Why Planes Don’t Fly Straight – You ever been on a long flight, can’t sleep, watched as many movies as you can, and still left with nothing to do? Well, time to watch the flight path! But all I can think is, “Hey, Captain, can you take more of a beeline to get me from New York to Berlin? ”So it begs the question :
– Why’s the flight path always so curved?
Simple, the earth is round. Maps are flat, unlike the actual planet, which is a sphere. So, the route a plane flies will usually look curved. If you were to look at the same path on a globe, however, it would look straight. These straight flight paths that look curved on a map are ironically known as “great circle” routes.
They account for the curvature of the Earth. So, what may look like an unnecessary detour over Canada’s East Coast when you’re looking at a flat map is the shortest path when flying. “Ok, sorry, Captain, now I get it…”But the “great circle” is more of an optical illusion on a map and doesn’t quite explain…
– Why do short domestic flights sometimes have zig-zagged routes?
These flight paths clearly have nothing to do with the simple fact that the earth is round, right?Right! During peak travel times in the U. S. alone, there are as many as 5,000 airplanes in the sky at any given moment. That’s nearly 50,000 airplanes over just one country every day. At high altitudes, planes must be separated by at least 2,000 feet vertically and 1,000 feet at lower altitudes.
Fancy satellite-based communication systems give airlines the ability to change routes on the fly to account for everything from weather and wind to other planes. Safe travel always takes precedence over a fast route. So what may seem like the quickest way for a plane to travel on a map or globe will often be overruled by navigators and air traffic controllers.
Another reason you may see a plane take something of a zig-zagged route is due to jurisdictions that don’t allow aircraft to fly through their airspace, such as the White House, Taj Mahal, Buckingham Palace, and even Disneyland . Planes must then circumnavigate these prohibited areas and take a less than direct route to do so.
– Why can’t I use my phone in anything but airplane mode on a flight?
For starters, it’s the law, at least in the U. S. Back in 1991, the Federal Communications Commission banned in-flight use of wireless devices to prevent network interference. Since then, there hasn’t been much evidence to prove that your phone messes up the airplane’s communication and navigation equipment.
Then again, there isn’t much evidence to prove that it won’t. So even as technology has advanced greatly from when these rules were put into effect,the FAA has continued to err on the side of caution. The good thing is that many airlines now offer in-flight wi-fi. So just slide that Airplane Mode switch to “on”.
– Why can’t they make airplanes quieter?
I mean, your car has a muffler, so why can’t they put that handy-dandy silencer on an airplane?A muffler on a car works by sending the exhaust stream from the internal combustion engine through a series of sound-absorbing materials. They break up the sound waves it generates. But if you did the same thing to a jet engine, it just won’t work the way it needs to.
That stream of fast-moving exhaust gases is how the engine generates thrust, and it’s that thrust that allows a plane to take off and fly. Any kind of diffuser or muffler to a jet engine would decrease the thrust, and the energy the engine is generating would be wasted. The loudest sound that comes from a plane is made during takeoff, and that has nothing to do with whether the engines have a muffler. It’s more about the sound waves that are generated from the reaction between the extremely hot and fast-moving exhaust gas and the cool stationary air.
– How can planes take lightning strikes?
Yep, they sure can take it – like a champ!It’s estimated that for each commercial airplane currently in use, that plane will be hit by lightning at least once per year. And while any plane that’s struck by lightning mid-flight always goes in for an inspection after landing, in most cases it’s perfectly fine.
That’s because today’s aircraft are designed and built with lightning in mind. More specifically, plane manufacturers are very careful with how the wiring is done. When lightning does strike a plane, it usually strikes an edge of it – like the tip of awing or the nose – and the electrical current leaves through the tail.
This is because the airplane’s body, or fuselage, acts as a Faraday cage. That’s a container which blocks electromagnetic fields. The charge from the bolt of lightning moves around the outside of the plane and protects the interior from being affected by the jolt. So when a plane routes around a storm, it usually has nothing to do with lightning so much as it is to prevent turbulence or damage to the aircraft from hail. But if a plane can fly through a storm…
– Why can’t they fly in extreme heat?
As summers get hotter, flights that are grounded due to severe heat have become more common. Heat affects aircraft in different ways. Hot air is not as dense as cool air, so the wings produce less lift. So the hotter the weather, the faster a plane has to go to take off, which requires more runway.
Well, there’s only so much runway to work with, so the only choice they’re left with is to stay on the ground for now! There’s also the issue of overheating internal electronics, which tend to run hot even on an average weather day. Add triple-digit temperatures and stuff tends to break down. So, yeah, that’s why your flight might be delayed on a hot day!
– Why don’t planes have parachutes for the passengers?
It’s a legit question!After all, they have all those oxygen masks and the seat cushion is a floatation device. But what good will a floaty do ten of thousands of feet in the sky? Still, as it turns out, parachutes wouldn’t do you much good either. Skydivers usually jump out of planes moving somewhere between 80 – 110 miles per hourat an altitude of 8,000 – 13,000 feet.
By contrast, a commercial jetliner flies around 600 miles per hour at its cruising altitude of 35,000 feet. The math alone should show why parachutes may not do much good on a standard flight. Besides, most passengers don’t pay attention to the pre-flight safety instructions to know where the emergency exit is located.
Can you imagine how the parachute training portion of that announcement would go? Finally, there’s the issue of weight. Parachute equipment is heavy, and if you need one set per person, there’s a lot less room for passengers. Granted, no law says you can’t bring your own along for the ride. Just don’t expect to have a simple time getting through that TSA checkpoint!
– Why can’t planes be roomier?
If you fly economy, you know what I’m talking about! You have pretty much zero leg room, you feel like you’re in your neighbor’s personal bubble if you put your arm on the arm rest, and don’t even get me started when the person in front of me lays their seat back! Oh yeah, I love watching movies with the screen right in my face! The aisles are also Barbie-sized.
Ask my elbow all about it, can’t count how many times it’s been bumped by the foodcart! It seems like they cram as many TINY seats into that cabin as they can…and that’s exactly what they do!Like a lot of things, it all comes down to money, moolah, dinero, dough. The more seats you can fit, that means more passengers.
More passengers equals more tickets sold. More tickets means more money in the airline’s pocket. Airlines say this keeps fares down since you’re dividing the cost they pay for things like fuel, maintenance, and employee salaries among more people. But can I get a teeny bit more leg room, please? What other questions do you have about air travel? Let me know in the comments below.