How Long Does it Take to Fly Around the World?

Pilots · 6 min read · Mar 31, 2022
How Long Does It Take to Fly Around the World

Flying around the world tops the list of most exhilarating activities ever tried by humans. Only a handful of brave earthlings made their gratifying journeys around the world. A person who is undertaking this herculean task will go through a myriad of challenges throughout the journey.

Nowadays, the aviation industry is blessed with state-of-the-art technology where a typical commercial aircraft is given more capabilities than ever. So, it is time to find out how long does it take to fly around the world?

Distance to be covered during a world trip

If someone is to take the equator route along the circumference of the earth, the total distance would be 40,075 km. In a real-world scenario, flying in a straight line along the equator is not possible due to many reasons such as unpredictable weather, airspace restrictions, and air traffic control issues.

The story is quite similar to a journey along the North and South poles with a distance of 40,008 km. With that said, we become more curious about the question – how long does it take to fly around the world?

Well, this question can be answered in a few different approaches.

A visualization of a circumnavigation flight on a blue background: a person holding a plane model and a mini globe.

First solo circumnavigation flight

Steve Fossett, a true adventurer who seems immune to failure, had taken the Virgin Atlantic-backed GlobalFlyer on a non-stop flight around the world back in 2005. This was the first time a pilot has flown solo around the world non-stop.

Richard Branson, the founder of the famous Virgin group sponsored the GlobalFlyer for this vehement movement and the jet was powered by a single jet engine mounted atop the short fuselage.

Two tail booms of the aircraft with a fuel capacity of 5 tons pushed the GlobalFlyer on its around the world trip with a world record – it completed the entire journey with a flight time of 67 hours and one minute claiming the fastest flight ever.

The jet engine used military-grade aviation fuel with a lower freezing point that allowed more room for flying at very high altitudes. This non refueled flight took the tropic of cancer route covering a distance of 36,912 km.

While the GlobalFlyer holds the current record for flying non-stop, a Rutan model aircraft was the first to fly around the world without stopping for refueling. Two American pilots, Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager piloted the voyage in 1986, and the trip lasted for nine days, three minutes, and 44 seconds. They took an equatorial route covering 40,000 km at an average speed of 187 km/h.

A standard commercial aircraft taking off with moon in the background.

World record flight over the poles

A team of pilots and astronauts celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing in style- they covered the earth’s circumference in a Gulfstream G650ER business jet.

The journey started from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and crossed the North pole and South pole to return to the same place where they took off. Due to the travel range limitation of the jet, the crew made scheduled stops in Kazakhstan, Mauritius, and Chile for refueling.

Fastest ever circumnavigation by scheduled flights

If someone wants his name in Guinness world records, this is something to count on. In 2018, Gunnar Garfors, Ronald Haanstra, and Erik de Zwart flew around the world in 56 hours and 56 minutes using only scheduled flights.

The journey started from Sydney, Australia, and took 5 transit stops in Chile, Panama, Madrid, Algiers, and Dubai before reaching Sydney again.

Can passenger planes fly around the world?

A standard commercial aircraft is more technologically advanced than all the aforementioned model planes. But, a conventional passenger plane is designed for commercial flights and not to fly non-stop for longer hours.

Some flagship airlines operate their long-range wide bodies for extra-long flights. Singapore airlines utilize its A350-900 for the route, from John F. Kennedy airport in New York to Changi airport in Singapore.

A flight from JFK to Changi covers a distance of little greater than 15,000 km in nearly 19 hours, which is slightly greater than one-third of the equatorial circumference. The typical travel range of a long-haul flight does not exceed the 20,000 km mark.

These commercial carriers are pretty much capable of flying around the world, but the fuel capacity of their tanks is the limiting factor. All the model aircraft that are indeed for around the world flights are made with larger fuel tanks and structurally designed to minimize drag.

On the other hand, a commercial aircraft is optimized to carry more passengers and payload.

What if passenger or military planes are provided with larger tanks?

Airbus A350

An A350-1000 is capable of cruising at 950 km/h. Doing the math for a distance of 40,000 km gives 42 hours of flight time. Cessna Citation X Plus, one of the fastest private jets in the world, can attain a maximum speed of 1,153 km/h (717 mph) and could complete the world flight in nearly 35 hours.

These figures are just a theory as a passenger plane is not capable of flying for this long. There are various factors for that, however the biggest drawback is airplane fuel tank capacity. For such a long flight around the world, an A350 would need approximately three full fuel tanks. This type of aircraft only holds enough fuel for about 9700 nautical miles and a trip around the world would be about 22,000 nautical miles.

A Singapore Airlines Airbus A350 parked at an airport.

F-22 Raptor

A fighter jet, like the F-22 Raptor with a top speed of 2,414 km/h and hypothetical fuel tanks could gallivant around the earth in little less than 17 hours – even less than the time taken by earth for one rotation. They fly passing the speed of sound which is not possible via any kind of commercial aircraft.

Now, realistically speaking, an F-22 can complete a 3000km trip without refueling, so a complete world round trip would need around 13 full tanks.

A visualization of navigating around the globe: a person holding a small compass and a small globe in their hands.

Fly around the world with one ticket

Despite the high price tag of a Round-The-World (RTW) ticket, many airlines are offering them to passengers.

No matter how lucrative you become, it is never an easy task to travel around the earth. It requires a lot of planning to make the journey gratifying. Additionally, travelers on an around the world journey may encounter difficulties to find accommodation when flying on different continents.

If you are a world explorer, traveling on a cruise ship would come in handy, but it is more likely you will have to extend the sabbatical. If someone is obligated with the journey around the earth, and not the destination, boarding a plane is the most obvious choice.

Around the world tour on a commercial aircraft is quick but less adventurous as you will spend most of the time sitting on a seat and staring at the white clouds out there. On the other hand, a journey on a ship offers fewer logistical issues for its passengers than on a plane.

An aircraft taking off in an evening sky. How long does it take to fly around the world?

The role of the atmospheric jet stream

When flying for a record, odds should be in the favor as a slight mistake or an unforeseen event can push the flight way behind the schedule.

One peculiar fact for each around the world trip is their flight path. As per the requirements set by the World Air Sports Federation, to become eligible for an around the world speed record,

  • The journey should cover a distance of no less than the Tropic of Cancer route
  • Should cross all the meridians
  • Complete the journey from the same airport it took off from

Apart from all these, all the flights have flown from West to East, no one has taken a record-breaking journey from East to West.

For many attempts including the GlobalFlyer, the jet stream has decided how much time will take to fly around.

Fly around the world in a spacecraft

Spacecrafts travel super fast and with the development of reusable rockets, some hope loomed around the corner for using those rockets for commercial travel. A well-known space vehicle, the space shuttle was a similar design but with more expendable parts like External Tanks (ET), and a higher turn-around-time push it off the list.

With that said, there is one question left for the day, How long does it take to travel around the world in a spacecraft?

ISS orbits around the earth in 90 minutes with a speech of nearly 28,000 km/h. With the time for launching and landing, a spacecraft could fly around the earth in less than two hours. Which is waiting to be a remarkable advancement for mankind.

How long does it take to fly around the world in a spacecraft?

Final thoughts

As you can tell from the examples presented in this article, completing a continuous flight around the world is no easy feat. There are a lot of variables that make this trip difficult to execute without precise route and fuel planning. However, despite it being a demanding task, there still have been successful attempts. Also, there are airlines, such as Singapore airlines, which offer long-haul flights that might not be a full trip around the Earth’s circumference, nonetheless are still impressive in their length.

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Aeroclass Team
A team of professionals with a deep passion for the aviation industry bringing you the newest and the most striking industry-related news and content.

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