Picture of Gerard Arpey
The Right Stuff

Last month, I wrote about some of the aviation pioneers who, during the past century, paved the way for long-haul service like American’s new flights from Chicago to Delhi and Shanghai. This month, I would like to shift the emphasis from the past to the future and shine a light on some contemporary aviators who are truly pushing the boundaries of long-haul air travel. In July, the space shuttle Discovery and its crew completed a 13-day, five-million-mile journey in space. Let’s put that distance in perspective: To fly five million miles on American, you would have to fly from Chicago to Delhi and back every day for about a year.

As a pilot and a fan of all things related to air travel, I am simply awed by the space shuttle’s capabilities. It is the world’s first reusable spacecraft and the first that can carry large satellites both to and from orbit. The shuttle launches like a rocket, maneuvers around Earth like a spacecraft, and lands like an airplane. It takes eight and a half minutes after liftoff for the shuttle to go from zero to 17,500 mph. One complete ­orbit of Earth takes 90 minutes, and the astronauts see one sunrise and one sunset per orbit. Hence, they witness 16 sunrises/sunsets in a 24-hour time span. When the shuttle reenters Earth’s atmosphere, it is flying at 16,700 mph. After reentry, the shuttle uses the atmosphere to slow down, and its landing speeds range from 213 to 226 mph.

The space shuttle is the highest-profile project of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. And it’s not surprising that when most people think of NASA, they tend to focus on its quest to explore the universe and inspire the next generation of explorers. But it’s worth pointing out that everyone flying today benefits from the many tangible contributions NASA has made and continues to make to air travel right here on Earth.

NASA’s scientists and engineers are continually researching ways to make air travel safer and more efficient. For example, engineers in NASA’s Aviation Safety Program have been researching the problem of atmospheric turbulence and developing new technologies that could provide flight crews with enough advance warning to either avoid turbulence altogether or to advise flight attendants and passengers to sit down and buckle up to avoid injury. NASA engineers are also developing new technologies designed to transform air traffic control operations, enhancing the safety and the efficiency of the nation’s airspace. NASA-designed automation tools have been adopted by the Federal Aviation Administration and installed at some of the country’s busiest airports.

There is a long, symbiotic relationship between NASA and the airline industry. The career paths of many astronauts include stints as airline pilots. In fact, to be considered as an astronaut, a pilot must have completed 1,000 hours of flying time on a jet aircraft.

Air travel has always been about exploration, discovery, pushing the boundaries of what is possible, and learning about the world, ourselves, and each other. At American, we are proud to be part of a lineage that runs from the Wright brothers to the space shuttle. And we are doubly proud and grateful that you have made us part of your explorations today. Have a great trip, and thank you for flying American Airlines.

Signature of Gerard Arpey

Chairman & CEO
American Airlines