Monday, April 3, 2023

How to fly a plane forever without landing

The radius of the earth is around 3,969 miles1. Most storm clouds top out around 75,000 feet, or 14.2 miles2. So, to stay above the clouds, you'd need to be flying around 3,983.2 miles from the center of the earth. Let's round that to 4,000 miles. Given a circle with a radius of 4,000 miles, that gives you a circumference of 25,132.74 miles (recall that circumference is calculated by "C = 2 ⋅ π ⋅ r"). We're calculating this circumference in order for a solar powered plane to stay above the clouds (since we want it to fly forever).

Now, the sun "moves across" a point on the earth in roughly 24 hours (really, the point on the earth rotates in about 24 hours to return to face the sun, but from the point's perspective, or the earth's perspective, the sun is racing across the ground (from East to West) to return to that point). For that circumference, you're looking at a speed of around 1,047 miles per hour (25,132 miles / 24 hours ≈ 1,047 miles/hour). Note that speed is greater than the speed of sound, which is roughly 767 mph3, but a good bit under mach 2.

So, send your solar plane up (while the sun is up, of course; preferably while it's fairly directly overhead), get up to around 1,050 mph (rounding here), and fly due West. You should never have to land that plane, ever, as you'll stay "under the sun" perpetually. Hooray! Just be sure to wear sunscreen and shades if you're actually piloting that plane (since you'll be always in the sun); I'd recommend just sending up a drone solar powered plane instead and let it radio you once per day as it flies overhead. Oh, and be sure to get this approved from the FAA before you start, and maybe every other nation's equivalent, too. And alert the Pentagon so they don't shoot down your "spy craft."4

1 Wikipedia: Radius of the Earth
2 Thunderstorm clouds: The tallest clouds on this planet
3 Wikipedia: Speed of Sound
4 F-22 Safely Shoots Down Chinese Spy Balloon Off South Carolina Coast

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