When God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens” (Gen. 1:20, ESV), he probably knew these soaring creatures would inspire imitation. It took a few centuries, but now flight seems as common and mundane as crossing the street.
It may be common, but it is hardly mundane. Aviation is a human creation that suggests the glory of man, that creature made a little less than the angels (Ps. 8:5). Yes, a little less: angels are said to be able to fly with their own wings; humans have to use specially-built craft.
Today those craft are a wonder of technology. A Boeing 747 is made up of 6 million parts. The engines alone weigh 4.5 tons each—and yet they only account for 5 percent of the weight of a fully loaded plane on takeoff. To withstand the landing weight of a fully-laden jumbo jet, airport runways have to be between 2 and 4 feet thick.
This massive piece of steel can not only get off the ground, but also reach a top speed of almost 600 mph. How powerful do these engines have to be? Let’s just say that in May 2000, a chartered jet carrying the New York Knicks basketball team taxied out too close to a line of cars parked on the tarmac; the blast from the taxiing jet flipped head coach Jeff Van Gundy's car into the air and over three other cars, completely demolishing it.
Such power does not come without cost. The 747 burns about 12 gallons of fuel per minute when cruising. Seems like a huge waste. And yet most of today’s aircraft are 70 percent more fuel efficient than jets of the 1960s.
When it comes to computer technology, the 747 is a dinosaur compared to the 777. The former has only 400,000 lines of computer code written into its flight systems; the latter has over 2.6 million.
So, yes, the aircraft itself is a wondrous thing. But so is the airline transportation industry. At any given hour, there are over 60,000 people airborne over the United States. To do that, planes are constantly taking off and landing all over the country. At Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, for example, that happens every 37 seconds, or about 100 planes an hour. The busiest commercial airport is Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta, with nearly a million takeoffs and landings a year, moving 260,000 passengers daily.
That being said, relatively few people are doing all that flying. Only 5 percent of the world’s population has ever been on an airplane. Perhaps people like businessman Tom Stuker skew these statistics. In 2012 he was recognized for logging over a million miles on United Airlines. At that point, he’d flown more than 13 million miles as an independent consultant and sales trainer. The phrase “frequent flyer” is too prosaic to apply to him.
So, from the miracle of flight to the wonder of moving all these people every hour, well, as Lauran Paine Jr. put it in a Sport Aviation article, “If you are bored flying, your standards are too low.” This thing we created called commercial aviation is one of the wonders of the world.
The Psalmist may have wistfully prayed, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest” (Ps. 55:6, ESV), but we can actually do it.
Wonderful aviation links:
- Real-time map of the planes in the air
- All the planes over your head right now
- North Atlantic flights visualized beautifully
- European flights visualized beautifully
- San Diego landings and takeoffs
- Five hours of airplane landings captured in 30 seconds
- Time-lapse that makes jumbo jets look like toys
- Airplanes leaving light trails in the night sky
- Editors’ Note
- In the Beginning Was Laughter
What does joy look like, and from where does it come? /
- Ultimate Hide-and-Seek
Why is God so elusive sometimes? /
- High Praise
What’s a bird doing flying above Mt. Everest? /
- Wonder on the Web
Links to amazing stuff