Absolutely, positively getting there overnight
May 15, 2006 12:30 PM   Subscribe

FedEx Thunderstorm Deviations. "FAA radar track sequence of a bank of FedEx aircraft getting into Memphis as thunderstorms pass over the airport" (Google video). I'm having Rip Off flashbacks.
posted by schoolgirl report (55 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Ah, brings back memories of playing SimAnt.
posted by rolypolyman at 12:37 PM on May 15, 2006

Golf Clap. Very cool.
posted by eriko at 12:38 PM on May 15, 2006

The music is the best part.
posted by StrasbourgSecaucus at 12:39 PM on May 15, 2006

The music really makes it.
posted by mullacc at 12:40 PM on May 15, 2006

Hah, well, that's what I get for never visiting MetaChat.
posted by schoolgirl report at 12:50 PM on May 15, 2006

Does anyone know what amount of time the video spans?
posted by The Radish at 12:52 PM on May 15, 2006

ok... this is the third FPP that I almost made, but decided that I didn't want to do a single link post...

I'll not worry about that next time...
posted by WhipSmart at 12:52 PM on May 15, 2006

Does anyone know if this is real? It would be easy enough to take radar data and then just animate fake little black dots on it as if they were planes.
posted by driveler at 12:54 PM on May 15, 2006

What's the music?
posted by Navek Rednam at 1:00 PM on May 15, 2006

Holy -crap- that's a lot of planes...
posted by Ogre Lawless at 1:02 PM on May 15, 2006

Jinx, Strasbourg - I was gonna post that.
posted by theora55 at 1:06 PM on May 15, 2006

Radish: It's about 110 miles (as the crow flies) from the western border of Arkansas to Little Rock. The specks planes seem to make that in about four seconds. A modern jet aircraft cruises at about 600 miles per hour, so that portion of the trip would take about 11 minutes. This means the video is sped up about 165x. The video is about 40 seconds long, so it covers about 110 minutes of real time. Note that every single one of those numbers is a guesstimate.

If it's real.
posted by Plutor at 1:07 PM on May 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

My suspicions began the day I watched an Air Traffic Control video of FedEx planes avoiding storms. It was too choreographed, and while their swirling traces stepped around the storm as advertised, I could not shake the feeling that the dance was called elsewhere. I'll admit, I became obsessed with other time-processed imagery of macro- and micro- scale industrial processes.

The long not-quite-linear traces laid out by GPS controlled robot tractors across vast sweeps of farmland in the heartland of America's midwest; the spidery networks of roads sprawling from nowhere to nowhere in the old Soviet Union; great circles traceries between airline hubs; the increasingly incomprehensible golden reticules of circuitry; palimsests of old graffiti. All these things had reasoned, logical, rational reasons for their existence and design, but I had become convinced there was more.

My researches went further afield - the colossal pictographs from the Andes; blood-stained maps in the Cryptonomicon; ancient alchemical drawings and illuminated manuscripts. Only on rereading Clark's "Nine Billion Names of God" did I start to pull it all together. I couldn't believe in God or such a tawdry purpose, but what if there was some "deep structure" in the brain trying to express itself? Some emergent pattern that had been trying to manifest trhoughout human history? Humanity's purpose was not to iterate through all the names of God, but to draw its own self portrait?

All these oddly similar daigrams on every scale, all following the same power laws and rules of proportionality - could they be drafts, attempts to create an image on a scale no single human could truly witness? All of human history an attempt to create a work of art out of ourselves and our planet, visible only on scales we could not comprehend?

At that point I realized I had gone too far, wandered over the verge into obsession and madness. This was surely historical schizophrenia, to imagine that all of human existence was a means to produce some final perfect image on some unkown scale. I threw away my notes, went back to real life.

Then everyone started making massive advertisements visible only from space via Google Earth.

Then everyone stopped having babies.
posted by freebird at 1:17 PM on May 15, 2006 [28 favorites]

Well, this seems to be where it was originally posted and the freight pilots there believe it, so it's probably legit. There's also a link to a cool video of 25 hours of FedEx ops.
posted by driveler at 1:18 PM on May 15, 2006

So what do you think the real time duration of this clip was?
Takes about 3 sec for a dot to get from Little Rock to Memphis, which appears to be about 125mi.
125mi/3s = 42 miles per second
42mps/500mph = 0.08 hours per second
0.08 h/s x 46s = 3.8 hours
Seems plausible I guess..

posted by Chuckles at 1:18 PM on May 15, 2006

See? Guesstimates!
posted by Plutor at 1:19 PM on May 15, 2006

posted by Divine_Wino at 1:27 PM on May 15, 2006

Well, I know my 46s guess is right. I mean, google video reveals that much information.. I have no idea about the rest..

There were a few more than 100 dots on the screen in total, I think (perhaps 125?). So, that is between 25 and 50 flights per hour! Seems like too many.
posted by Chuckles at 1:29 PM on May 15, 2006

Ah, but WhipSmart, note how I cleverly made it a double-link post. Will nobody else share in the Rip Off love?
posted by schoolgirl report at 1:29 PM on May 15, 2006

Read much Lovecraft, freebird?
posted by Pressed Rat at 1:34 PM on May 15, 2006

Memphis to Little Rock, with a bit of splineyness (why would players find splines hard to anticipate?): 129mi.
posted by Chuckles at 1:36 PM on May 15, 2006

that was awesome to watch.
I love that one plane that just went SW for the other airport. Doesn't play well with others.
posted by Busithoth at 1:37 PM on May 15, 2006

"There were a few more than 100 dots on the screen in total, I think (perhaps 125?). So, that is between 25 and 50 flights per hour! Seems like too many."

Maybe, but isn't Memphis the main hub for FEDEX flights? That makes it a bit more plausible.
posted by UseyurBrain at 1:38 PM on May 15, 2006

Chuckles: The whole video is 46 seconds, but that includes the intro and outro. I measured the western-border-to-Little-Rock leg because the planes (necessarily) slow down when they approach Memphis.

Found this tidbit in the discussion on Digg: "The Memphis Hub has 2 parallel runways where they land paired airliners every 90sec to 3 minutes for several hours." That's 40-80 landings per hour.

I'd bet the real answer is somewhere between our two guesses. Let's say 2.5 hours?
posted by Plutor at 1:39 PM on May 15, 2006

Extremely strange for storms to be coming into Memphis from that direction. That was the part that made it seem fake to me, but it does happen occasionally so. Eh.
posted by weretable and the undead chairs at 1:40 PM on May 15, 2006

The number of planes is not hard to believe though... the Fed Ex hub there is HUGE. When I went past it last winter, there were literally dozens of Fed Ex jets and I saw several landing while I was driving past..
posted by weretable and the undead chairs at 1:42 PM on May 15, 2006

Freebird: You really should expand on that, it's great.
posted by empath at 1:46 PM on May 15, 2006

I'll chime in here as an employee of said company. When the sort is getting ready to start all the planes start flooding in. Indy is the second largest hub and we process like 50 flights in the night, but the majority arrive within a span of 2 1/2 hours. Memphis is two or three times as large as we are. But that won't extend the amount of time of the plane landings, only the volume they process.

I'll take maybe a wild stab in the dark and say this was from last Thursday night? There were a couple planes diverted that resulted in a lighter sort for us (but that may not be a true guess because once again, I'm in Indy).
posted by Phantomx at 1:47 PM on May 15, 2006

well I just saw a different version of it that said 8/23/03 or some other august 2003 date, nevermind about my last week guess.
posted by Phantomx at 1:50 PM on May 15, 2006

I saw this video quite some time ago so it wasn't from Thursday.

Terrible picture (from out a dirty car window) that I took when I was playing with my new camera. But still. Look at all the planes. wheeeee!
posted by weretable and the undead chairs at 1:54 PM on May 15, 2006

It's interesting to see some of the planes get diverted to Little Rock when the storm finally overtakes Memphis.
posted by StrasbourgSecaucus at 1:55 PM on May 15, 2006

That video makes me smile.
posted by SemiSophos at 2:20 PM on May 15, 2006

that's pretty good freebird.
posted by philosophistry at 2:26 PM on May 15, 2006

posted by WolfDaddy at 2:32 PM on May 15, 2006

This reminds me of a video I saw a while ago of the FAA closing US airspace right after 9/11. Obviously a slightly different scale but a similar sense of coordinated chaos. Does anyone have a link to that video? Google is useless for anything 9/11 related; all you get are conspiracy theories.
posted by Skorgu at 3:02 PM on May 15, 2006

I live a couple of miles north of KMEM, between the runways. Starting around 9:30pm, the planes begin arriving from around the country, landing two by two about a minute apart for a couple of hours. After loading and unloading, they start departing around 4 am. Choreographing this ballet every night should qualify FedEx and Memphis International for wonder of the modern world status.
posted by bunnytricks at 3:20 PM on May 15, 2006

freebird: I'm hearing what you're saying and I would like to subscribe to your newsletter.
posted by quite unimportant at 3:53 PM on May 15, 2006

I don't have any reason to doubt this; I've watched a similar display inside the Chicago regional ATC Center (thanks to a pal who works as a controller) and the data is now available online in several places and formats, so it would be easy to mash-up the plane info with weather info.

Little Rock, as I noted at MetaChat, is probably the default divert location for Memphis.

weretable: up in Wisconsin this week we had a storm system that basically moved that direction, as Canadian air pushed it south and it was boxed in by a front over in Ohio. We got about four days of rain. So, it happens.

The music really, really sounds like Herb Alpert, circa the Casino Royale soundtrack, except it wasn't brassy enough. Mancini, perhaps?
posted by dhartung at 4:05 PM on May 15, 2006

Wow! Hundreds of planes landing, and none take off again... those must be some massive terminals you got there.
posted by dash_slot- at 4:35 PM on May 15, 2006

dash_slot, they don't go to terminals, they go and sit on massive ramps where the employees go and unload the freight for a massive package sort, a few hours later they get loaded up and all those planes take off in just a short amount of time that they all landed.
posted by Phantomx at 4:37 PM on May 15, 2006

Truly? Well, even still photos of that would be quite impressive.

I guess being innately sceptical has made me a little jaded.
posted by dash_slot- at 4:41 PM on May 15, 2006

Dude, I was totally going to write that exact book. Yeah...book.
posted by graventy at 5:01 PM on May 15, 2006

Dude, I accidently clicked on the link on metafilter, opening up a new tab. The music started playing out of nowhere on my computer. There was about 3 seconds of confusion, followed by 3 seconds of panic, followed by 3 seconds of furiously clicking 'back' on tabs and pages to kill the embedded music.

Not to say anything was wrong with the music, but when my computer does that at random? Whew.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 5:55 PM on May 15, 2006

Awesome vid Driveler.
posted by parallax7d at 6:12 PM on May 15, 2006

Memphis airport via google maps. Lots of room for planes to wait on the ground while the sorting goes on.
posted by hattifattener at 6:24 PM on May 15, 2006

I worked at FedEx in college and got to watch the sort one night. It is one of the most amazing organizational feats I've ever seen (and it happens nightly). Miles of converyer belts with lasers automatically sort a lot of the packages once they're loaded into the system. Late night Memphis is strange because the planes start descending between 11pm and 2am and then start taking off a couple of hours later.
posted by Frank Grimes at 6:44 PM on May 15, 2006

Memphis is actually the world's busiest airport from midnight to 0300 local time - specifically because it is the FedEx hub.

Although I can't vouch for this particular video - it's real enough. How do I know??

Because I used to be an Air Traffic Controller!!!
posted by matty at 6:54 PM on May 15, 2006

Extremely strange for storms to be coming into Memphis from that direction. That was the part that made it seem fake to me, but it does happen occasionally so. Eh.

I agree with this. Being a resident of Tennessee for more than 10 years I have never seen a T-storm so strong coming in a NorthEast-SouthWest direction. May be a good rain pour, but not a T-s. I think it is fake.
posted by dov3 at 7:11 PM on May 15, 2006

Ladies and gentlemen, prepare to be pwn3d. This is what I replied with when the FedEx Memphis storm thing made the rounds at work last week:

24-hour loop of flight activity over North America:
http://flightaware.com/analysis/allflights_movie.rvt (embedded looping MOV). Note the daily trans-oceanic ebb and flow, and how you can sort of see the morning startup and evening shutdown cross the country east to west.

And this is interesting too, but not as much:
(the animated GIFs about halfway down)
(it includes the 11-Sep-2001 FAA grounding sought above)
posted by intermod at 8:32 PM on May 15, 2006

Very damn cool. Took a look via Google Earth at the FedEx Memphis hub - wow. Looks like ramp space for probably 150 planes. In, unload, maintain and fuel planes, sort packages, load, and out in just a few hours? Incredible.
posted by JB71 at 5:55 AM on May 16, 2006

Ummm looks like someone already pwn3d you, intermod.
pwnage. What a concept.
posted by IronLizard at 6:39 AM on May 16, 2006

Here's a great article on FedEx from Wired magazine. It focuses alot on the Memphis hub. For instance did you know FedEx sends 2 empty planes across the country every night to swoop in in case another plane can't make a delivery. Awesome stuff.
posted by PenDevil at 7:01 AM on May 16, 2006

The Memphis Hub has 2 parallel runways where they land paired airliners every 90sec to 3 minutes for several hours." That's 40-80 landings per hour.

Three, actually, and a crosswind. KMEM Memphis International.

Look carefully at the movie. They're landing three runways, a configuration called "Converging Triple Approaches," or "tripping" in controller slang. In this case, two land to the north or south, in between, one lands to the east or west. Watch as the storm approaches, the north landing stream at first swings around the storm, then around the airport to join the east/west streams landing to the north, but when the traffic increases, they start landing to the west. They really pushed the arrivals in as the storm approached, then the bunch that doesn't make it scatters.

In this case, the airport appears to be landing 18L,18R and 27. 18C is too close to 18R to be used for landings when 18R is landing, but since it is the longest runway, I'm sure 18C is the primary departure runway, and during the FedEx departure push, the largest planes flying the long hauls will use it -- 18C is over 11,000 feet long, the rest are about 9,000.

The only other airport that uses triple converging approaches on a regular basis is O'Hare. DFW occasionally uses it when they have to land three runways from the south and they need high departure rates.

The art of tripping is making sure that runway crossing are protected (very easy at MEM, no runways cross) and that missed approaches are protected. It looks like the ends of 18L and 18R are far enough away from 9/27 that this is simple matter as well, so it looks like MEM could easily handle 120 arrivals an hour. ORD, because of the smaller area and runway crossings, can only land 100 an hour when tripping.

MEM may not normally use three arrival runways, but I'll bet they were pushing the arrival rates to try to get as many planes down before the storm hit. Notice how when MEM closes, some of the planes go to the north and land to south after the storm passes (changing winds forced them to "turn" the airport -- change the runways used for landings and departures) and some just disappear. The latter are diverts, they didn't have enough fuel left to legally hold, so they diverted to other airports. KLIT, Little Rock, in particular, lands several diverted flights.
posted by eriko at 8:01 AM on May 16, 2006 [1 favorite]

Wow. That's a lot of tin to push.
posted by webfanatic at 11:59 PM on May 27, 2006

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