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Higher Flier OR My Little Blackbird TvTropes
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First Concept image of Dainty Dish using SR-71 Flight patch for cutie mark placeholder
For many of you who’ve read this story to it’s completion, I’m sure there are many, many questions concerning the character Dainty Dish and just who/what she was.
To begin with, I will start by explaining that Dainty Dish is an import and anthropomorph of the Lockheed Martin SR-71 Blackbird spyplane. Her background, personality, and physical characteristics were based off design and performance statistics for that aircraft. This came about during some thinking time at work. There was no special intent, no 'I must make an OC pony!' involved. I simply had a lot of time, in a large, empty room, with nobody else around, doing mind-numbingly simple tasks. (You have no idea.) She's not meant to be better than any other pony, she's not meant to overshadow Rainbow Dash, she's not there to be anything special. She simply Is.
But she is something special. She's the Blackbird, the 'Habu' as the Okinawa locals called it. And I made her to match it.
Let’s begin by examining the SR-71’s world-renowned records. I know many of you do not know much about the Bird.
The SR-71 Blackbird holds the records for highest speed, air-breathing production aircraft. A speed of 2,200 miles per hour (1,900 knots), roughly mach 3.3, as well as highest flying production aircraft with sustained altitude records of 85,000 feet.
To understand just HOW fast and HOW high this is. This is a speed of approximately one mile per second, 17 miles off the ground. Imagine a trip across town on the highway that takes almost twenty minutes. And that’s how HIGH the SR-71 is flying. Now imagine that this trip occurs in the time frame it takes you to walk across your house.
Fast? Certainly. High? Absolutely.
However, the SR-71 is not an aircraft made by the gods. It performs under a very exacting flight envelope.
To begin with, we’ll examine its speed. The SR-71 is deigned to go fast. However, designing to go fast and designing to fly are two different animals. The blackbird requires much higher speed on the runway just to get into the air from normal planes. Your average passenger liner aircraft needs 130 to 150 knots to get airborne, and often cruises around at 210 to 250 knots at low altitude. The Blackbird takes off no slower than 230 knots. So by the time the wheels come off the pavement, the Bird is already going as fast as most passenger airliners.
Now, that’s just one side of the speed scale. The other tidbit many don’t immediately understand is airspeed in relation to something called dynamic pressure. As you climb up in altitude, the air gets thinner. As the air gets thinner, the pressure it exerts for an object traveling through it at a given speed decreases. This is VERY important in air travel, as what you may see for an aircraft’s top speed is a completely different animal than an aircraft’s rated maximum indicated airspeed. Indicated airspeed is very simple. It is the speed as indicated by the pressure on the aircraft’s front in relation to umoving air around it. (Dynamic Pressure and Static Pressure respectively.)
What’s interesting to note is that the blackbird is FRAGILE. It’s a bunch of fuel tanks strapped to engines and cameras. Thus it has a limited amount of speed it can actually push at low altitude.
Said Limit is 450 knots below seven thousand feet. Five hundred knots above that.
As altitude increases, pressure drops. So to does indicated airspeed drop accordingly. However, a pilot will find they are not actually traveling any slower in relation to the ground. Thus, as altitude increases, so too must your speed in order to remain flying. This is how airliners can achieve speeds up to and including 450 knots while the air pressure around them indicates a speed of only 270.
The Blackbird’s flight envelope is no exception. At altitude, the pilot’s Indicated Airspeed gauge will show 300 to 350 knots, despite going mach 3.3.
In addition to limited speed, the Blackbird turns about as well as a jet airliner. It’s long, fragile frame cannot sustain many Gs, otherwise the plane literally risks snapping in half. The upper limits are 2.5 Gs positive, and 0.2 negative. It’s not pulling any dogfight maneuvers.
In fact, rolling the plane upside down is PROHIBITED.
The plane, while the fastest jet in the sky, has all the maneuverability of a loaded 747. And turning only gets worse as it climbs and speeds up. Eventually, it’s going so fast, and requires such gentle turns, that it takes over a hundred miles and takes over five minutes just to turn around.
If that wasn’t exacting enough, the plane has another, DANGEROUS quirk. When flying, the plane tends to settle at an Angle of Attack (Direction the nose of the aircraft is pointing in relation to the direction its moving through the air.) of five degrees. Speed and pitch play important rolls in this part of flying.
Flying low and slow, the Bird can be pitched back without overstressing it. However, sudden pitch maneuvers change the direction the nose is pointing before the plane itself changes direction. This leads to sudden increases in the AoA of the aircraft. In most planes, excessive AoA leads to stalls and the nose of the plane naturally drops, allowing those planes to dive and recover.
In the blackbird, something else happens. If excessive AoA exceeds about 14 degrees, the plane experiences an accelerated tendency to pitch UP, further worsening the condition it’s in. Effectively, pitch up too fast, and the blackbird will enter an uncontrollable backflip. If it’s not caught in time, the plane loses control, and becomes a multi-million dollar titanium ROCK as it begins breaking up in mid air.
At that point, ejection is the only option for the pilot and RSO onboard.
Because of these quirks, the Blackbird requires pilots with gentle hands, and an eye for numbers. At mach three, there’s no room for guesswork.
There is more to the Bird, but let’s talk how the above traits relate to the pony known as Dainty Dish.
We’ll begin with the basic rundown of her name and character.
The Name, Dainty Dish, actually refers to the Mother Goose nursery rhyme ‘Sing a song of Sixpence’. The first half of the rhyme was quoted at the beginning of act two. The rhyme comments about ‘blackbirds’ baked in a pie, and that being a ‘dainty dish’ to be set before the king. It should thus be obvious to the reader how the name for the character was derived in relation to the SR-71 Blackbird. Incidentally, having a instrumental version of the rhyme in song form going for scenes involving Dainty talking makes the perfect background music for her.
As far as character, her background and bio were based upon the traits of the SR-71. First and foremost, was coming up with a trait that made her weak on the ground and low altitude, but strong when she was flying high.
Making her physically weak and pitiful was the perfect choice. Dainty is physically a fragile, miserable pony who tires easily. The main culprit of this being an absolutely nightmarish set of allergies and allergic reactions to just about anything she can inhale. She has trouble breathing, and sneezes herself into exhaustion almost constantly. This is not a pony who could turn and burn with Rainbow Dash. This is a pony you feel sorry for, who might break at any moment.
Of course, she’s more resilient than she looks. The SR-71 Blackbird is made almost entirely out of titanium. And even given that it has limited stress limits, the blackbird is not something to scoff at.
The second thing to think about, was Dainty’s ability to climb the endless miles of sky to get where she wants to be. And why she wants to be there. Which was simple. The higher you go, the less junk is in the air. For a pony that’s allergic to ‘everything’ as was shown in the story, going up higher and higher takes her clear of allergens, allowing her to escape the misery.
However, getting up there is not easy. For Dainty’s background, she had to develop the ability for long climbs. And that’s where her light frame and oversized wings come in. She worked those pegasus wings through trial and error to be able to out-climb any pegasus and match the ability of the blackbird to climb, and climb, and climb. They can be considered the only STRONG thing on her body. They are her engines. And this leads to the second reason she climbs.
Low to the ground, where the air is thicker, actions such as flapping her wings becomes harder. With her weak body and limited stamina, she can only fly for a short time. This actually parallels another tendency of the SR-71. Fuel.
The blackbird’s fuel tanks are not sealed. On the ground, and flying low and slow, the tanks leak. They leak like an open bathtub drain. And they only seal when the Bird is cruising near top speed. Not to worry about catching fire. The blackbird’s fuel (JP-7) is a special mixture which the flashpoint is so high, you could use it to put out a match. The fuel actually requires injection of triethylborane to light.
Back to the wings, Dainty developed powerful wings, but cannot make the most efficient use of them low to the ground. She tires too easily. But flying high in thin air, she can go much further, and extend her time from minutes, to a few hours.
The snapping wing crack, a move that is no doubt very demanding, especially shows off this characteristic, and is in fact, her analogue to the afterburners that provide most of the SR-71’s supersonic power. Dainty’s wings crack like a bullwhip, producing an honest to goodness sonic boom with every snap. The shockwave is how Dainty provides thrust that exceeds what the normal wings of Rainbow Dash can provide. (Though we kind of sideline physics to an extent, as no living creature can actually hit mach one.)
Low to the ground, these large wings and their strength provide a LOT of power but kill her stamina very rapidly. However, in a tactical climb, using that power to escape the ground as fast as possible, Dainty can climb to altitudes of twenty to thirty-five thousand feet in less than three minutes.
The Blackbird performs a climb similar to this after takeoff, usually refueling at a tanker before commencing the next phase. Airborne refueling was omitted for Dainty out of lack of any logical explanation as to why she’d stop to eat in mid-climb. For all the paralelles to the Blackbird’s fuel needs, just take one look at Dainty’s insane diet, and how much she scarves down cashews.
A simple profile of the SR-71 and Dainty's ascent characteristics. Note that the speeds marked in each phase are ONLY attainable for Dainty in THAT part of her flight. Even Mach 2 is impossible for her below 20k ft.
There are many other characteristics Dainty Dish uses that run along side the SR-71. However, examining every last detail, in great detail, is something you the reader should do. For example, explaining the fact that Dainty and Dash had to look forward while flying to breath properly near the end should be looked up under the terms ‘Time of Useful Consciousness,’ and ‘RAMJET’.
I feel the story does a good job of showing off just how finicky and exacting the Blackbird really is, especially when converted into the form of a kid-friendly pony.
If you felt the desire to hug Dainty at any point during the story, that’s normal. Go ahead and relax. If you felt the desire to kick Rainbow Dash for being an insensitive jerk... That’s also normal. Rainbow Dash can be like that, but she’s not doing it out of malice. So keep those boots on the ground where they belong, and be happy to know that Dash learned her obligatory lesson about friendship.
Larger view of the title image:
Image was created using a screenshot of the SR-71 in flight at altitude in Flight Simulator X. Many effects and layers were worked to muddy the blackbird out to an ambiguous triangle that 'could' be a pony at mach 3.4 while highlighting the contrails and low-pressure wingtip vorticies. The cutie mark is reprisented in front of the sun, partially transparent so that it could be 'backlit'.
Dainty's Cutie Mark plain.
Designed entirely in basic microsoft paint, for lack of my FAR better art software.
Below is the preliminary profile that was created for Dainty Dish:
NAME: Dainty Dish*
Type: Pegasus (Female)
Color: Gray, with jet black mane and tail. Red stripes in mane and tail
Cutie Mark: 3+ badge, custom
Job: Aerial photography
Dainty Dish is actually a very weak pony. A combination of a relatively frail body, and terrible allergies makes life on the ground all but miserable for her. She spent her filly days essentially being sheltered from the rest of the world because of this.
Flying was her only respite from this. She discovered early on that she could get away from her allergies by flying well above the trees. Unfortunately, her weak body did not allow her to stay in the air for long. So it was but a short reprieve.
Playing around, trying to find a way to keep her body in the air longer, she soon discovered that as she got up higher and higher, it seemed to become easier and easier to fly. So Dainty pushed to climb higher, faster, developing strong wings that would allow her to get there in no time. Her stamina failed to improve despite this, so time spent low tired her quickly. Thus, the only option when she wanted to fly was to take off, and head straight to the ceiling. Her tendancy for extremely fast climbs earned her the nickname ‘Dainty Dot’ thanks in part to the fact that if you looked away, the next time you looked up, she’d be a tiny dot far above.
Eventually, Dainty acquired a perchant for extremely high altitude cruising, discovering in the process that while it was super cold, she could stay warm simply by keeping her speed at a certain level.
What she didn’t realize was that as she went higher, what she thinks is the ‘same speed’ is actually much, much faster, and that it is friction that keeps her warm. Dainty doesn’t consider herself much of a good flier, considering her narrow range of flight to be a handicap. Let alone think she’s even remotely fast.
But she’s very, VERY fast once she settles into the top of her cruise. While her frail body and allergies prevent her from doing any of Rainbow Dash’s incredible stunts, she actually goes three times faster than her inspiration… Mach 3.3. She doesn’t realize it however because the only time she can do this is at very high altitude. From there, it doesn’t look or feel like she’s going fast at all. And the air is so thin that she never generates the infamous ‘sonic rainboom’. All Dainty realizes is that the higher she goes, the better her allergies, and the longer she can fly. And if you were to tell her she’s actually the fastest Pegasus in Equestria, she’d just laugh.
Having had such a Sheltered life, Dainty Dish likes to do photography. Capturing the natural beauty of the world is one of her favorite hobbies. This includes her unique brand of EXTREME high altitude aerial pictures. She works for the Equestria Geological Society, using her high altitude photos for survey purposes.
Personality and Personality Flaws:
Dainty Dish, by nature, has low self esteem. She often sees herself as a burden to others, and prefers to stay out of other pony’s manes. A natural side effect of her younger years. She often feels the need to compensate for even the slightest generosity, and often overcompensates for favors.
She is also very exacting. At ‘cruise altitude’, she found that unless she was flying juuust right, she would have to descend and try again, which is very exhausting. As a result, she tends to be very picky about things, and spots even small inconsistencies almost to the obsessive compulsive level.
However, she is a very poor judge of scale. When asked how she gets places so quickly, she just looks confused and mentions that it wasn’t very far
There are people who have complained to me that my 'facts' about Rainbow Dash's speed are in error. They say Dash is super fast.
Now, I've seen these math reports too, and I've seen speculation on her speeds varying from mach five, to mach 6.2, to mach ten. And people will cite the maths of various physics nerds to back them.
There's just one problem with citing these maths.
They are ALL in error.
Mind you, the math itself in each instance was done correctly. However, the fundamental flaw is the principle of execution. Every math calculation done on the sonic rainboom was done based on the principle that what you see is what you get. Like you were watching a video recording of a real event.
The problem is, it's not.
Step your mind back and out of the story world for a moment. Take off those pony filters. What is MLP? Simple. It's an animated cartoon. By the vary nature of the medium, it is a stylized, inaccurate environment not subject to any laws of physics at all. Everything shown on the screen is not shown as it would look in real life. But rather, it is shown as the artist WANTS it to look.
You CANNOT measure this. Here's why.
In the sonic rainboom, there are three ways in which you can calculate the speed of dash's travel. And this is WHILE making the reasonable assumption that the physics they run on in this fictional universe are related enough to real life.
The first, and most obvious method to an aviation geek, is the mach cone that forms during her dive.
I've seen two calculations on this first hand. They both use simple right triangle trig to solve it. And the answer was mach two, and mach 6.2 respectively. There appears to be some conflict there already. How fast was Dash going? Mach two? Or three times that fast?
Let's look at the second method.
The math presented here calculates based on time. According to the time and gravity values of a falling object, Rarity fell from an altitude of roughly 8,300 feet. (Which is the TOP end of reasonalbe altitudes to find most fair weather clouds) before Dash caught her just feet from impact. According to the time presented in that math, Dash did something around mach 0.35, which isn't even cruising speed for a jet airliner, let alone Dash's supposed fighterjet speeds.
This conflicts with the mach cone measurements above. As at even mach two, Dash would have covered the distance from the cloud stadium to the surface in about two seconds. That's right, not even ten seconds flat.
The third way to calculate, is based of having a fixed, known refference, and measuring the distance they cover. This can only be done right at the end of the fall, with the one fixed camera perspective that shows Rarity (and the blunderbolts) falling as Dash comes streaking in to catch them. I have not seen calculations for speed there, but given the distance covered in compared to their bodies, it did not look terribly fast. Certainly not mach one fast.
So what we have here, is three conflicting values. And this is important. If the maths don't add up, you're doing it wrong because math doesn't lie. In this case, the thing being done wrong is assuming the values calculated in the scene mean anything when they in fact, mean nothing.
Since these values mean nothing, no amount of math is going to do any good in proving anything. We cannot establish a control as is part of the scientific process, therefor, all those values are useless.
As this is an animated story, there is only one other fallback object. 'Intent'.
In this case, the intent was made almost absurdly obvious. It's called a SONIC rainBOOM. Take the 'rain' out, and you have a Sonic Boom. A sonic boom has a threshold point, and only ONE threshold point: Mach One.
To further support this, the difficulty Rainbow Dash has in crossing the threshold for the Rainboom paralelles the difficulty aircraft had in the early jet-age of overcomming the pressure buildup or 'sound barrier' at around mach 0.95. And in the episode, Dash's entire focus was very similar to the historical work that had been done to successfully breach the sound barrier and achieve controlled, sustained mach one flight.
It's pretty obvious what speed Dash was intended to be going. Even if the math doesn't work out very well, stepping back and taking off your 'Ponies are Cool!' filters and looking at it objectively tells you what is right, and what is wrong.
Rainbow Dash does not do mach 2.5, or mach 3, or mach 6.2, and definitely not mach 'a mile and a half a second' TEN.
Not only would she cover the distance from the stadium to the ground so fast that we couldn't even air the scene, but she'd reach a temperature of about FIVE THOUSAND DEGREES... CELCIUS. You know... the temperature of molten steel.
And I find such speculation to be wholely unreasonable. Not to mention its completely beyond the scope of what the people speculating seem to realize about the scale of these speeds. Mach one is FAST. Very fast. Mach 3 is even faster. Mach five, mach six, and mach ten? The only people who actually have any comprehension of just how fast that IS are austronauts and astronomy geeks. It takes two and a half, maybe three days to drive from coast to coast on the north american continent. At mach three, you can do it in the time it takes to go grocery shopping for the week. At the higher speeds, the time cuts down to 'trip to the convenience store' length.
I'm going to stick with Dash's mach one speed. It's still plenty awesome. After all, she hit mach one despite the fact that fastest animal in the world is the Peragrine Falcon at 202 MPH... in a dive.