Why does it take longer to travel between east and west in an aircraft
Why does flying from east to west on an airplane take longer? – Henry D, Age 7, Cambridge, Massachusetts
I am a retired United States Air Force pilot and flight instructor, and a few years ago, I was sitting in the cockpit of a Boeing 747 airplane. I was 29,000 feet in the sky, flying from New Jersey to Sacramento, California, and then to Hawaii. It took six hours to fly and land the plane safely in Sacramento. After a few hours in California, I continued to Hawaii, which took almost another five hours of flying. That was 11 total hours of flight.
After spending the day in Hawaii, It was time to return to New Jersey. This flight was much quicker. I did not stop in California this time, but returning to New Jersey took about eight and an hour and a half. I was flying on the same aircraft,. In fact; New Jersey was far from California or Hawaii as it was a few days earlier.
Then why was my trip to Hawaii from west to east taking so much longer than my return flight?
The experience of riding in a river of air
It took longer to return home due to the jet stream, a stream of speedy air that is high in the air.
Jet streams typically are around 100 miles in width. They can extend to hundreds of miles long and can be found throughout the globe.
So what is this got to have to do with planes?
The wind is blowing in the air.
Pilots of airplanes measure speed in two ways. One is airspeed. It measures how you feel the wind when you push your hand in the window. The other is the speed at which the plane moves across the ground. If you fly in a jet stream, your flight speed stays the same. However, the rate of your environment may change significantly because the air surrounding your plane moves.
When I was flying to Hawaii, I flew at 562 miles per hour. Because a jet stream was blowing on my plane – also known as the headwind – with a speed of 140 miles per hour, I was moving along on the ground at 422 miles per hour.
However, when traveling between Hawaii from Hawaii to New Jersey, the jet stream blows out from behind the plane, pushing the plane forward. My aircraft was flying at 562 mph as my speed. However, the tailwind of 140 mph meant that my plane was flying through the air at 702 mph.
Planes try to stay clear of the jet stream while traveling east to west; however, they try to get a ride back. If they plan their flight from west to east, they try to find the jet stream and attempt to fly to create a vast tailwind, which will help them pass more quickly. A well-planned plan will help you save fuel as well.
When you next find yourself flying across the country from west to east, don’t be shocked if it takes you longer than you’d like. Be excited because when you return to the pilot, you may catch an excursion along the jet stream to get you back home quickly.