Boeing 787 Dreamliner breaks speed record thanks to powerful jet stream
Virgin Dreamliner reaches ground speed of 1,289kph as it completes Los Angeles to London trip 48 minutes ahead of schedule
On Monday, a Boeing Dreamliner flying from Los Angeles to London stunned the aviation world when it reached speeds of 1,289 kilometres per hour, faster than the speed of sound.
As the Virgin Atlantic plane flew over Pennsylvania, tailwinds caused by a powerful jet stream propelled the aircraft – which usually cruises around 901 kilometres per hour – to hit the record-breaking speed, the fastest that a Dreamliner 787-9 has ever flown.
Despite the excitement, industry experts were quick to point out that it was only the Dreamliner’s ground speed that climbed above 1,234.8kph. Its airspeed was much closer to the maximum flying standard of about 933kph.
That didn’t stop Twitter users getting excited, with one pilot tweeting it was the fastest tailwind he had ever witnessed.
Another user questioned whether it was dangerous (it’s not).
Transatlantic flights have long taken advantage of jet streams to save time. Pilots will often request particular routes to make the most of any forecast jet streams.
These narrow currents of air encircle the globe several kilometres above the earth. On Monday, a lack of stormy conditions and high fluctuations between northern and southern temperatures allowed the stream to gather pace.
The Virgin flight didn’t stay in the jet stream for too long, but the boost was enough to see it land in London 48 minutes ahead of schedule.
What is the difference between ground speed and airspeed?
Ground speed is the speed an aircraft has relative to a point on the ground. Airspeed is the difference between ground speed and wind speed. While anyone observing the plane from below would have seen it move much faster than normal, those on board would not have felt anything out of the ordinary.
This also means that the plane didn’t actually break the speed of sound. For that to happen, the air passing over the plane would have had to have been faster than 1,234.8kph, but it remained at a steady 933kph.
Updated: February 20, 2019 12:58 PM