Ground Speed vs. Airspeed: What Are the Differences

Speed may seem like a simple value that is consistently based on forward velocity, there is a difference between ground speed and airspeed, that of which pilots must know to obtain accurate readings and measurements for flight planning and operations. While ground speed concerns the speed of an aircraft in relation to the ground beneath it, a value like true airspeed is the speed of an aircraft in relation to the atmosphere it is traversing through. To help you better understand the differences between these values, and why they are separated, we will explain each in more detail.

When discussing ground speed, one is typically referring to a measurement of velocity as an object traverses a distance on the ground. While these values may seem like they would translate well to air speed, one has to remember that flying adds a third dimension to movement, that of which is the vertical axis. This makes a major difference in measurements, as an aircraft could theoretically be skyrocketing toward the atmosphere in a straight upward line at an intense speed, all while having a ground speed of zero. Generally, ground speed is a value based on the sum of airspeed and wind speed, while airspeed concerns airflow around the aircraft for its ability to remain airborne.

To put these differences in perspective, an aircraft may be traversing toward a destination at a set pace. The ground speed of this aircraft would be based on how fast the aircraft will make it to the destination. Meanwhile, air may be acting against the aircraft, causing the formation of tail wind. As a result of this resistance, the aircraft’s airspeed will be lower than its ground speed. On the other hand, wind that is blowing in the direction of travel will create headwind, allowing for airspeed to surpass ground speed.

While airspeed and groundspeed are both important values to know, there are also individual types of airspeed that one should be aware of as well. Indicated airspeed values are those that are directly calculated by the pitot-static system, and they are based on the difference of total and static pressure values. Indicated airspeeds generally do not account for any possible errors or calibration issues, and they can be corrected to find the calibrated airspeed. Nevertheless, this airspeed can be further adjusted with the consideration of altitude, air temperature, and other conditions surrounding the aircraft. Once all corrections are made, one can determine the true airspeed, that of which is used for flight planning and other processes.

When conducting a standard operation, having measurements of ground speed is crucial for making sure that the aircraft is moving fast enough to takeoff without a stall or slow enough to be safe while taxiing. On the other hand, airspeed is important for flight maneuvers, stall avoidance, and other operations. If you find yourself in need of  top-quality airspeed and groundspeed instruments, look no further than NSN Fulfillment.

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July 14, 2023

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