Air India’s Record-Breaking Circumnavigation of the Globe
Photo via Wikimedia Commons
If you’re an avid traveler or simply an aviation buff, you’re probably got “fly around the world” somewhere on your bucket list. Beginning next month, Air India will make that dream possible to achieve with just one stop!
Most airlines fly even their longest routes in the form of what is knows as a turn, where the plane will fly from point A to point B, then turn right around and fly back. But for long international routes, it often takes significantly longer to fly the westbound leg than it does to fly the eastbound leg, due to the prevailing east-to-west winds in the upper atmosphere. Flying west, the plane encounters stiff headwinds at certain times of year, slowing the plane down. That slow-down is built into the flight schedule, of course.
In June, Air India will begin flying from Delhi to San Francisco, then back to Delhi by going eastbound the entire way. How cool would it be to cross both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans in one trip, and in a matter of under two days? It’s a completely unorthodox move by an airline, but one that makes total sense.
An Air India official told The Times of India, ”The earth rotates from west to east and winds also flow in that direction. Flying west means facing strong headwinds (that decreases an aircraft's actual ground speed) and flying east means getting strong tailwinds, which does the opposite. While taking the (western) Atlantic route to SFO, we usually face headwinds of 15 mph. If our aircraft is doing 497 mph, its actual ground speed is 482 mph. Taking the (eastern) Pacific route to SFO will mean getting tailwinds of 86 mph which will make the aircraft have an actual ground speed of 583 mph.”
Currently Air India flies from Delhi to San Francisco in a westward route by crossing the Atlantic, then back home by flying east. By flying eastbound the entire way, Air India says the flight time of the Delhi to San Francisco leg can be reduced by up to three hours, by taking advantage of those prevailing winds, which effectively push the plane. Although the Pacific crossing is 870 miles farther, the airline will save money and burn less fuel by not having to fight the headwinds. Air India will use the Boeing 777-200LR for this route. The LR stands for Long Range.
Wikipedia says the first recorded global circumnavigation occurred by ship between the years 1519 and 1522, on which the legendary explorer Ferdinand Magellan participated, and took nearly three years! Sir Francis Drake also completed a circumnavigation between 1577 and 1580. Amazingly, to this day, the nautical circumnavigation record is still held by a sailing vessel. In 1924, a Douglas World Cruiser became the first aircraft to fly around the world, taking 175 days, making 42 stops. It wasn’t until 1949 that an aircraft flew around the world without stopping, accomplished by aerial refueling.
READ MORE: An India Transportation Primer
My, how things have changed! By all accounts I was able to locate, the first Air India flight to complete this route will slash the record for global circumnavigation for an airline by several hours. One site shows the current record for an around the world trip on a single airline stands at 59 hours, 58 minutes. If you feel the need for speed, and don't mind sitting on a plane for a day and a half, take a look at Air India’s offering and make a run at history.
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