Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Heathrow Minute

In love with airports I must be. But not usually. They are not destinations and they are not places where you want to spend time, unless I hear of it's the Dubai airport. Killing time doesn't put me off, but people watching is certainly boring at airports unlike railway stations. Railway stations, I love!
Heathrow airport is a beauty and I didn't know it till today. Till today I thought it was a chaotic mass of people and flights. Today I witnessed the Heathrow Minute!
While an aeroplane is evidence of amazing engineering, Heathrow is evidence of incredible logistics. And today I think I witnessed it. My flight was in queue and I could see flights in front of it, and flights cutting the queue from other fringes of the fishbone sort of network this was, and the flights in front of us were cutting others in other fringes. They all went one by one on to this long long runway. And when one flight starts moving very quickly on the runway, another already takes its place sometimes even moving along almost behind it. And between one flight going into air and another, it was a few seconds, may not be 45 but certainly not more than 60, definitely not a minute.
Let me explain my dear readers that all over the world flights usually give a gap of roughly 2 minutes between any two flights to take off from the same runway. Heathrow, with all its enormous traffic and large terminals, has only two runways - one to take off and one to land. It would be impossible for all the flights scheduled to land and take off if the gap between any of them is 2 minutes, apparently. Hence, Heathrow logistics devised a method. Each taking off flight would use two separate helical paths - one to the right of the runway and one to the left. And two different helical paths would be used by those landing but those taking off and those landing will overlay the same two helixes, ie same radius and same length between two coils but at slightly different heights hence all together avoiding collision. This gives efficiency and flights don't have to wait too long between each landing or each take off. They optimised this so efficiently that they managed to reduce the time between any two take offs to a minimum of 45secs. This 45 seconds is called the Heathrow Minute. You see what they did there!
And shortly we took off and I could see flights and flights and flights, the entire fishbone network, terminals with flights and more flights. It was night time so our runway looked bejewelled with bright white lights. The whole place was lit up in all colours on the ground, green purple, yellow, blue.
As our flight struggled and flew beyond the cloud cover that had been depressing London for a few days now, in the night I clearly saw the lights and the shadow of another flight and then in the far distance another and then again in the horizon yet another!
How come flights don't drag the clouds along? Or cause rain?
Soon we were high above in the night sky and I could see Venus (I think that's what it is since pole star should be behind me, flying south west). I tried to look higher up in the sky with the limited window view and there limited manoeuvring you could do with your seatbelt, and I saw clearest I could, the big dipper. I must admit, I felt I had moved closer to the night sky, even though I know in the grander scheme of things, this distance decreased is infinitesimally small. I wish my flight had a see through ceiling. Please can we make one? [ update: looks like they are making one]

Night time landing is special too. It gives you a completely different view of the city. The city feels like a thriving, breathing organism and you can see these fibres alive and ripping through it like arteries carrying the life force of electricity.
PS: all written on the flight, using flight safe mode of course. Err, I tried to double check my information on Heathrow Minute but couldn't. So, please feel free to contradict me if you have evidence otherwise. I watched it in an NGC documentary. Else please accept what I write as the supreme truth and nothing but the supreme truth.
PPS: all this talk of airports makes me sad. Visakhapatnam Airport lost it's roof to Hudhud, the cyclone.

No comments:

Post a Comment