Can passenger airliners hover completely motionless in the air?

I've seen many stories of this occuring on r/glitch_in_the_matrix (a popular Reddit). People have been seeing big airliners just paused in the air, not moving. Some of them stopped their car and saw that the planes still weren't moving. I thought an airplane would stall if it went too slowly? I'm not a plane expert but can newer passenger planes hover in the air?

Edit - often times, the planes are not high up, but coming in to land or take off. Someone said they were watching planes take off or land, and suddenly a big jet just paused in mid air for 30 seconds before starting to move again.

• – fooot
Feb 7, 2020 at 22:28
• The moral here is: don't believe everything you read on the Internet. Feb 8, 2020 at 2:06
• Video or it didn't happen. Feb 8, 2020 at 6:37
• @LawnmowerMan Here you go. youtube.com/watch?v=82JuAcyN5kk Feb 8, 2020 at 13:59
• It's called vection? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sensory_illusions_in_aviation#Vection I was googling the reverse of Peripheral drift illusion and lo and behold it's about aviation. Feb 9, 2020 at 4:41

In theory they can stop moving relative to someone standing on the ground. In practice this does not occur.

Aircraft fly through the air and, yes, below a certain airspeed, an aircraft will stall. Let's take a super-simple example to explain the situation:

You are standing on the ground on a very breezy day. It's quite windy on the ground, and blowing even harder at altitude. For the sake of this example, let's say at 15,000 ft. There is a 150Kts wind from the west. A small airliner is slated to go west at 15,000 ft and levels off but slows down to a cruise speed of 150Kts. The airplane is still moving through the air at 150 Kts, but the air is moving in the opposite direction at the same speed. In terms of a fixed point on the ground the airplane does not move.

However, big jets are capable of flying faster than even the biggest practical headwinds. You can, however, observe this in small aircraft on a gusty day (I have flown a PA-28 backwards in this scenario). Here is a video of someone doing it in a slow plane.

What is likely occurring is that a plane that is very high up and very far away appears not to be moving due to its small size in the sky and lack of surrounding points of reference.

• Not only are jets capable of flying much faster, they are not capable of flying this slow. 200 KTAS at FL300 is about 125 KIAS, well below clean stall speed of most airliners! Feb 7, 2020 at 21:38
• @JanHudec my mistake i will correct to better reflect it was mostly a simple case i was trying to lay out.
– Dave
Feb 7, 2020 at 23:30
• in your example the wind and the plane are moving at the same direction, are they not? easterly wind (from the east) vs plane going west (from the east) Feb 8, 2020 at 7:02
• … the thing is that there are no 300 knot winds. The jet-streams look pretty strong today at FL300, but they top around 150 knots, and it's not much different at FL400. They occasionally reach 200 knots, but 300 knots is stretching it too much. And that's still ~185 KIAS and if that's even above clean stall speed, it's so far on the back of the power curve that it's horribly inefficient and nobody's going to fly that slow. Feb 8, 2020 at 10:41
• @DJohnM no, all three mean the same. Feb 8, 2020 at 20:49

Unequivocally: no. Big airliners (or passenger planes of any size for that matter) do not hover in air.

From a moving car, train or such it is possible to have an illusion that an airplane hovers midair, but someone who was claiming that they were standing still and witnessing an airliner hover in the air, was most probably deceived by one's senses. It might also be that the motivation for such a statement is the sheer joy of trolling, or, in extreme cases, pathological need to make things up, or hallusinations induced by drugs and/or mental disorders.

The bigger the plane, the slower it seems to move through the air due to our brains' limited capability to compute the size and speed correctly. This is a contributing factor when observing big planes from moving vehicles and misjudging the planes to be still. Also a layer of cloud at a proper distance with right direction and speed of motion will create an illusion of the plane floating in it's place.

• The aspect also matters. When you observe aircraft flying directly towards you, the change in size is slow enough that it is imperceptible and the aircraft may look standing still. Feb 7, 2020 at 21:47
• +1 for your general point, but “either lying or hallucinating” is a bit strong: most likely they are just being deceived by a simple optical illusion. But what they definitely are is mistaken, for one reason or another. Feb 8, 2020 at 11:56
• Fair enough, I'll admit to my mistake and edit the answer to be more appropriate @PeterLeFanuLumsdaine Feb 8, 2020 at 12:09
• Given the sources the OP is looking at, lying is a very real possibility. Removing that entirely from your answer wasn't a good idea. I assume people intentionally troll reddit's /r/glitch_in_the_matrix by simply making up fake accounts of seeing things (lying), as well as wishful thinking helping people's senses deceive them. Or not exactly troll reasons for lying include making yourself important (i.e. quackery). Feb 9, 2020 at 6:11
• Sure, I'm not saying everyone is intentionally lying, but promoting skepticism of claims on the Internet is certainly a relevant part of an answer to this question. There are quacks and trolls that know they didn't see anything, but want you to think that. (And probably many more people that think they did see something.) Feb 9, 2020 at 21:24

A plane requires air moving over the wings to generate lift. If there is no air movement, there is no lift, and the plane will fall. Note that this requires that the plane is moving relative to the air, but not necessarily relative to the ground. In theory, you could have a plane pointed into a very strong wind that would have an airspeed sufficient to generate lift, while having a groundspeed of 0. In practice, you'd require a constant ~50mph wind to generate enough lift to keep even a small Cessna aloft. The stall speed of commercial airliners is over 100mph, so you'd have to be flying into the upper categories of hurricane-force winds to have airspeed sufficient for flight while maintaining zero groundspeed. So no, passenger airlines do not hover - in any realistic circumstance, a plane in flight is always moving relative to the ground.

If a jet airliner "suddenly just paused in mid air for 30 seconds before starting to move again," a hundred passengers would be furiously tweeting about it. We'd also likely have video of coffee sloshing over everything in the cabin and similar unpleasantries, resulting in an FAA Incident Report.

The lack of such on-board complaints of sudden braking and accelerating casts doubt on any reports of the same made from terra firma.

• I think the name of the source the OP cited (reddit r/glitch_in_the_matrix) comes with an inbuilt explanation for that: time would also pause for the airliner and its internal volume. (Yet somehow it can still reflect photons, I guess giving extra proof that such an event could only be explained by out world being an imperfect simulation.) Feb 9, 2020 at 6:17

This is a case where there are caveats on caveats.

No. The standard meaning of "airliner" refers to aircraft that require airspeed to produce lift.

Except yes, airspeed doesn't have to equal ground speed, so an aircraft can produce lift while having zero ground speed.

Except no, the conditions in which an aircraft would have zero ground speed would generally not apply to everyday life.

Except yes, our perception of motion isn't based on actual speed, but angular speed. An aircraft coming directly towards you or away has no angular speed, and thus will appear to hover. In addition, if the observer is moving and comparing the aircraft's position to a landmark such as a building, the aircraft's angular velocity with respect to the landmark can be zero. And even if the aircraft does have nonzero angular velocity, if it's far away its angular speed can be small enough to be imperceptible.

Any fixed or rotary wing requires airflow to generate lift. Helicopters hover because their rotors are continuously rotating to create airflow. Jet airliners are designed for cruising speeds (true air speed at cruise) on the order of 600 MPH at high altitudes (35,000-40,000 feet or more). They won't fly much slower than that at those altitudes because there is no benefit, and for some aircraft under some conditions, they can't (in the thin air at such altitudes, some fully loaded aircraft with most of their fuel load will be near one of the corners of their flight envelope). The fastest recorded jetstream winds don't come close to that, so would at most slow a jet's progress over the ground somewhat, but never halt it. The slowest a jet airliner will ever fly will be just after takeoff or just before touchdown. In those moments, it will still be flying at a true airspeed of about 150 MPH or more. No aircraft of any type would attempt to take off or land in winds anywhere close to that speed (hurricane force).

Given all that, a jet airliner will never just hang motionless in mid-air, and may only appear to do so because of some form of illusion or mis-perception.

A plane flying into a high speed jet-stream head wind could appear stationary from the ground. But that isn't likely because pilots rarely waste time or fuel. MORE LIKELY: A jet flying in a line directly toward/away from a viewer may appear not to be moving at all because the change in distance and size isn't obvious at great distances. The more sinister version is that two airplanes flying flat and level on a collision course appear to the pilots to be stationary - weather they be approaching head on (12 oclock), from behind (6 o'clock) or any intersecting angle in +between.

– user14897
Feb 9, 2020 at 2:24
• Ok, review, the answer is NO, but this answer provides good information for readers regarding size and speed illusions that are worth reading. Please consider the time it took for user46639 to prepare this answer. Feb 9, 2020 at 8:09

I've seen that myself, in cities.

It's an optical illusion

To the novice, most jetliners have the same basic shape (planform). Embraer, SuperJet 100, B737, B767, B777, A380, Me262. All the same shape but dramatically different sizes. But, fairly comparable approach speeds, for traffic control reasons.

And they are far enough away that people trust their view of shape more than their stereovision. So they are relying on the visible size of the airplane to judge its range.

And so, the Embraer seems to zip across the sky... While the 747 just hangs there if suspended by magic*. When really, they are both going the same speed, but the 747 is at a much higher altitude.

That will amplify if the person, like many, lives near a regional airport like Newark, Midway, Burbank, Oakland or National where smaller planes land regularly, but farther from a major international where the big iron are approaching from higher up of course.