Sped-up video makes real airplanes look like bad 1950s special effects

You can almost see the jittery intern holding the strings, but these aren't tiny models. In reality, this is real footage from Heathrow airport sped up to 17x normal. What you're actually seeing here is the way wind currents subtly jostle planes around in the sky. Speeding up the video exaggerates the effect.

Also: Consider this an open thread for everybody trapped in airports (or airport hotels) by Hurricane Sandy. I, myself, am hanging out at Raleigh-Durham today, trying to get back to Minneapolis on standby. Got any good people-watching stories? Figured out a hack that allows you to sleep comfortably in airport seats? Have any good recommendations on ways to have fun in various east coast airports? Share it here!

Video via This is Colossal and metafilter. Shown to me by Ben Goldacre.


  1. I guess that shows why Air Traffic Control workers make so much. That has to be pretty stressful managing that many planes arriving and probably the same amount departing.

  2. Makes it clear just how busy Heathrow is. Must be about time we built that third runway, or bit the bullet and built that airport island in the Thames estuary we keep thinking about. I vote for the airport island.

    1.  or, you know, fix the fecking trains, cus most of the tin arriving at heathrow hasent traveled more then 500 miles, and likley the miles it has traveled are along lines already served by the rail network.
      the train from Glasgow to London is several orders of magnitude more expensive then the plane.

      DEEFACE -> D:

      1. “most of the tin arriving at heathrow hasent traveled more then 500 miles” 

        At Heathrow a bit over 50% of passengers are travelling beyond Europe (i.e. outside 500 miles).

        About 5% of passengers are travelling within the UK (using 2010 stats), so even if we made train travel the better choice within the UK, it would hardly dent the load on Heathrow.


        1.  Not sure if your link backs up your point, the graphic on page 24 seems to show that 56% of Heathrow’s traffic is internal UK travel, 20% Visiting Friends and Relatives, 18% Holiday and 18% Business. A pity they don’t have EU segments, just ‘Foreign’.

          1. Page 24 has no graphics; it’s the page headed “7. Passenger Segmentation”. I’m guessing you mean Figure 14 on page 25 (page numbers are in the corner) which only concerns passengers starting or ending their journey at Heathrow – Heathrow is a major hub and to exclude all connecting passengers eliminates an enormous number. Furthermore, it shows only that 56% of travellers were UK residents; it says nothing about where they are going – only if their journey is business, pleasure or visiting friends/relatives. The terms “UK” and “Foreign” there indicate residency, not destination.

            The graphic on page 27, which is Figure 15, clearly shows that about 31 million passengers were headed for the UK and Europe, but some 35 million were headed for beyond that. The text at 7.10 says 50% of passengers are bound for outside Europe, but the figure shows that this is rounded a little.

      1. I disagree. We are human. If travelling to places very quickly is causing too much damage, the solution is ways of travelling very quickly that cause less damage; not ceasing to travel quickly.

        1. I didn’t suggest we stop travelling quickly – I said we need to fly less.
          There’s a lot of superfluous flight travel – people are still flying around the world for bloody business meetings. I don’t think the once annual family holiday to explore and enjoy the world is the primary contributor to the problem.

          Of course the prospect of greener air travel also interests me. I look forward to reading about it in 2075 when someone starts giving a shit.

          1. Fair enough. I think more people should fly more often (or rather, travel far away quickly and conveniently and cheaply, which in the absence of serious alternatives is flight). Business meetings seem a bit of a waste of time, but I fly many times a year to very faraway places for fun, and think other people should too.

          2. As long as you’re not destroying those locations as a means to see them, I don’t see any harm in that.

            There is a sense of irony though. Using a mode of transport that accounts for one of the biggest segments (the biggest segment?) of the human contribution to climate change, as a means to the see world that it’s destroying. Kind of like studying the animal kingdom with a baseball bat.

          3. Face-to-face meetings are necessary only because most people are lackadaisical, incompetent, and – generally speaking – fucking idiots.

            The only way to ensure things get done is to be there, on-site, knocking heads together. Otherwise, it’ll get done next week, incomplete, incorrect, and late.

          4. I conduct loads of business via teleconferencing – and I won’t pretend it’s as good as a face to face meeting, but as long as you’re not working with a bunch of turds the benefits far out weigh the negatives for me.

        2. I disagree. We are human. If travelling to places very quickly is causing too much damage, the solution is ways of travelling very quickly that cause less damage; not ceasing to travel quickly.

          When we traveled at walking or horse pace, we experienced the places that we went. Now we drop in from the sky and enjoy a sanitized and Disneyfied experience. There’s a reason that the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela remains hugely popular, and not just with Christians.

          1. How you choose to experience the places you travel to has nothing – absolutely nothing – to do with how you choose to travel there. If you drop in from the sky and get a Disney version, that’s YOUR choice. Nobody made you do that. If you don’t like it, drop in from the sky and get a different kind of experience. 

            “When we traveled at walking or horse pace”
            When we travelled at walking or horse pace, we either experienced a tiny fraction of the world that looked exactly the same as home (since home was a couple of day’s walk at best) or had to spend weeks and months just travelling. No longer having to spend two months staring at a bridle path just to get somewhere isn’t a bug; it’s a feature.

            Edit: We’re at the end of the thread, and I’m left with Antinous’ passive-aggressive trailing half-thought below, designed to imply something without having the guts to actually state what he means, and choosing not to present any argument to support his thesis that walking to China is better than flying there. It’s the internet all over; conviction without thought, statement without fact. On the plus side, he could have just deleted comments he disagreed with, so it’s not all bad.

          2. How you choose to experience the places you travel to has nothing – absolutely nothing – to do with how you choose to travel there.

            If it makes you happy to believe that…

  3. They remind me of wasps coming back to the nest.  Very cool video idea.  I also like how the moving clouds makes it look like the camera is slowly panning to the left.

  4. Interesting. Does this mean that if 1950s movies had simply slowed down their shots then their special-effects airplanes would have looked real?

    1. It means they would have looked real boring —  slow that video down by a factor of 17 and the planes will barely seem to be moving. Realistic – but not something you’d want to put in a movie.

  5. I’m almost certain that filming those jets violates some aspect of whatever you call “Homeland Security” in Britain. 

      1. There are roads around O’Hare (huge airport in Chicago) where at almost any time of day you will find cars parked with people watching the planes.  Not just British, in other words.

  6. Make a friend and play a game called “dum dum dum” *

    Find a balcony that looks out over a bunch of people, shouldn’t be too hard at an airport. You pick a person at random, without telling your friend. For every step that person takes, you say “dum”. If he/she runs you have to say it fast, if they stop, you stop. etc.. don’t be too obvious. Your friend has to guess which persion you are doing “dum” for. Apart from the game being hilarious, you also start to notice funny patterns in people’s behavior.

    Another game, from the same vantage point:
    Place bets: You: “this guy will take 2 steps and then stop”
    Friend: “Before that, I think that clerk will scratch his nose”
    (* heard about this game in a video about small city games organized during the Olympics in London. I never found the video again, so if somebody knows where to find it please let me know…)

  7. There is a lot of motion in the air there. Perhaps the big, black cloud overhead has something to do with it?

  8. > Have any good recommendations on ways to have fun?

    Do your exercise routine in public, improvising with whatever objects you can find around the airport.  It will freak people out as you violate informal social norms, while giving your body the exercise it craves.  Good fun, and good for you. (Best of luck with the storm/travel.)

  9. Somewhere there is a really good video of a cat or small child trying to grab something in the air that should be overlaid on the bottom of that.

  10. Infrequently played a juvenile game with colleague while awaiting next-flight parts delivery. It had no name but the rule was that each person would have to have imaginary “relations” with the next man/woman coming down the escalator.

  11. The best (or, (to paraphrase L. Cohen) depending on your politics, the worst) airport terminal to be stuck may be Dubai.  Holy mother of pearl that place was immense.

  12. “What you’re actually seeing here is the way wind currents subtly jostle planes around in the sky.”

    Aircraft controls have inherent lag in their implementation. Aircraft instruments have inherent lag in their readings. Pilots have inherent lag in their reactions. I don’t believe you can attribute the ‘wobbling’ exclusively to wind currents.

    Also note how each plane wobbles differently. Some planes are pitching up and down. Some planes are yawing side to side. Some are rolling back and forth in a teetering motion. There are stretches of the video where five planes come in in a row, but one is wobbling considerably more than the ones before and after it, and/or in a markedly different pattern. Check out the video at 45sec and also at 1:30-1:50 for especially large examples.

    While the term “Pilot-Induced Oscillation” is generally reserved for uncontrollable variants of this effect, the underlying mechanics influence quasi-stable flight as well.

    1.  I like the term “Pilot-Induced Oscillation”- I noticed it a lot while I was learning to steer a boat, and still notice it when I’m teaching others to do so. I also notice that it’s a lot worse if you’re steering by the compass than by an object on the horizon, which fits with what you say about lag in the instruments- a magnetic card compass has a lot of lag…

    2. It’d be more accurate to say “What you’re actually seeing here is how pilots react to the way wind currents subtly jostle planes around in the sky.”

      If you want a high pucker factor, watch the “Crosswind” video that comes up as a recommendation after this one. Pilots earn their pay on those days.

    3. I dunno. The planes remind me overwhelmingly of raptors and other large birds soaring on the wind. The underlying physics are the same, after all. Birds don’t fly straight, and neither do planes. They merely fly “relatively” straight. With birds, it’s more noticeable because of their smaller scale. It also helps that the planes are much heavier too – they have a far greater inertia, so they “wobble” more slowly.

  13. Airport/people watching games – play “who’s the spy” and make up fantastical storylines about how they do their job. Another one is “what’s their job” where you have to make up the most obscure jobs you can think of – like putting the little plastic thingies on the end of shoelaces. Have fun and good luck gettin’ outta there.

    1. Jet engines aren’t exactly clean things. In fact, they’re remarkably inefficient. Their saving grace is their sheer power output.

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