Passenger Flight Almost Reaches Supersonic Speed

Trip is 90 minutes shorter than expected
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 12, 2015 11:59 AM CST
Passenger Flight Nearly Breaks Sound Barrier
A British Airways airplane at London Heathrow Airport, Friday Nov. 7, 2008.   (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

A British Airways flight almost reached supersonic speeds as it zoomed from New York's JFK Airport to London's Heathrow in just five hours and 16 minutes, arriving 90 minutes before it was scheduled. Its ground speed reached 745mph, just under the speed of sound at sea level, which is 761mph. It wasn't on the verge of actually going supersonic, though: The speed of sound relates to airspeed, not ground speed (great explainer on the difference here). BA Flight 114 was helped by a jet stream providing tailwinds of up to 200mph. Catching a jet stream is "just like surfing. It’s extraordinary how fast you can go," a former pilot tells the Telegraph. “This must be a record." (By contrast, however, the retired Concorde once made the New York to London trip in two hours and 53 minutes.)

The Boeing 777-200 flight was one of dozens to benefit from the jet stream, believed to have been caused by a clash of cold US temperatures with warmer southern air. New York to London fliers tend to see the biggest benefits in January and February, when temperature differences between the North Pole and equator are at their biggest, Mashable reports. The downside—in addition to recent bad weather in Britain—is that the return flight must avoid the stream. (Fliers in Abu Dhabi recently had quite the opposite experience, sitting on a plane for 28 hours.)

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