Commercial Flights, Including Virgin Atlantic and British Airways, Reach Supersonic Speeds Over the Weekend

Passengers on board commercial flights this weekend witnessed an extraordinary journey as freak winds, driven by the powerful jet stream, propelled their planes to speeds faster than the sound barrier.

Virgin Atlantic Airways flight 22, British Airways flights 292 and 216, United Airlines Flight 64, and American Airlines Flight 120 all surpassed 800mph, defying the typical cruising speed of around 575mph.

Jet Stream’s Impact: Speed Boost and Turbulence Trade-Off

The jet stream, moving from west to east, provided an unexpected speed boost, allowing flights to cut travel times and arrive ahead of schedule.

However, scientists warn that the trade-off for this rapid journey is an increase in severe turbulence.

The phenomenon occurs when planes traverse the fast-moving winds within the jet stream.

Virgin Atlantic’s Skyrocketing Speed: Nearly 802mph

On Saturday, a Virgin Atlantic flight from Washington to London reached an astonishing speed of nearly 802mph while surfing the jet stream.

Departing from Washington at 22:45, the plane hit this remarkable speed just east of Long Island, propelled by winds reaching 265mph at around 35,000ft over Washington.

Despite encountering severe turbulence, the flight remained at speeds between 600mph and 700mph after exiting the jet stream.

British Airways and United Airlines: Early Arrivals with Jet Stream Boost

Two British Airways flights, BA 292 and BA 216, reported early arrivals by 32 and 20 minutes, respectively, on Sunday evening.

Simultaneously, a United Airlines flight from Newark reached 835mph, and American Airlines Flight 120 from Philadelphia to Doha hit 840mph, both experiencing speeds well over 800mph.

Notably, these planes did not technically break the sound barrier but achieved remarkable velocities due to being embedded in powerful winds.

Supersonic Flight and Future Prospects: Concorde’s Legacy

While the retired Concorde remains the only aircraft to have broken the sound barrier at 1,350mph, new developments in aviation aim to achieve similar speeds.

NASA and others are working on successors capable of reaching speeds like 937mph. These advancements hold the potential to drastically reduce transatlantic flight times, presenting a promising future for supersonic travel.

Jet Streams and Climate Impact: Turbulence and Clear Air Turbulence (CAT)

Despite the benefits of faster transatlantic flights, the accelerated jet stream driven by global warming poses challenges.

Higher wind speeds contribute to more violent updrafts and downdrafts, resulting in severe turbulence for planes.

Recent research from the University of Reading indicates that clear air turbulence (CAT), invisible and hazardous to aircraft, has increased globally, with a strong link to jet streams.

The intensified jet stream, a consequence of global warming, creates a more chaotic and unstable atmosphere, increasing the occurrences of CAT encounters during flights.

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