Why Are Flight Projections Curved?

Posted: September 1, 2015 in Articles


Our older brother has flown to various places around the world a couple of times, and we always tracked his flights using this website. You have to know the flight number, airline, destination, and origin of the flight. Then you can pull up a page that has the trajectory of the flight on a flat map.

I’ve noticed that the paths always look curved on the flat maps displayed on the screen. I never knew why this was until I read something in my geography book.

On a flat map, if you draw a straight line and then somehow convert the flat map into a globe, the straight line will be arched on the globe. In other words, the curvature of the globe distorts the line.

In the same way, if you draw a straight line on a globe, that line would be curved if you flattened the globe.

That’s why flight trajectory projections are always curved – because the maps are flat. Most of the time, flight paths are straight lines.

That sums up a lot of minutes (maybe just seconds) of my time spent wondering about this and I hope I understand it correctly, too!

  1. atkokosplace says:

    I so enjoy your posts. And wondering is a wonderful thing!!!

  2. bert0001 says:

    But even on a globe they are slightly curved. They follow a so called loxodrome that follows the same course, once set. The shortest path is of course a great circle with the center of the earth at its center and this indeed looks straight on a globe. But to follow the great circle you have to constantly adjust your course; something only a computer could do for you.

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