berari
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High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Thu Jun 07, 2018 11:51 pm

Very few times do I see commercial airliners flying at high altitudes, but this one, a B767 by Ethiopian Airlines operating for United Nations caught my eye, currently flying at 43000 feet.

Playing with filters, I see that the handful or so commercial airliners are limited to B787s and A350s, with this one being an exception at this very moment. Most aircraft flying higher than 42500 are private jet types.

https://www.flightradar24.com/ETH8999/11a5f6fa

What are the parameters for such high altitude flying in commercial aviation? Why do we not see many more of these? Even with the average 787 flights, we do not see this regularly, with cruising altitudes generally around 41000.
 
sixtyseven
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Thu Jun 07, 2018 11:55 pm

The majority are not certified above 39000 or 41000.
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zuckie13
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Fri Jun 08, 2018 12:15 am

You need an airplane that is certified to that altitude, and even if it is, you need the load to be light enough to make that altitude possible and efficient. Means limited opportunities to do it.
 
747WanSui
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Fri Jun 08, 2018 12:16 am

I personally have never observed any commercial flight operating above 41000 feet. The main problem with higher altitudes is that the higher you go the thinner the air becomes, which reduces the ability to sustain the aircraft at those higher altitudes.

On a side note, this goes to show that there really is no “safe altitude” for current commercial aircraft where they are completely immune from missile attacks (the most technologically advanced missiles can reach altitudes which are about twice the upper limit of current commercial airliners).
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Spacepope
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Fri Jun 08, 2018 12:40 am

Many airliners ca happily operate above 41000 feet, however part of the certification process is the ability for the airliner to descend to 10000 feet in case of a rapid decompression within 10 minutes without overspeeding the airframe. This is why the slippery 748 has a lower ceiling (43,100 feet) than a 744 (45,100 feet). It coud fly higher, but it would take too long to get back down to 10000 feet.

There's rumors of USAF E-4Bs operating at or above 50,000 feet, but they are not bound by these certification results for passenger aircraft.

As for the UN 767: The 767 is certified to 43,100 feet.
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PPVLC
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Fri Jun 08, 2018 12:53 am

I used to fly 767s and commonly above 41,000 ft.
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ilovelamp
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Fri Jun 08, 2018 4:13 am

787s and some 777s fly up to FL430 all the time.
 
Blockplus
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Fri Jun 08, 2018 4:56 am

Over fl 410 one pilot must wear an o2 mask at all times... pilot comfort over minimal efficiency gain..
 
flyinggoat
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Fri Jun 08, 2018 5:26 am

Back in 2006, I was on a NW A319 that hit 42,000 ft while flying between MSP and BIL (Billings, MT). I thought I heard wrong when they announced the cruising altitude, but my friend next to me heard the same thing. That's the highest I've ever flown.
 
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atcsundevil
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Fri Jun 08, 2018 5:31 am

I can't recall seeing a commercial aircraft being higher than FL410, but I've worked a couple of G650s at FL510 (well, one was technically 490 Block 510). Pretty impressive. Needless to say, there are things which can go higher, but they usually aren't civilian aircraft.
 
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Starlionblue
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Fri Jun 08, 2018 7:51 am

I've been at FL430 all of once. This was towards the end of a long flight. Relatively low weight is an important factor, but also atmospheric conditions. Warmer air means the optimal cruise level is lower. Side note: The 350-900 ceiling is 43100feet, but the -1000 ceiling is 41450, same as the 330. I guess that wing can only do so much.

Even if climbing to a higher level sometimes isn't quite optimal from a performance perspective, "claiming the high ground" can often pay off in the long run. For example, if you're on a busy route climbing early can mean you won't be held down for hours by some other guy who is higher. If you're in busy airspace you may be given the option of climbing now or descending to a very suboptimal lower level. At FL400 and above there's not much traffic so the likelihood of any traffic constraints is lower.
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Noshow
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Fri Jun 08, 2018 9:42 am

You receive seriously more radiation up there as much of the lower atmosphere buffering lies below you. So flying very high for too long might be unhealthy. Strong winds blowing from the back and more direct routes within less congested skies might be the main advantage of flying so high.
 
kurtverbose
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Fri Jun 08, 2018 9:57 am

atcsundevil wrote:
I can't recall seeing a commercial aircraft being higher than FL410


*cough* - Concorde.
 
snasteve
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Fri Jun 08, 2018 10:44 am

kurtverbose wrote:
atcsundevil wrote:
I can't recall seeing a commercial aircraft being higher than FL410


*cough* - Concorde.


Last flight 2003, as fast as time flies, won't be long now before people ask what is the concorde?
 
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Fri Jun 08, 2018 11:01 am

Going back many years I reached FL450 whilst flying PVG-AMS with KLM on the 74M. The flight was very light and we had strong headwinds at the lower levels, so we went above them! One of my all time coolest flights; super crew and what a view - the sky was the kind of deep blue that looks like you could cut with a knife.

It happens pretty often, just this morning I saw an ET 77F flying overhead MAH at 43,000ft.
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strfyr51
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Fri Jun 08, 2018 11:07 am

In the USA? FL510 and above are reserved for Military. I have seen and flown on a Lear35 that climbed to FL510 on a return to service test flight.
 
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TOGA10
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Fri Jun 08, 2018 11:21 am

flyinggoat wrote:
Back in 2006, I was on a NW A319 that hit 42,000 ft while flying between MSP and BIL (Billings, MT). I thought I heard wrong when they announced the cruising altitude, but my friend next to me heard the same thing. That's the highest I've ever flown.

I'm 99% sure the A319 is certified to up to FL398, see: https://www.easa.europa.eu/sites/default/files/dfu/TCDS_EASA%20A%20064_%20Airbus_%20A318_A319_A320_A321_Iss_33.pdf#page39
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chimborazo
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Fri Jun 08, 2018 11:54 am

Is that right about A350-1000 limited to 41k?

I flew QR1 on a -1000 from DOH to LHR on Saturday. There were I think 8 of us in business and about 20 people in economy. We were up at 43k not that long into the flight- according to the IFE. I was surprised as it's the first time I'd seen that high.
 
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Fri Jun 08, 2018 12:06 pm

chimborazo wrote:
Is that right about A350-1000 limited to 41k?


Yes at the moment, there was a similar limit on the A350-900 for FAA part 121 carriers as well.
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chimborazo
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Fri Jun 08, 2018 12:21 pm

Interesting. I'd had a few glasses of champers... but not that many! Wish I'd screen-shotted it now
 
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atcsundevil
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Fri Jun 08, 2018 2:26 pm

kurtverbose wrote:
atcsundevil wrote:
I can't recall seeing a commercial aircraft being higher than FL410


*cough* - Concorde.

Well, I wasn't a controller when I was 14 years old, so my comment still stands.
 
flyinggoat
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Sat Jun 09, 2018 1:28 am

TOGA10 wrote:


Well, I'm not sure what to say then. I know it was an A319, and both my friend and I heard 42,000. Either they announced the wrong altitude, or they were flying higher than they were allowed.
 
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Starlionblue
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Sat Jun 09, 2018 2:54 am

I doubt they were flying higher than was legal. That could well have led to an automated report in the maintenance system. A good way to get invited to the chief pilot's office for tea and biscuits.

Maybe the local temperature and QNH were really high and the pilot did the maths to convert the FL to actual altitude. I jest, I jest... :D
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Max Q
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Sat Jun 09, 2018 4:23 am

Been to 41 many times in the 757 /767

And FL430 once in the 767-200, we
were very light, enduring memory is how quiet it was in the cockpit!
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ikolkyo
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Sat Jun 09, 2018 6:33 am

I feel there is this misconception that aircraft always fly as high as they possibly can on every flight. It’s simply not true, you will generally see aircraft very comfortable flying between flight level 330-390. On some flights it’s very obvious that aircraft can cruise higher but it doesn’t have to.
 
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zeke
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Sat Jun 09, 2018 8:21 am

Starlionblue wrote:
I doubt they were flying higher than was legal. That could well have led to an automated report in the maintenance system. A good way to get invited to the chief pilot's office for tea and biscuits.

Maybe the local temperature and QNH were really high and the pilot did the maths to convert the FL to actual altitude. I jest, I jest... :D


Or a GPS derived geometric altitude displayed on the IFE rather than pressure altitude.
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longhauler
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Sat Jun 09, 2018 10:09 am

flyinggoat wrote:
Back in 2006, I was on a NW A319 that hit 42,000 ft while flying between MSP and BIL (Billings, MT). I thought I heard wrong when they announced the cruising altitude, but my friend next to me heard the same thing. That's the highest I've ever flown.

Likely it was 32,000.

In North America, RVSM only goes to FL410, so the next legal altitude higher would be FL430. And the above notes are correct. The highest certified altitude for the A319 is 39,100 or 39,800 depending on when it was built.
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Max Q
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Sat Jun 09, 2018 5:12 pm

I believe the A319 Corporate Jet is certified to 410


As it will undergo far less pressurization cycles in that role
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Sun Jun 10, 2018 1:19 pm

I remember flying in the late-1990s on a Delta 757 from PBI to ATL, a short hop. I can’t recall if we climbed to 41 or 43, but I recall being very surprised (I remarked about it to my then-wife) that we were so high on such a short flight.
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BravoOne
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Sun Jun 10, 2018 3:30 pm

In the Lear 24B & D we used 410 for anything greater than 250NM. It was more like lob, than a traditional flight path. Amazing airplane.
 
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Sun Jun 10, 2018 8:21 pm

DaveFly wrote:
I remember flying in the late-1990s on a Delta 757 from PBI to ATL, a short hop. I can’t recall if we climbed to 41 or 43, but I recall being very surprised (I remarked about it to my then-wife) that we were so high on such a short flight.


Same here, Dave, around that same time period, too. My DL 757 flight from ATL to CVG, a flight that normally takes right at one hour, went up to FL410. There were a number of thunderheads over the Ohio Valley that morning. Several of the buildups towered over us, but the flight was reasonably smooth. In fact, I was expecting a bumpier ride than the one that I got.
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7BOEING7
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Sun Jun 10, 2018 9:39 pm

For what it's worth, (some mentioned above) the maximum operating altitudes are:

727 42,000 ft
737 1/2/3/4/5 37,000 ft
737 6/7/8/9 41,000 ft
747 (ex -8) 45,100 ft
757 41,000 or 42,000 ft
767 43,100 ft
777 43,100 ft
787 43,100 ft

These are for normal operations. Depending on the weight, the airplanes can actually be flown higher than the above listed altitudes.
 
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Mon Jun 11, 2018 2:52 am

strfyr51 wrote:
In the USA? FL510 and above are reserved for Military. I have seen and flown on a Lear35 that climbed to FL510 on a return to service test flight.


You sure about that? In my ATC career I have worked multiple biz jets either level at FL510 or in a block 490-510. Never once was I told those planes couldn’t be there because it’s reserved for military.
 
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Tue Jun 12, 2018 5:34 am

Only aircraft I've seen at FL410 and above are the B737 NG, 787, and A350.

Haven't seen any 747s, 777s, or 757/767s higher than FL390 yet. A320 series aircraft I've only seen as high as FL370.

Seems like WN tends to fly their B737s (mainly the -700s) higher than DL, UA, AA, or AS from what I've observed.
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Tue Jun 12, 2018 5:38 am

While the 777 can go high, it doesn't seem to like to. AFAIK it has to do with the wing not really being sized for it, especially on the heavier versions.

On any random long or ultra long haul route, we'll cruise 4000-6000 feet higher in the 350.
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TOGA10
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Tue Jun 12, 2018 8:51 am

Runway28L wrote:
Only aircraft I've seen at FL410 and above are the B737 NG, 787, and A350.

Haven't seen any 747s, 777s, or 757/767s higher than FL390 yet. A320 series aircraft I've only seen as high as FL370.

Seems like WN tends to fly their B737s (mainly the -700s) higher than DL, UA, AA, or AS from what I've observed.

Re the 320 series, we fly those between FL 350-390 all the time, depending on weight and other factors. Both the 319 and 320 have no issue getting up to FL390 once we're light enough. Can't speak for the 318/321.
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GalaxyFlyer
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Wed Jun 13, 2018 12:25 am

trnswrld wrote:
strfyr51 wrote:
In the USA? FL510 and above are reserved for Military. I have seen and flown on a Lear35 that climbed to FL510 on a return to service test flight.


You sure about that? In my ATC career I have worked multiple biz jets either level at FL510 or in a block 490-510. Never once was I told those planes couldn’t be there because it’s reserved for military.


It’s FL600 where it becomes uncontrolled airspace and basically, military-only.


gf
 
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Starlionblue
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Wed Jun 13, 2018 1:44 am

GalaxyFlyer wrote:
trnswrld wrote:
strfyr51 wrote:
In the USA? FL510 and above are reserved for Military. I have seen and flown on a Lear35 that climbed to FL510 on a return to service test flight.


You sure about that? In my ATC career I have worked multiple biz jets either level at FL510 or in a block 490-510. Never once was I told those planes couldn’t be there because it’s reserved for military.


It’s FL600 where it becomes uncontrolled airspace and basically, military-only.


gf


De facto military only because the military tends to own all the planes that can go that high. However, a civilian plane certified for that altitude is perfectly legal to fly up there. Virgin's SpaceShipTwo comes to mind.
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WKTaylor
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Wed Jun 13, 2018 5:17 pm

The certification limit altitude [standard day] is based on a list of critical factors.

Aerodynamics, to include stability and control and Mach number limit are obvious. This include structural limit for flutter.

Structural pressurization max limit [pressure differential] and pressurization system ability to maintain steady pressure.

Extreme low static temperatures can affect fuel icing and systems performance. Also the affects of the deep chill on the airframe/systems/fuel can last for hours after descent/landing. Jets that have flow high for many hours often land with frozen moisture... or extreme condensation all-over... especially wings with fuel.

Extreme low pressure-density degrades cooling performance of air for core-engines and hot-running accessories. NOTE: if I recall correctly a Canadair RJ was flown above certified altitude by a ferry flight crew [plt/cplt] who were curious about the extreme high altitude acft performance... and couldn't why it was clearly restricted to a lower altitude [41K?]. During the max altitude cruise, the core engine bearings over heated and both engines seized. The resultant crash was unavoidable... RJ had the glide-ratio of a man-hole-cover. I can't remember if anyone survived.
 
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Thu Jun 14, 2018 3:21 am

It was not above it’s certified level, which is F410, it was flown too slowly, in indicated airspeed, stalled which then caused dual engine flame-out. The core “locked” due to the low mass flow thru the core as a result of low speed and air density. Both pilots were killed. GE engines on the Challenger fly at F410 all the time IF flown at the proper Mach number.


GF
 
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Thu Jun 14, 2018 4:04 am

Spacepope wrote:
Many airliners ca happily operate above 41000 feet, however part of the certification process is the ability for the airliner to descend to 10000 feet in case of a rapid decompression within 10 minutes without overspeeding the airframe. This is why the slippery 748 has a lower ceiling (43,100 feet) than a 744 (45,100 feet). It coud fly higher, but it would take too long to get back down to 10000 feet.

There's rumors of USAF E-4Bs operating at or above 50,000 feet, but they are not bound by these certification results for passenger aircraft.

As for the UN 767: The 767 is certified to 43,100 feet.


Supposedly the VC-25 flew at 45,000 to 46,000 on 9-11-2001. I would assume the 748 based replacements will be able to fly at that altitude or even higher. They have lots fewer passengers and could carry more oxygen generators if getting to lower altitudes takes longer.
 
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Thu Jun 14, 2018 5:03 am

flyingclrs727 wrote:

Supposedly the VC-25 flew at 45,000 to 46,000 on 9-11-2001. I would assume the 748 based replacements will be able to fly at that altitude or even higher. They have lots fewer passengers and could carry more oxygen generators if getting to lower altitudes takes longer.


That is not the issue. The issue is the ability of the aircraft to do an emergency descent and get to FL140 (14,000') in 4 minutes or less. The 748 has a much slicker wing which doesn't come down easy. I really doubt the VC-25 flew that high. If it did it was on fumes as the empty weight of the aircraft is substantially heavier a normal pax 200B. A 200B would struggle to get to its max certified altitude of FL451.
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flyingclrs727
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Thu Jun 14, 2018 5:21 am

mmo wrote:
flyingclrs727 wrote:

Supposedly the VC-25 flew at 45,000 to 46,000 on 9-11-2001. I would assume the 748 based replacements will be able to fly at that altitude or even higher. They have lots fewer passengers and could carry more oxygen generators if getting to lower altitudes takes longer.


That is not the issue. The issue is the ability of the aircraft to do an emergency descent and get to FL140 (14,000') in 4 minutes or less. The 748 has a much slicker wing which doesn't come down easy. I really doubt the VC-25 flew that high. If it did it was on fumes as the empty weight of the aircraft is substantially heavier a normal pax 200B. A 200B would struggle to get to its max certified altitude of FL451.


As the last 747 Classics ever delivered, the VC-25's were built with the same GE CF6-80 jet engines installed in the early 747-400's. The VC-25's might have been heavy for 742's, but they were lighter than 744's.
 
Max Q
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Thu Jun 14, 2018 9:01 am

Perhaps but they still have the Classic -200 wing
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mmo
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Thu Jun 14, 2018 9:56 am

flyingclrs727 wrote:

As the last 747 Classics ever delivered, the VC-25's were built with the same GE CF6-80 jet engines installed in the early 747-400's. The VC-25's might have been heavy for 742's, but they were lighter than 744's.


I am aware of that but it makes no difference at all as the limitation is the ability to descend in 4 minutes or less to 14,000' in an emergency descent.
No, the VC-25 is much heavier than a 400! The entire fuselage is protected against EMP which has added quite a bit of weight. It has additional equipment a second APU, increased radio capacity, built in freezers/refrigerators in the aft cargo compartment. And that is all on the original 200 wing. It does have some of the improvements to the structure which were introduced in the 400 such as an improved body/wing fairing.

As far as I know, the VC-25 has no additional Max Alt provisions at all and is limited to FL451.

I have been on AF-1 two times as I had a very good friend who was with me when I went through UPT. When working for a certain carrier with a red tail, we did a series of press charters with Clinton and got a very detailed tour of AF-1 in MLI and SFO. He was with the 89th when Reagan, Bush and Clinton were in the WH. He was originally flying the VC-137 as AF-1 and went to the VC-25 under Bush/Clinton.
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Spacepope
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Thu Jun 14, 2018 11:59 am

mmo wrote:
flyingclrs727 wrote:

As the last 747 Classics ever delivered, the VC-25's were built with the same GE CF6-80 jet engines installed in the early 747-400's. The VC-25's might have been heavy for 742's, but they were lighter than 744's.


I am aware of that but it makes no difference at all as the limitation is the ability to descend in 4 minutes or less to 14,000' in an emergency descent.
No, the VC-25 is much heavier than a 400! The entire fuselage is protected against EMP which has added quite a bit of weight. It has additional equipment a second APU, increased radio capacity, built in freezers/refrigerators in the aft cargo compartment. And that is all on the original 200 wing. It does have some of the improvements to the structure which were introduced in the 400 such as an improved body/wing fairing.

As far as I know, the VC-25 has no additional Max Alt provisions at all and is limited to FL451.

I have been on AF-1 two times as I had a very good friend who was with me when I went through UPT. When working for a certain carrier with a red tail, we did a series of press charters with Clinton and got a very detailed tour of AF-1 in MLI and SFO. He was with the 89th when Reagan, Bush and Clinton were in the WH. He was originally flying the VC-137 as AF-1 and went to the VC-25 under Bush/Clinton.


Just curious but are military aircraft subject to the same descent rules as civilian aircraft?
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mmo
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Thu Jun 14, 2018 12:04 pm

In this case, yes. The limitations for the VC-25 are essentially the same as a 747-200 used by any airline in the world.
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Erau82
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Sun Jun 17, 2018 12:05 am

Per the EASA Type Certificate EASA.A.151 for the A350-900 and the -1000, the -900 max ceiling is 43,100 ft. while the -1000 has a max ceiling of 41,450 ft. FAA Type Certificate T000631B lists the same certificated limits.
 
WKTaylor
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Tue Jun 19, 2018 2:40 am

GalaxyFlyer... correct... my memory RE Canadair Challenger mishap was 'dim'... Pinnacle Airlines Flight 3701 viewtopic.php?f=5&t=1395995
 
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Re: High altitude flights by commercial airliners

Tue Jun 19, 2018 12:44 pm

mmo wrote:
flyingclrs727 wrote:

As the last 747 Classics ever delivered, the VC-25's were built with the same GE CF6-80 jet engines installed in the early 747-400's. The VC-25's might have been heavy for 742's, but they were lighter than 744's.


I am aware of that but it makes no difference at all as the limitation is the ability to descend in 4 minutes or less to 14,000' in an emergency descent.
No, the VC-25 is much heavier than a 400! The entire fuselage is protected against EMP which has added quite a bit of weight. It has additional equipment a second APU, increased radio capacity, built in freezers/refrigerators in the aft cargo compartment. And that is all on the original 200 wing. It does have some of the improvements to the structure which were introduced in the 400 such as an improved body/wing fairing.

As far as I know, the VC-25 has no additional Max Alt provisions at all and is limited to FL451.

I have been on AF-1 two times as I had a very good friend who was with me when I went through UPT. When working for a certain carrier with a red tail, we did a series of press charters with Clinton and got a very detailed tour of AF-1 in MLI and SFO. He was with the 89th when Reagan, Bush and Clinton were in the WH. He was originally flying the VC-137 as AF-1 and went to the VC-25 under Bush/Clinton.


As a matter of interest, AF1 on its recent flight from CFB Bagotville, Canada to Souda Bay (Crete) was at FL290 over Ireland and onward through Europe.

A type that I don't see mentioned in this thread is the A380. I've observed an Emirates A380 at FL430 over France while en route DXB-MAN.

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