Weather

High winds push commercial flights to rare 800 mph speeds

According to the National Weather Service, the evening weather balloon on Saturday clocked winds peaking at 265 mph around 35,000 feet.

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9
Travers Lewis / Shutterstock
SMS

Some of the strongest high-altitude winds ever recorded gave commercial flights over the mid-Atlantic Saturday a supersonic boost of speed. 

According to the National Weather Service office in the Washington, D.C., area, the evening weather balloon on Feb. 17 clocked winds peaking at 265 mph around 35,000 feet. 

It was the second-highest wind speed logged in the region since the NWS started recording them in the mid-20th century. 

“For those flying eastbound in this jet, there will be quite a tail wind,” the NWS warned in a post on X. 

Indeed there was. The tailwind helped cut down the flying time for passengers on a Virgin Atlantic flight from D.C. to London by 45 minutes, according to the tracker FlightAware

The Boeing 787 hit at least 800 mph during its flight, which is faster than the speed of sound known as Mach 1. Typically, a commercial plane cruises between 480 mph and 575 mph. However it did not actually break the sound barrier since those numbers are based on ground speeds, which calculates the plane’s actual speed and the boost from the wind. 

Supersonic speed is measured at about 768 mph at sea level, according to the National Aviation Academy.

A United Airlines flight from Newark to Lisbon reached a ground speed of 835 mph just off the East Coast, according to Flight Aware, which landed the passengers 20 minutes early. And an American Airlines flight from Philadelphia to Qatar reached a speed of nearly 840 mph, which makes it one of the highest speeds recorded for a commercial flight, according to The Washington Post, which first reported on the rare jet stream.

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