Virgin Atlantic 787 Exceeded Speed of Sound, Passengers Arrive Early at Heathrow

Virgin Atlantic flight VS8 from Los Angeles to London hit 801 miles per hour over Pennsylvania yesterday.

The key thing to understand here of course is the difference between air speed and ground speed. Air speed is how much faster an object is moving relative to the air around it. A 787 is not designed to go higher than 587 miles per hour in air speed. However this one wasn’t exceeding that speed.

Instead the plane’s ground speed exceeded 800 miles per hour because the wind itself gave the plane a tail wind of over 200 miles per hour.

It’s like the moving walkway at the airport. You have your own forward speed, but if you continue this velocity in an environment that is itself moving, it can propel you at an impressive rate.

A ground speed of 801 miles per hour (obtained only briefly, as the plane remained in the jet streak only a brief period of time) is faster than the speed of sound (767 miles per hour). However the 787 wasn’t actually breaking the sound barrier as it was not moving 767 miles per hour faster than the surrounding air.

A year ago a Norwegian Boeing 787-9 flew 776 miles per hour and set a record flying between New York and London in 5 hours 13 minutes.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. ATC has been tracking flights across the midwest this week in excess of 672 kts at altitude for Rednose and other aircraft between LAX and Gatwick/LHR. Amazing

  2. That sure would give you an interesting story to tell at your next dinner party. “So, I flew faster than the speed of sound* on my last trip.” Of course, you can’t hear the asterisk, so…leave your audience to be impressed or question you as they might. 🙂

  3. I promise you 100% the aircraft DID NOT break the speed of sound. Ground speed and True Air Speed are completely different. The aircraft Would have to be going 777 mph through the air mass to break the speed of sound this aircraft broke that speed over the ground not through the air. The never exceed speed of the 787 is below the speed of sound. A very fast jet stream may assist the aircraft over the ground but the plane was probably Mach.85 True Air Speed. There is a HUGE difference between air speed and ground speed.

  4. I arrived in Dublin 50 minutes early one morning from JFK on an Aer Lingus 330. Captain said “we got a good shove from behind by mother nature” (insert thick Irish brogue)

  5. And this is why predeparture beverage is so important. Plane rides can be so short, that no time is available to serve food or drinks. Blame it on the jet stream.

  6. Often this can mean there is NO GATE assigned once the plane lands. It often has to wait until its assigned gate becomes available. Most importantly, the inflight service is halted and rather than enjoy the two hours of in-air hospitality, you get to sit on the ground pissed off becaus there is no more food or beverage service!

  7. Two weeks ago I did a LAX-BOS-LAX mileage run with an immediate turn around. We got to Boston in an insanely quick 4 hours 20 minutes. But getting back? 6 hours 50 minutes!!!

  8. Fake news. At least you somewhat clarified it in the article. This is not even that big of deal. Just an unusually large jet stream.

  9. This Dreamliner did exceed the speed of sound. It traveled at 797 miles per hour over the ground. Ryan, you are a crybaby. Wah crybaby, wah. Go cry to your mama.

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