Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Time to Take Up a New Pastime

The other day Ana and I went to see the Disney Pixar's "Up" in 3D for the second time. If you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend it. It's a well-written, beautifully rendered film that was just as much fun the second time around.

In case you don't know, it tells the story of a grumpy old man who decides to move away by tethering thousands of balloons to his house, lifting it off it's foundations and carrying him away to a South American adventure. For most people, this would be rampant escapism followed by a return to normal life. For me (and the author of
this article) it just leads to all sorts of engineering questions.

How many balloons would it take to lift a house?
What kind of support structure would be required to keep everything in the house from falling out through it's bottom?
How much would the helium cost to fill all of the balloons?
Would it be possible to custom-build the house so that it would be readily able to lift on little or no notice?

According to the article, it would take between 100,000 and 2.5 million helium balloons to lift a typical 1,800 sq.ft. house. The rest of the questions I'll probably get around to answering later. In the meantime, I'm thinking I want to spend more time playing with helium balloons. Since 2.5 million helium balloons would probably be a bit pricey (even when buying in bulk), I think I'll have to start smaller than an entire house.

You may have heard of Mr. Larry Walters. He became famous in 1982 when he lifted off from his San Pedro, CA backyard in a lawn chair buoyed up by a bunch of weather balloons meaning to go up a few hundred feet. Instead he reached an altitude of 16,000 feet before drifting across the air traffic control pattern over Long Beach Airport. Then he shot a few of the balloons with a BB gun. He began descending gently toward the ground, but didn't make it all the way. Instead, his balloons got tangled in some power lines and caused a 20 minute blackout in downtown Long Beach. I am not making this up.

It turns out that was not the first or last time that someone had tried the same sort of stunt. In 2008, a Catholic priest in Brazil took off in a chair suspended by 1,000 party balloons. He drifted out to sea and radioed for help. He had a GPS with him, but didn't know how use it. He was last heard moments before crashing into the sea, unable to give his position. His body was found offshore by the Brazilian Navy nearly three months later.

On the slightly more sane side, there's a very small group of folks worldwide who have taken up "cluster ballooning." This is a sport* which involves getting into a harness dangling from dozens of oversized latex balloons and ballasted down with water bags and then taking off and hoping you don't land in a razorblade factory or a forest fire.

Everything about this sounds cool to me, so hopefully by the end of next year I'll look like this:

Remember this so you don't get wierded out if you get a phone call from me with a hurried tone asking if it's okay for me to land on your roof if I fix any damage I might cause.

You've been warned.

*There are a wide variety of definitions for the word "sport." Here are some of the uses of it as a noun:
1. an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature, as racing, baseball, tennis, golf, bowling, wrestling, boxing, hunting, fishing, etc.
2. a particular form of this, esp. in the out of doors.
3. diversion; recreation; pleasant pastime.
4. jest; fun; mirth; pleasantry: What he said in sport was taken seriously.
5. mockery; ridicule; derision: They made sport of him.
6. an object of derision; laughingstock.
7. something treated lightly or tossed about like a plaything.
8. something or someone subject to the whims or vicissitudes of fate, circumstances, etc.

They all seem equally applicable, but in this case I like version 8. Everyone else can stick with version 6.


  1. You should send your curious questions of how many ballows to lift a house and what sort of structure would a house need to withstand this type of movement!!!

  2. as long as you leave me on your gps locater then if you drift in to My part of the world i will do my best to look after you one way or another :)
    I look foward to shooting you out of the air, personaly

  3. to mythbusters

    sorry got side tracked