Mercator projection and flight paths *

As a sidenote to the previous post on tailwinds and supersonic flights, if you love flying one of the many things that you would do is check out the flight path. But when you do so, you might lay your eyes on some bizarre looking routes.

This is the flight path taken by an emirates A380 flight operating from Dubai to Los Angeles.


First thing to note is this is not how the actual path looks like since this is the cylindrical projection of a sphere onto a 2D plane (known as Mercator projection)


  The yellow path (great circle route) is the shortest route between SFO -LHR

And as a result of this projection, drawing a straight line across the map would not yield the shortest distance.

Instead, the shortest course between two points on the surface of a sphere is known as the Great circle route.


          Pilots love to take advantage of jetstreams to save time and fuel

It is to be noted that although the distance is shorter when one takes the great circle route,one has to account for a lot of other factors while planning a flight path ( such as wind patterns, fuel consumption, air temperature, etc ) and it is not uncommon for pilots to deviate from the great circle route.

** Mathematics of Mercator’s projection


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