Wow: The Subsonic Transatlantic Flight Time Record Could Be Broken

As the United Kingdom prepares to be battered by storm Ciara this weekend, there is a very big possibility that the transatlantic subsonic flight time record could be broken. This is because a bomb cyclone is forming near Greenland. This is expected to steer a storm currently over the south-eastern United States along a powerful Jetstream to Europe.

A Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 holds the speed record after hitting 801mph when flying between Los Angeles and London Heathrow. Photo: Mark Harkin via Flickr

The UK Met Office has issued an amber weather alert, which means there is “an increased likelihood of impacts from severe weather” which could lead to “travel delays, road and rail closures, power cuts and the potential risk to life and property.”

While gusts could reach 80mph on the ground, at 30,000 feet the Jetstream could see wind speeds as high as 250mph.

New York to London in five hours is a real possibility

Aircraft flying from North America to Europe will be able to take advantage of these strong tailwinds, making a five hour New York to London flight a real possibility.

As the bomb cyclone meanders off the coast of Greenland on Saturday morning, conditions will combine by Sunday, to make something akin to a superhighway between the north-eastern United States and Great Britain. Commercial aircraft taking advantage of the speedy Jetstream winds could cruise at speeds greater than the speed of sound.

This is possible because it is the aircraft’s ground speed that will surpass 767 mph, not its airspeed. To explain it in a simple way, imagine you are walking on a moving walkway at the airport. You are walking at your normal speed, but because the walkway is also propelling you forward, you will get to your destination sooner. Let’s say your walking speed is 3mph and the walkway speed is 1.5mph, your total speed is now 4.5mph even though you are not walking any faster.

Commercial aircraft as fast as 800mph while riding the Jetstream.

Because of the superfast Jetstream, we could see a new record for a subsonic New York to London flight broken on Sunday. The current record is five hours and 13 minutes, set by a Norwegian Air Shuttle Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner in January 2018.

On that particular flight, the 200 mph tailwinds allowed the aircraft to reach a ground speed of 776 mph.

Could a British Airways A350 break the record? Photo: BA

Following the record-setting New York JFK to London Gatwick flight, Norwegian Air Shuttle Captain, Harold van Dam told Business Insider:

“We were actually in the air for just over five hours and if it had not been for forecasted turbulence at a lower altitude, we could have flown even faster.”  He added: “The 787 Dreamliner is a pleasure to fly and it’s a great feeling to know that we have set a new record in this aircraft.”

Crosswinds could cause a few scary landings

As a child, I once made the journey in just over five hours on a BOAC Super VC10, but I cannot remember if we landed in Prestwick or not, before flying on to Manchester. At the time I can remember the captain saying it was one of the fastest ever transatlantic crossings.

For a long time, a BOAC Super VC 10 held the record for the fastest transatlantic crossing. Photo: Ken Fielding Wikimedia Commons

While the faster Atlantic crossing times will be great for passengers flying from America and Canada to Europe, those flying in the opposite direction are out of luck, as their flight times will increase due to the headwinds.

The strong wind gusts could also lead to a few scary landings. However, this is nothing that experienced airline pilots can’t handle.

What is the fastest subsonic transatlantic flight, you have ever been on? Please let us know in the comments.