Long distance trips

In November of 1920, two men started a flying service with two biplanes flying from Winton, Queensland in Australia. They provided charter and sightseeing flights and later obtained contracts from the Australian government to cary mail between railheads in western Queensland. They named their company Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Limited. Today the world knows the company as Qantas, the acronym formed from the company’s name. In 1947, after the end of the Second World War, the company started an amazing service. They provided regularly scheduled airline service from Australia to England, flying from Sydney to London and back. Each one-way trip took four days and seven stops. They called it the kangaroo route.

Today, A Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, with a distinctive Qantas paint scheme, landed in London just over 17 hours before taking off from Perth in Western Australia. The flight, with more than 200 passengers and 16 crew, inaugurated regular service between the two cities. 17 hours is a long flight. I’ve flown from Los Angeles to Melbourne, Australia, a flight that took a little over 15 hours. We made the trip on a Boeing 747, which used roughly twice the amount of fuel used by the Dreamliner flight. And the noise levels were considerably higher than on the newer Boeing design.

The flight is the second-longest route in distance and time. The current record-holder for the longest is Qatar Airways flights 921 and 920 between Auckland, New Zealand and Doha, Qatar. That trip covers over 9,000 miles and takes 18 hours and 20 minutes to complete. It is currently being serviced by Boeing 777 aircraft.

There used to be a nonstop flight from Singapore to New York, which is even longer. That trip used a 747SP airliner. Continental Airlines used to operate a non-stop from Newark to Hong Kong with a Boeing 777. United Airlines had a flight from New York to Hong Kong using a Boeing 747-400. Fuel prices are the major factors in the discontinuation of super long-distance routes.

Planning and executing super long-distance air routes is a sophisticated science. There are several choices of routes. Airlines generally follow great circle routes on long distance flights, traveling north or south of a direct route, but covering a similar distance, taking advantage of the curvature of the earth to obtain the most favorable winds aloft. On a long flight the winds can make a huge difference in time and fuel consumed. And fuel is a huge factor because the more fuel used, the more weight the aircraft has to lift from the ground on takeoff. As fuel is burned and the airliner becomes lighter, altitudes and efficiency increase. Much more fuel is used in the first half of the flight than in the second half.

Having grown up around airplanes and being a person who enjoys flying, I keep track of these really long distances. It seems to me that it would be fun to be a passenger on one of those really long distance flights, but It probably makes no sense given my lifestyle, income and other factors for me to travel one of those routes. It is likely that the flight to Australia will remain my personal long distance record.

And some of the records are no longer available. Airlines are considerably faster than was the case years ago. For two years, from 1943 to 1945, Qantas operated a weekly flight between Perth and Koggala Lagoon in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). They used Consolidated PBY Catalina flying boats. The average flight time was 28 hours. And the Catalina wasn’t exactly quiet with its huge radial engines. The record flight took 32 hours and 9 minutes. That record stands as the longest-ever regularly scheduled airline flight.

The history of aviation in the 20th century is truly remarkable, from the first ever heavier than air flight by the Wright Brothers in 1903 to regularly scheduled super long-distance airline service around the globe. Flying has become the most common and most practical method of long-distance travel.

But the journeys we envisioned have not yt come to pass. Fuel, noise and safety concerns have meant that we still fly at subsonic speeds. The age of supersonic flight, envisioned in the middle 20th century and briefly brought about by the Concorde have gone by the wayside. It isn’t practical in today’s economy to move people at that speed.

Growing up in the days of the space race and watching every launch live on television, I believed that we all would be flying into space within our lifetimes. I expected that I would make a trip to the moon, something that doesn’t seem likely now, given the extreme costs of space travel and the simple fact that there is not yet any reason for mass travel between near space objects. We can learn so much from unmanned flights that the choice to send humans needs to be carefully made.

Of course we still dream. Flights to and from Mars are being planned. There are those who envision a time when people from the earth might colonize other planets. It is always hard to predict the future and exploration sometimes advances in huge bursts of speed, but at the moment it doesn’t look like the 21st Century will match the 20th in terms of advances in transportation.

Our imaginations, however, are not limited. I can read about the super long-distance flights and imagine that I might one day take one of those journeys. I can learn about space travel and imagine what it might mean to undertake such an adventure.

But today is Palm Sunday. And I need to set aside my imagined journeys and prepare for the practical 10-mile trip from my home to the church and the short walk that we will take as a community in our Palm Sunday Parade. Not every journey takes a lot of hours. Not every journey covers a huge distance. But Jesus’ walk into the city of Jerusalem changed everything and the world has never been the same.

Not every trip has to be long to be meaningful.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!