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Faster Than Speed of Sound Without Breaking Sound Barrier

A massive jet stream formed over the mid-Atlantic region last weekend, resulting in the remarkable effect of boosting some eastbound commercial flights to travel faster than the speed of sound.

Virgin Atlantic jet liner
Credit: Virgin Atlantic

A Virgin Atlantic flight reached a ground speed of 802 miles per hour - faster than the 767 mph measurement of the speed of sound - as it jetted from Washington to London, landing 45 minutes ahead of schedule, says the Washington Post.

It wasn't the only one. Two other commercial jetliners achieved similar feats thanks to an unusually powerful jet stream, which clocked in at a blistering 265 mph compared to the average jet stream speed of around 110 mph. However, because the Virgin Atlantic flight and two others like it - including one from Newark to Lisbon that reached a ground speed of 835 mph - were within the jet stream's flow, they didn't break the sound barrier.

How so? Well, even though they were traveling faster than the speed of sound relative to the ground, the planes didn't actually break the sound barrier because they weren't moving 767 mph faster than the air around them.


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