A Virgin Atlantic B787 flew faster than the speed of sound flying across the US. The story of the supersonic 787 was originally reported by View from the Wing who spotted that the aircraft was travelling with a ground speed of 696kts. The speed of sound clocks in at 666kts.
A high tailwind was the cause of the high ground speed. In fact, due to this the flight ended up landing almost an hour ahead of schedule in London. This was the “fastest commercial non-supersonic jet in history” according to Virgin founder Richard Branson.
Since the weather wasn’t cooperating with @VirginGalactic this morning, @VirginAtlantic decided to fly faster than any other commercial non-supersonic plane in history at 801 mph (the speed of sound is 767mph) #readbyrichard
— Richard Branson (@richardbranson) February 20, 2019
Not Technically Supersonic
While it is impressive that the aircraft was travelling so quickly over the ground, it is important to remember that it didn’t actually reach supersonic speeds. Ground speed is different to airspeed in one key way. The aircraft was travelling at a ground speed of 801mph. This is the speed at which the aircraft moves as if it was on the ground.
The aircraft had a tailwind of over 200 miles per hour. This added to the speed at which the aircraft was travelling. The speed that the B787 cannot exceed is 587 miles per hour. In actual fact, the B787’s speed moving through the air was added to the speed of the aircraft’s tailwind. This produced the extraordinary ground speed. However, as far as the aircraft itself is concerned, it was only moving through the air at a much lower speed.
The huge tailwind experienced by the B787 clearly came as a boon to passengers who arrived in London 48 minutes early. While they wouldn’t necessarily have noticed the speed boost, they would’ve noticed the early arrival. The flight should’ve operated on the following schedule:
- VS8 is scheduled to depart Los Angeles International (LAX) at 1455 local. Following a 5,308 mile flight, it is scheduled to touch down in London (LHR) at 0910 local the next day.
However, the speed boost gave the flight a very early arrival. It instead flew at the following schedule:
- VS8 departed Los Angeles International at 1448 local. It flew a distance of 5290 miles, before touching down at Heathrow at 0822 the next day.
We contacted Virgin Atlantic regarding the story, however, they declined to comment besides adding that the aircraft did indeed land early.
What is the strongest tailwind you’ve ever experienced? Let us know in the comments down below.