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Why Don’t Airplanes Fly Straight Routes?

If you are going to fly from San Francisco to Tokyo or from Paris to Washington DC you might think that your flight will take the straight routes across Pacific or Atlantic Oceans as the shortest route. Because the shortest distance between A to B is a straight line, isn’t it? 

Yes, that’s true, but actually, mostly airplanes flying from the West Coast of America to Asia or from Europe to America, Africa to Australia would take a curved route (Great Circle) and pass over the northern or southern parts of the globe. So what’s up then, why don’t airplanes fly in a straight route? 

Great Circle

First of all, we need to think in 3 dimensions and forget about the flat maps. Just because, in a 2 dimensions map (flat map), the straight line is not the same as in 3 dimensions one, simply because our planet is not flat. You can test it yourself with the globe Earth model and try to connect two cites halfway across the world with the string. You’ll find out that curved routes are physically shorter. So that’s why the airplanes make curved routes to travel from A to B, as in a 3-dimensional space it is the shortest route and is called geodesic or great circle route.  Now any line that goes through both North and South Poles are Great Circles as the Poles are opposite each other. That’s why sometimes you should head farther north or a little south to reach your destination. So now while reading this article check the flight, say, from Cape Town to Sydney which are the same latitude and conduct the experiment with the globe model, and compare it with the flat map, see the results?

Next time if you plan your trip to any destination by plane, don’t be surprised that you are going to have a curved route, this is all about our planet structure.

Until next time, and as always, “We Speak Aviation.” 

4 Comments

  • Jubayer ahmed
    Posted June 25, 2020 at 6:28 pm
    Reply

    Sir… This is the best knowledge I have got from u… U r not Only a captain of a350 but. Ur my aim… I mean I would like to get such huge success like… U… I would like to fly in the blue sky… Discover new things daily…. But alas I m really very much poor in physics and maths… 😑😑😣😣…..but still I practice a lot….

  • Teejay
    Posted June 25, 2020 at 8:18 pm
    Reply

    Nice one. That\’s just pure geography which says the earth is not flat but curved. Thanks for sharing Captain. Cheers

  • Jazmín
    Posted June 26, 2020 at 3:27 am
    Reply

    Entonces el planeta no es plano, como dicen , porque nunca se ha visto la curvatura del planeta, y nunca se ha tomado mediciones de la curvatura?
    Y porque cuando veo un barco a la distancia siempre lo veo en línea recta

  • Sahil Chowdhury
    Posted July 28, 2020 at 8:57 pm
    Reply

    I ways always wondering this in my geography lesson and never got a clear answer but now i got a clear answer from a pilot. Thank you Pilot Amireh. You always help me with my knowledge

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