Courtesy US Air ForceI attended yet another great Cafe Scientifique event put on by the Bell Museum the other night called: Art and Aeronautics—A Conversation with Tomás Saraceno. Tomás and his teammate Alberto are artists in residence at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and have been working with the Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics department at the University of Minnesota. In short they are building a giant balloon out of reclaimed trash--primarily plastic bags. This talk got me on an balloon science research kick and thought I would share some links:
First off, check out some of the pics of Tomás and Alberto's project, the Museo Aero Solar.
There was lots of talk at the presentation about women's important role in the early days of flight when ballooning dominated. There was even some debate about whether a woman was the first person in space...via balloon...in the 1920s! I couldn't immediately find any information on this claim on ye old internets, but I would love to hear from any buzz readers who might know more information.
Getting to space by balloon might seem crazy, but that's exactly what the Air Force was trying to do before our attempts with rockets. Check out Project Manhigh(yep its really called that) and Project Excelsior. Several of these early space balloons were piloted by Air Force Colonel Joseph Kittinger, the first, possibly only, man to ever break the speed of sound, without a vehicle. He did it by jumping out of a balloon about 20 miles up.
Students are getting into the high altitude balloon game all over the place as well: reusable experiment platform goes to the edge of space, pics at the edge of space, and legos in space.
I think balloons are my new favorite science obsession.
Courtesy Matt HooverWorking on the museum floor the other day, one of the volunteers in my gallery was telling me all about human gliding. He’s big on aviation and had some interesting stuff to share on things he’s heard about and seen (but not actually done).
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to take any notes at the time, but it got me curious enough to Google around and learn more about human gliding. It appears to be just the thing for the sky-diving veteran who’s looking for a bigger adrenaline buzz.
How does this work?
The wingsuit that human gliders wear essentially turns them into a parachute. The flaps between the wearer’s limbs create an airfoil that generates lift as they inflate with air. Gliders can then manipulate their bodies to control the direction and speed of their descent. Jumping from a moving aircraft like an airplane or helicopter also gives the human glider forward speed that translates into lift potential which slows down the fall rate of gliders and gives them a higher glide ratio.
Here’s an awesome YouTube video of a human glider in action. (Warning: The video itself is unobjectionable, but the comments posted to YouTube contain profanity and other strong language.)
Human gliders, when keeping their bodies parallel to the horizon, can reach speeds of 110 to 140 miles per hour. Many human gliders, however, find it a bigger challenge to see how slow they can glide while maintaining their aerodynamics, sort of, but not completely like, stunt pilots stalling out their engines when they’re doing tricks. Some human gliders have slowed themselves down to speeds as low as 25 miles per hour and have lived to talk about it. A more conventional slow speed, however, is about 60 miles per hour.
Courtesy Matt HooverWhile it’s still a pretty new technology to be used in the sky diving realm with experiments going back about 10 or 15 years, man has been striving to glide through the air for ages.
In the modern era, between 1930 and 1961 there were 71 reported deaths of people attempting to glide or fly with wings attached to their bodies. There were also four successful flights in that same time.
And it appears that human gliding advancements aren’t going to hit the wall any time soon. Experiments are now underway in attaching jet burners to the shoes of human gliders, giving them more thrust and speed to play around with in the skies.
It should go without saying, but nevertheless, don’t try this at home kids, Jackass actors or any others who are easily tempted to display poor judgment. Human gliders are very experienced skydivers who have studied up on this type of aerodynamics.
That all said, is this something that you’d want to try? Share your thoughts here with other Science Buzz readers.
Here are some links if you’d like to learn more about human gliding.