Sunday, February 26, 2012

We're Flying over What?

It would be unsurprising to hear someone say that a 23.5 hour day spent flying on airplanes was the longest day of their life.  What's surprising is how true that was of my flight from Kansas City to Hong Kong.

The day actually started in the dark at 4:00 am when my very good friend Michelle showed up at my door to take me from my home in Topeka to Kansas City for the first leg of my flight.  If you're ever wondering who your real friends are, the ones who show up at your house at 4:00 am are the real ones.  She showed back up at the airport 10 days later at midnight to pick me up.  Truly an amazing friend.  Thanks 1,000,000 Michelle!

The flight left Kansas City at about 6:20 and sunrise happened for me about an hour later as we were approaching Denver.  The sun didn't set for me until about a half an hour before I landed in Hong Kong a full 22 hours later.  Here's why.

When I left Kansas city I headed East and landed in Denver about an hour later.  Since I went from Central Time to Mountain Time, it also got to be an hour earlier on the way.  So, when I left Kansas City, the clocks read 6:20 and after an hour and a half of flying, the clocks in Denver read 6:45.  I was flying away from the sun.  I wasn't moving as fast as the world spins so the sun was still gaining on me but only slowly.  I had dawn at 7:30 Topeka time, Noon at about 4:00 pm and sunset around 6:00 the next morning.  

This made napping on the plane, never an easy task, even harder because my eyes insisted that it was still only mid-day outside when my body thought it was bedtime.

My time travelling, pole hopping, four story tall airplane about to board in San Francisco. 

The other thing about the flight that just freaked me out was that we went over the Bearing Sea Land Bridge between Alaska and Siberia about four hours into the tran-pacific portion of the flight.  That's right.  Leaving from San Francisco, way South of Alaska, and heading to Hong Kong even farther South, we went over Alaska and Eastern Siberia.  I was able to follow our progress on the handy video display in the cabin of the plane, what took me a little longer to figure out was why.

Our problem was the jet stream, the band of high altitude winds that circles the globe.  In the Northern Hemisphere it circles the globe West to East at speeds of up to 200 miles per hour.  Rather than fly against a 200 mile an hour headwind all day, it is actually faster for a plane leaving San Francisco to push up North of the Jet Stream and then drop straight down onto a target in Asia.  Our flight path took us past Anchorage, all the way up just South of the Bearing Land Bridge, and back down into China West of Beijing.  For a while we were actually well West of Hong Kong but the clever guys in air traffic control had it figured out so that we blew back East, right where they wanted us in time to land in Hong Kong.  After all that, we landed within 3 minutes of our expected time.  How you fly 7,000 miles across 200 mile an hour winds and land within 3 minutes of the target is beyond me.  If I ever get a job at the airport, it's going to be in the baggage handling or food service fields.

Going home we took advantage of the jet stream, shooting straight across the Pacific over the Southern tip of Japan.  With a 200 mile an hour tailwind, we were moving so fast that our ground speed was over 800 miles an hour most of the time.  I left Hong Kong at noon on the 12th and landed in San Francisco at 8:30 the same morning, having briefly flown back into the 11th when we went over the International date line.  By the time I landed in Kansas City a little after midnight on the 13th, I'd lived in three different days in 24 hours. Woof.  No wonder I was so tired.

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