Do Planes Have to Correct for the Coriolis Effect?
Most recent answer: 10/27/2016
- Caleb (age 16)
Huntsville, AL, USA
The effect you're describing is called the Coriolis effect, if you want to read more about it.
I'm not sure why you don't think the motion of the air is a plausible explanation. The flight from St. Petersburg to Nairobi will take 14 hours or so, so there's a long time for the wind speed to gradually change without causing any turbulence. There can still be a small Coriolis deflection even with the motion of the atmosphere, and pilots would need to correct for that. But the prevailing winds (jet streams, etc.) have a much larger effect on headings and flight times. (Interestingly, these winds themselves are largely caused by the Coriolis effect, so it does actually have a major impact, just indirectly.)
For things that travel mostly outside the atmosphere (like ICBMs), or things that can't be steered after they launch (like long-range artillery) the Coriolis effect is very important and must be corrected for.
PS: Studying physics has a way of making you feel less and less knowledgeable the longer you pursue it... we get many questions from bright students that I'm unable to answer after six years of graduate school. But that's the fun!
(published on 10/27/2016)