Constant Bearing – Decreasing Range!

The nautical terms above are what all mariners fear most… indication that two vessels are maintaining the same relative position to each other, but closing the distance apart. The results of that scenario, if it is not rectified, is pictured below. Many a great naval career has ended on this sad note. And it doesn’t have to be two vessels, just two objects like a ship and an iceberg. Poor Captain Smith of the Titanic would attest to that, were he still here.

When I was out taking some pictures yesterday, I happened to look up to see two planes seemingly on a collision course. I never really expected anything to happen, but the illusion was startling at first. As they closed on each other, I could see the separation, but it still seemed unnecessarily close. I wondered why they would have been routed so closely together, even though they were probably a 1000 feet apart.

It made me wonder how many commercial flights might be in the air over the U.S. at any given time. It turns out to be 7000 (, an example of which is pictured below.

Certainly gives one an appreciation for the air traffic control system doesn’t it? Of course, the amount of room to maneuver increases exponentially the higher one goes, but it still looks like you could walk across the tops of the planes in several places in this illustration. Sort of reminds me of a quote I once saw: “Man is flying too fast for a world that is round. Soon he will catch up with himself in a great rear end collision.” – James Thurber

Flying anytime soon?

21 thoughts on “Constant Bearing – Decreasing Range!

  1. I love the shot of the Bay Bridge at sunset in your header. David’s DIL’s family owns a farm on the other side of the bridge on the Delmarva Penninsula. Haven’t been there in years, but they were married (son and DIL) at the very old and small Episcopal church on the right as you drive north, a couple of miles inland and near a historic marker. The family settled the area (hived off Williamsburg colony to cull salt from the sea).

    Re close encounters…I like to not think about them. We had a friend who was an air traffic controller and a drunk. So was my Uncle Gordon who was the head of the FAA in the sourthern region. Too many drinkers directing traffic up there and probably out at sea too. David had a pilot’s license while he was drinking. He like to buzz the piers south of you. You wouldn’t be surprised to discover he was a (civilian) sailor too. Dianne

    • Thanks for this nice comment Dianne. I know the church you are talking about. I go over the bridge on occasion to play some great golf courses over there.

      As for the air controllers, I do worry about how closely they monitor their drinking…..there’s been several instances of pilots themselves getting caught drinking within 12 hours of their flights. I guess like most things in life, flying is a crap shoot.

      I have a personal experience with the at sea part. Once, in the Navy, when I was standing my watch out at sea, my relief showed up drunk. I had to stand his watch as well. Back then at least, having alcohol on board was against regulations and could be severely punished, but I did not report him as he was a friend. I don’t know about today’s Navy, with everything else that’s changed, they probably allow alcohol in some form now.

  2. Oooooh, I hate flying and now I hate it more. I’ve heard of what are called ‘close calls’ but they are usually within 500 feet of each other which seems like a lot, but I suppose when you consider all the weird weather pheno that can happen, it really is too close for comfort. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • You could be right, eye. The perspective is very deceiving at ground level with them miles up. I remember on flights I have taken looking out the window and seeing a plane go by in the other direction, seemingly very close but I knew it was a good distance away.

    • I kept thinking they would diverge quite a bit as they got closer but it was a clear day so they weren’t worried. The boxes are shrinking….but so is my will to unpack!!

      Hope the ankle is improving!

  3. Al, I was in that plane on the right – didn’t you see me waiving at you as we passed?

    You’re a finalist in Good Greatsby’s caption contest – congrats! Now get on over there and stuff the ballot box – pretend you’re a Chicago precinct captain.

    • I wish you would quit taking so long to respond, Peg. That was at least 87 seconds after I posted it.

      Now I know why the pilot was distracted, the crew was probably busy subduing you.

      I forgot about the caption contest. I’ll go right over to check it out. Thanks.

      • I want to say, for the record, that although your blog is the epitome of good words well used, my jumping on this like a pack of hyenas on a wounded wildebeast had more to do with a coincidental checking of the list of new blog posts at the moment you posted, than with any creepy stalking tendencies on my part.

        That is all.

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