The Plane Highway in the Sky

If you’ve ever looked at a flight tracker
sometime around 10 or 11 pm eastern, you might have noticed something—perfect lines of
planes stretching all the way to Europe. These are just some of the over 2,000 daily
flights that cross the Northern Atlantic. With so many flights, there just has to be
organization. This is the most direct route from New York
to London. You may think it’s this, a straight line,
but that straight line isn’t actually a straight line. This curved line is a straight line because,
despite what some may think, the earth is curved. From New York to London the curve you see
on a flat map isn’t too extreme, but in the case of a longer flight, such as from
New York to Bangkok, the most direct route is not this, but this—straight over the
North Pole. It makes more since if you look at a north-pole
oriented map. If you draw the most direct route between
Atlanta and London, you’ll see that it passes over every major east coast international
airport. That means that planes from Atlanta to Europe
travel on the exact same route as planes from Charlotte, Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia,
New York and Boston. On top of that, all these transatlantic planes
typically leave between 6-8 pm Eastern to time their arrival for early morning in Europe. This means that there are potentially hundreds
of planes all going the exact same route at the exact same time. The North Atlantic also has something known
as the Jet Stream. These easterly winds average around 110 mph
and if planes fly in them, they can cut hours of their travel time, however, the winds are
only strongest in a line three miles high (5 km) and 100 miles (160 km) wide. That further concentrates the flights. On average, an eastbound transatlantic flight
from New York to London takes about 6 hours and 15 minutes. Coming back against the jet stream, the same
flight takes over 7 hours. Sometimes, the winds can be even more active
such as on January 8th, 2015 when British Airways flight 114 flew from New York to London
in only 5 hours and 16 minutes—a new record for a commercial subsonic plane. On that day, the jet stream was blowing over
200 mph (320 km/h) and the Boeing 777 reached a speed of 745 mph (1200 km/h) —only 16
mph (25 km/h) below the sound barrier. So when winds can cut an hour off a flight
and a 777 burns 2,700 gallons (10,200 liters) of fuel per hour and jet fuel costs $1.89
per gallon, that’s a $5,103 difference between being in the right, and the wrong winds. Hopefully you now see why this is important. So there are all these planes that are flying
the exact same route, but usually that’s no problem. The busiest route in North America, New York
to Chicago, sees over 100 flights per day leaving as frequently as every five minutes
during the morning and evening rush and these planes just fly the most efficient route. Before the flight, route planners file a plan
with air traffic control and during the flight, they’re just directed by air traffic control
in a way that keeps them 5 nautical miles from other planes. The difference between New York to Chicago
and New York to London is that, over the North Atlantic, there is no radar. You see, radar only extends about 250 miles
offshore. Transatlantic planes can be more than a thousand
miles from shore. That’s why every morning, the route planners
at Gander Air Traffic Control Center in Gander, Newfoundland publish the days North Atlantic
Tracks. The night before, every airline that will
fly across the atlantic the following day sends Gander a preferred route message indicating
what they think the best route will be. For the most part, Gander center follows these
requests and creates a set of 10 or so routes. These tracks attempt to get the most amount
of planes on the most efficient route to Europe. The tracks are labeled: Zulu being the southernmost
route, Yankee being the second southernmost, then Xray, then Whisky, and so on and so forth. Here’s how a flight on the tracks works,
and I’ll warn you, this is when the video gets technical. Let’s say we’re going from New York to
Paris. Around half an hour before scheduled departure,
the captain talks to normal air traffic control to request clearance for the route up to around
Newfoundland, Canada. In most cases clearance is given, and soon
after we’ll take off. ABOUT when the plane crosses the Gulf of St
Lawrence, the pilot will request the North Atlantic Track that he or she desires. Here’s today’s message describing the
day’s routes over the Atlantic. After looking over this, the pilot decides
to request track Whisky. That means that, at least for now, we’ll
head towards the RAFIN waypoint, our oceanic entry point. Waypoints are fixed spots that are used for
flight navigation. These are much easier for Air Traffic Control
to communicate to pilots than map coordinates when speaking over radio. Occasionally you’ll see some creatively
named waypoints. Just north of Lebanon, New Hampshire are HAMMM,
BURGR, and FRYYS. On approach to Kansas City Airport there’s
SPICY BARBQ TERKY SMOKE RIBBS. Boston has two waypoints in support of their
sports teams, the KUBBS and BEARS. Some waypoint names are more somber. On the northern approach route to Washington
Regan National Airport, just miles away from where a plane hit the Pentagon on 9/11, the
waypoints read WEEEE WLLLL NEVVR FORGT SEP11. Since the North Atlantic Tracks change every
day, the MOTAM just gives entry and exit waypoints, and then coordinates for the route in between. Since the track coordinates are pre-programed
into the autopilot before take-off, there’s no reason to name them as waypoints since
they won’t be given over radio. In the case of this flight, we’re REQUESTING
track WHISKY and, more than likely, Gander Control Center will give permission, although,
sometimes they’ll tell us to take a different track, usually because we’re closer to another
plane than the minimum separation distance. Since it’s much more difficult to know where
planes are over the North Atlantic, THEY’RE required to be 15 minutes separated—about
140 miles—rather than the normal 5 miles in areas with radar coverage. Assuming we’re granted clearance, we’ll
head towards RAFIN waypoint and make sure that our satellite communication systems are
working, then we’ll check to see if the High Frequency Radio is working—a backup
in case other communications go down. Minutes later, just after passing RAFIN waypoint,
the controller will say “radar services terminated, have a good night,” and then
we’re on our own. All the North Atlantic Tracks are preloaded
onto autopilot, so there’s nothing really to do except wait. When we we hit 30 west, we enter the Shanwick
airspace approaching Western Europe. We switch our radios to Shanwick’s frequency,
then fly a few more hours to our Oceanic Exit Point—GUNSO waypoint—meaning we’ve successfully
traversed the Northern Atlantic. I hope you enjoyed this Wendover Productions
video! Make sure to check out my last video on Guam
here. Please also subscribe to this channel by clicking
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soon for another Wendover Productions video.

Stephen Childs


  1. Btw boston needs to change these waypoints. How about red sox, Patriots or Tom Brady

  2. Someone should TELL this guy that planes run on compressed air… NOT jet fuel that costs $1.89/gallon.
    Idiot !!

  3. why is people flying so much??? Do they actually NEED to?? Not weird the planet is heating up so much

  4. Hey, Sam. I would really love to see the pacific side of this to some degree, even if it doesn't work similarly.

  5. You forgot the routing between the entry and exit points. For example : DOGAL, 5150N, 5530N and so on until you hit your exit waypoint.

  6. hahaha how deluded this guy is. The earth curved ? What drugs are you on ? The Earth is FLATISH !!

  7. So in few words, SATELLITES DO NOT EXIST !! It's the transponder you carry on board and within immediate reach of other relative flying planes !!

  8. When I went to Ethiopia, we did this exact same route. I remember looking at the map tracker and seeing we were over the Atlantic ocean and I was just filled with dread because I realized that if that plane had went down for any reason, we would be trapped in the most unforgivable environment.

  9. living just 2 miles from O'Hare airport and under a common takeoff path for commercial aircraft going northeast, I marvel anytime one passes overhead…..truly marvels of engineering….. can someone give me any tips to help easily identify the most common different planes from underneath as they pass over…..thanks

  10. Supersonic if they hadn't had the mishaps… We would have still have 3 hours Vs 7 hours of subsonic….. As against all this going back in time consumed happens we have spike like Elon musk bringing bfr vertically landing rockets… How bizarre

  11. Ok now if you actually want to know the highways of the sky look up jet routes and victor airways. This was just crossing the atlantic and doesn't really explain how the NAS works. Also, it only applies to places where there aren't NAVAIDS which all of the US is covered in and I'm pretty sure more people fly within the country not from JFK to London.

  12. isn't being only 16 miles below the sound barrier dangerous for a passenger airplane ? ( in case they accidentally reach the sound barrier )

  13. All the way to Europe, probably NOT after Brexit if it ever does happen and if the Europeans don’t start playing nicely

  14. Boston's teams are Red Sox and Patriots. Chicago was the teams you mentioned

  15. show the lines on an actual flat earth map and they will all be straight, asshole

  16. 5:28 I'm 13 and I'm going on a scho trip from Charlotte to london and that terrifies me I'm glad the doors on the cockpit are thick so I wont hear😂

  17. really great… really informativve… Weee Will NEvrr Forget Sep11… WWNFS Washington DC

  18. That is a very lonely picture going Interstellar space now you'll be lonely as hell🤔😮😮😮😮😮😮😮😮😮😮😮😮

  19. Oh man there are so many out there 😮 (feel like me)….. Radar service terminated……have a goodnight 🌃

  20. 4:26 Boston sports team are not the cubs and bears that is Chicago.

    Fascinating Video!

  21. Who think that 100 flights per day between two cities are way too much?

    It does not even go 10 buses a day in my hometown.

  22. Less than 100 years ago, Charles Lindbergh flew essentially the same route, with only a compass to find his way. To reduce the weight of his plane, and because he didn't trust the technology, he didn't take a radio. He flew 33-1/2 hours nonstop. The airfield where he landed (Le Bourget) wasn't even marked on his map. He only knew it was a few miles north of Paris. The crowd waiting for him was estimated at 150,000 people.

  23. Base command needs to learn to be a movable boat landing pad if they expect me to land back in the west.

  24. So what I’m hearing is there’s a point where NOBODY KNOWS WHERE TF YOU ARE OVER THE OCEAN am I getting that right?

  25. ~Berussels to nwew yoir kne york to bsrussel brsuswel to openhagen heathrow tio rbelgium luxembourg eyuropa

  26. High speed stall, low speed stall, terrain, pull up, nose down, coffin corner are terms being used by pilots when the crap hits the fan

  27. I'm glad I stop working at o'hare airport..The jet blast exposure is deadly no joke…Survival of the luckiest one's..

  28. thank God I am not a pilot, after 200 miles of no land I would have tried to take a u-turn and head back thinking we were lost.

  29. Im a pilot, the earth is flat. All you idiots cant say a thing until you do the math and stop listening to people who dont do the simple math

  30. Lived in Washington DC (The District) for 5 years: there's no better way to mark yourself out as a tourist than by calling National Airport "Regan National Airport" or "Regan.". Locals never call it that.

  31. the Boeing 777 was no were close to the sound barrier the 745 MPH was ground speed – not air speed.

  32. 1:42 Not true any more – as of February 2020 another British airways flight set a new record of 4 hours and 56 minutes between New York and London

  33. If the plane has no radar tracking over the Atlantic, then how can apps such Flightradar24 can show you where they are?

  34. I flew Miami to Baltimore in the mid 80’s on a 733 or 737 ( I forget) with, as the pilot announced, a 200 mph tailwind giving us a speed of 750 mph appx. Being in the very last seat, that tail was whipping like crazy. Arrived 45 minutes early.

  35. – – – S O – – – insanely tired of the lame Olive Garden ad on EVERY video…. I don’t even like the damned Olive Garden…….

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