Aeroplane Fly in Which Layer of Atmosphere?

Aircraft · 3 min read · Nov 24, 2022
aeroplane fly in which layer of atmosphere

Knowing where an aircraft flies is important for aviation professionals to understand, as it can help inform decisions such as fuel consumption, altitude, and speed. It is definitely important to know what kind of weather conditions exist in different layers of the atmosphere, as well as in which layer commercial jet aircraft fly.

The Earth’s atmosphere consists of five distinct layers, each with its own unique characteristics and weather patterns. The five layers are the troposphere, stratosphere, mesosphere, thermosphere, and exosphere. Some of them have less turbulence than others, and the highest ones are rarely reached by commercial jet aircraft, of course.

Let’s take a look at three different layers of the Earth’s atmosphere, why commercial aircraft typically fly at altitudes between 30,000 and 40,000 feet and what layer this altitude corresponds to, and why this is important for passenger safety.

A commercial jet aircraft flying through a layer of Earth's atmosphere: troposphere

Do planes fly in the troposphere?

The troposphere is the lowest layer of Earth’s atmosphere, extending from sea level up to about 11 miles. This is where most meteorological phenomena happen, including thunderstorms and other weather patterns. Also, the humid troposphere layer is where formations of thicker clouds occur.

The air pressure here is relatively high in this layer of the atmosphere, but it decreases with altitude. The temperatures drop with altitude in this layer of the atmosphere, too.

Many commercial jet aircraft fly within this layer as it provides them with enough lift to remain airborne and maneuver effectively, but they will usually move just above it into the lower stratosphere to avoid bad weather, turbulence, and the meteorological phenomena mentioned before in order to have a smoother ride. Sometimes a few clouds in this layer may cause a visibility issue.

Aeroplane fly in which layer of atmosphere: Two planes flying in the sky with few clouds.

Do aeroplanes fly in the stratosphere?

The stratosphere follows the troposphere and extends from 11 miles up to 30 miles above sea level. Air pressure here is much lower than in the troposphere, but temperatures rise with altitude which is exactly the opposite behavior from what they do in the troposphere. This phenomenon is known as temperature stratification.

This layer also contains what is known as the ozone layer, where ozone gas which absorbs harmful incoming ultraviolet radiation from the sun is found. This means that it absorbs energy in the form of heat. Also, few clouds occur here than elsewhere in Earth’s atmosphere so visibility can be very good.

As a result, some aircraft will fly at higher altitudes within this layer when looking to improve visibility conditions or fuel efficiency; however, this can be dangerous for smaller planes due to the lack of oxygen at higher altitudes which can cause a loss of power in the engines. Smaller planes often have unpressurized cabins, which cannot enter this layer of atmosphere safely.

The Earth's mesosphere with few clouds and a dark space above.

Can aeroplanes fly in the mesosphere?

The mesosphere follows after the stratosphere and extends from around 30 miles up to 50 miles above sea level. This layer has even lower air pressure than the stratosphere, but temperatures still continue to rise as you move higher up in this layer; temperatures eventually reach their peak before beginning to decline again near the top of this layer due to absorption by ozone molecules.

Are there any craft that can fly in the mesosphere?

The short answer is no. It is rare to see airplanes fly within this layer as there is not enough air density here for them to generate the sufficient lift needed for sustained flight. However, some experimental and military aircraft have flown through this region though. Mostly, the mesosphere is a transitional layer for rockets heading out to open space.

An aeroplane flying in troposphere above lower layer clouds.

Some final words

As you can see, commercial jet aircraft usually fly within either the troposphere or occasionally enter into parts of the stratosphere, especially the lower stratosphere, depending on various factors such as wind speed and direction, or fuel consumption needs.

Both of those layers contain enough air density for most aircraft to generate lift and sustain flight. However, flying too high into either of these layers can be dangerous due to decreased oxygen levels – something aviation professionals should always keep in mind to take care of the aircraft engines. Yet, higher altitudes might be necessary from time to time to avoid turbulence which happens in the lower, more humid troposphere.

Furthermore, flying too low may cause a significant drag on an airplane so maintaining a certain altitude range is essential for safe flight operations and fuel efficiency no matter which layer is being used. It is clear that understanding where an airplane flies makes all difference when it comes to flying safely and efficiently.

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Jet pilot @NASA

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