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Home > Fear of Flying > Can a B777 fly safely at this speed?
Can a B777 fly safely at this speed?
Flying - Fear of Flying
Tuesday, 31 May 2011 13:52

American Airlines Boeing 777 landing at Los Angeles

Hello Capt Lim,

I am always concerned about air safety - don't ask me why, but I am. Now, 2 days ago, I flew from LA to London in a Boeing 777. The flight was really, really short - about 9 hours something. The pilots said we were going to fly in a jet stream which was increasing our speed considerably.

I saw on the flight data screens that we were flying at speeds of up to 1138 kilometers per hour.

When I looked up the safe maximum speed of a 777, I see numbers of about 950 kilometers per hour.

Can a 777 safely fly this fast, like 1138 kilometers per hour? I was kind of worried...

Jan,
Netherlands

Hi Jan,

Flying at 1138 kilometers an hour is not unusual if you have a strong tail wind, especially a jet stream blowing from the back.

Pilots take advantage of this to get to the destination faster. It is just like walking on a walkalater – you would walk twice as fast. It does no harm to you except that you would fall down if you do not anticipate that you would be back to your normal walking pace at the end.

As far as a plane is concerned, it is perfectly safe to fly with the jet stream except that it may be a bit turbulent if flying in the vicinity of it. Otherwise, it can be quite smooth inside a jet stream.

Please see a similar question here.

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Airspeed vs Groundspeed
In terms of airframe integrity, what people should be concerned with is "airspeed", how fast an aircraft cuts through the air around it. If it goes faster than it is designed to, the airframe might not be able to handle the stress of the air turbulence of high-speed flight.

However, what is usually reported in flight tracking channels on the airline entertainment system is "groundspeed", how fast the aircraft is flying in relation to the ground below it. Just like the travelator analogy given above, a tailwind can make you cover ground much faster than if you were just walking normally.
Jimmy , 01 Jun, 2011

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