The Titan II missile used in the Gemini Space program weighed 330,000 lbs at liftoff. Riding skyward on 440,000 lbs of thrust it would accelerate to 60 mph in a distance about equal to its own length (105 feet, about the length of a Boeing 737). Astronauts reported that the acceleration on a launch would build to just over five Gs of acceleration before first stage burnout at around 100,000 feet and 60 miles down range. At this point, stage two would ignite and push the capsule into space before shutting down, its fuel tanks exhausted. As the capsule entered orbit, fully three-quarters of the weight of the airframe present at liftoff would have been burned up as fuel to lift the crew capsule into space. From ignition start to stage II shutdown, the whole powered portion of the flight would last about ten minutes.
In a former life, I used to sit nuclear alert as a Missile Combat Crew Commander in Tucson. My Titan II had no crew capsule but rather a re-entry vehicle whose sole passenger was a thermonuclear warhead. Several of our Pilots here at Southwest served in this capacity prior to going to Air Force flight training. Fortunately, none of us "missile pilots" logged any flying time, except for test launches out of Vandenberg AFB, in California.
As in many jobs, I see parallels in my current job as aircraft Pilot.
Today, flying from Providence, R.I., to Phoenix, my aircraft is filled with 33,000 pounds of jet fuel, spread across three tanks (a main and the two wing tanks). At brake release, we will accelerate to about 150 mile per hour in less than 30 seconds and liftoff consuming about 5,000 pounds of fuel an hour, per engine. At cruise altitude, the fuel usage rate for each engine will decrease to about 2,000 lbs per hour. This increase in fuel efficiency is why jetliners fly so high.
Like the missile burning fuel, we will consume 1,500 pounds of fuel as we climb just getting to 20,000 feet. By level-off at 36,000 feet, we will have used two tons of jet fuel at about $2 a gallon ($1,200 total). Nearly two and a half hours downrange, our center main tank will be empty and we will run the rest of the way to our destination on our full wing tanks. Over the planned 5:05 hours of flight time to Phoenix, we will consume 25,500 pounds, or over eleven tons of fuel ($7,700!). Even at that rate, I have read that the fuel used is still less than if we had loaded 40 or so SUV's with three or four people each and driven everyone of our 137 passengers the same distance.
Efficiency and unsurpassed speed. Two great reasons flying SWA has become the logical choice for modern travelers.