanic's

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The RMS Titanic weighed almost 50,000 tons and could carry 3,500 people. Before it sunk, it was world-famous as the massive titan of the sea. Its multiple engines, powered by 159 coal furnaces, were designed to deliver 46,000 horsepower.

Compare that to today's beastly mode of transport: the Boeing 777. Bangalore Aviation points out that a single GE90-115B engine puts out over 110,000 horsepower, or more than twice the design output of all the Titanic's steam engines.

And that power is obviously hooked up to a much smaller vehicle. The Titanic had to carry 14,000,000 pounds of coal alone; the 777 has a total weight of only 775,000 pounds.

Just something to contemplate as you fly back to or from home for the holidays.

Commenter Rogerone0 makes this excellent point in the comments. When it comes to exerting power, horsepower isn't all there is to it.

If you could put the Titanic in Boston Harbor about a 1/2 mile south of Logan airport and you placed a 777 on the runway and then connected the two by a superstrong/super light cable. Then you told the 777 to put both engines at full throttle the cable would flatten but the titanic wouldn't perceptibly begin to move. Then after 10 seconds or so you tell the titanic to go forward slow or 1/8th forward. The Titanic would then slowly pull the 777 off the end of the runway in about three minutes. The comparison of power would not even be close.

Why? Steam engines have very high force multipliers (think Newton) and jets have very low force multipliers. Another better way to look at this is to compare torque. Steam is around x300 and jets are around x0.33.  Internal gas engines are around x1. This is why at county/farm tractor pulls old 1910s steam engine tractors with 15 hp always beat 1970s gas engine tractors with 500 hp.

The headline of this story has been updated to reflect we're talking horsepower in the comparison, not power in total.

Image: Reuters.
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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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