Understanding the Curvature of Flight: Explaining the Altitude of Super Fast Planes

Lucas Rainfall

Updated Sunday, September 17, 2023 at 1:47 AM CDT

Understanding the Curvature of Flight: Explaining the Altitude of Super Fast Planes

Gravity and Piloting Techniques Keep Super Fast Planes at a Consistent Altitude

When it comes to the question of why a super fast plane like the Blackbird doesn't constantly gain altitude as the Earth slopes away from it, there are a few key factors at play. One of the main reasons is gravity, which pulls the plane down, counteracting the Earth's curvature. This was pointed out by Reddit user kazosk, who highlighted the role of gravity in keeping the plane at a steady altitude.

However, it's not just gravity that keeps the plane from zooming off into space. As Red_AtNight explained, the definition of a "straight line" in this context is crucial. If the straight line is angled upwards, then yes, the plane would gain altitude. But when we talk about a straight line at a constant altitude, the path of the plane is actually slightly curved to follow the curvature of the Earth. This means that the plane maintains a consistent altitude, even as the Earth slopes away.

Another important factor to consider is the role of the pilot. SirHerald pointed out that pilots actively control the plane's altitude, ensuring that it doesn't fly off into space. By maintaining a consistent altitude, the plane stays within the layers of air it's traveling through. At higher altitudes, there may be a lack of air, making it impossible for the plane to fly any higher.

JoushMark shed light on how pilots achieve this by using an artificial horizon, a device that uses a gyroscope to stay level. This gyroscope is affected by gravity, causing the bottom of it to point down towards the middle of the Earth. By keeping the artificial horizon level, pilots can ensure that the plane follows the curvature of the Earth and maintains a steady altitude.

While these explanations provide a solid understanding of why super fast planes don't constantly gain altitude, it's always helpful to have visual aids. TeamRockin suggested watching a video that explains this concept in an understandable way. The video also humorously addresses the arguments of flat earthers, making it an entertaining and educational resource.

To further illustrate the concept, Loan-Pickle offered a simple analogy using a paper plate and a string. By pulling the string tight and moving your hand forward, you can see how gravity pulls you towards the plate, causing your hand to follow the curve. This analogy helps visualize how the curvature of the Earth affects the path of a plane.

Additionally, meteorfrog highlighted the importance of precise gyroscopes in planes. These gyroscopes can detect even the smallest changes in pitch, allowing the plane to maintain its altitude. This small pitch rate is factored into the plane's trim settings, ensuring that it stays level and doesn't gain altitude.

Lastly, arvidsem emphasized that even the fastest planes, like the SR-71, are nowhere near escape velocity. Escape velocity is the speed required to leave Earth's gravitational pull, and without reaching this velocity, a plane cannot leave Earth's atmosphere. This further supports the notion that super fast planes, while incredibly speedy, are still bound by the Earth's gravitational forces.

The altitude of super fast planes like the Blackbird is not constantly gaining as the Earth slopes away from them due to a combination of gravity, piloting techniques, and the curvature of the Earth. By understanding these factors, we can appreciate the incredible engineering and skill required to keep these planes at a steady altitude while traversing the skies.

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