November 22, 2010

Fantastic Flyers Day

On this day in 1899, aviator Wiley Post was born. He got his flying license in 1926—and it was signed by Orville Wright—despite the fact that he wore an eye patch because he'd lost his left eye in an oilfield accident.

Post made some contributions to the world of aviation, aside from being an early flyer. With navigator Harold Gatty, he set a record for around-the-world travel, and he was the first to fly around the world solo. He invented one of the first pressurized suits to wear when he flew around the world, and he did research on jet streams.

Unfortunately, Post died flying. In 1935 he piloted a small plane with humorist Will Rogers as his passenger. They traveled from Seattle to Alaska safely, despite the fact that the small plane was nose-heavy due to the size of the floats needed for water landings, but on one take-off (at Point Barrow, Alaska), the engine failed and the plane crashed. Both men died instantly.

On this day in 1971, Elgen Long became the first person to fly over both poles in one flight. Long flew around the world, starting and ending at San Francisco, California, and flying over both the North and South Poles.

In that one flight, Long set 15 world records and firsts! He also received worldwide acclaim.

What are jet streams?

Jet streams are fast-moving air currents. They are caused by Earth's rotation, because the air around the equator has to move very quickly to “keep up” with the planet's rotation, but the air at the poles has to move hardly at all. This speed difference makes a difference as the air at higher altitudes “slips” and falls behind the speed of the air below.

The slipped air is affected by temperature differences and differences in water content—and these differences are affected, in turn, by the location of continents and oceans.

The upshot is that some parts of the atmosphere travel faster than other parts.

Jet streams are important in weather prediction and especially in air travel. Flights that can take advantage of the jet streams, which flow from west to east, can travel more quickly than can flights that have to battle against the flow. Also, turbulence is associated with the edges of jet streams.

To learn more about jet streams, check out Kids Ahead

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