The life-saving technology behind the daredevil's attempt to accomplish the longest free fall in history
By Steven KotlerPosted 04.25.2012 at 10:01 am 15 Comments
Sometime before the end of this year, skydiver Felix Baumgartner intends to climb into a capsule suspended beneath a helium balloon, rise 23 miles above Roswell, New Mexico, open the capsule door, and jump out. On the 120,000-foot free fall—the longest ever attempted—he will face temperatures as low as –70°F and speeds of more than 700 miles an hour, becoming the first person to accelerate through the sound barrier without a craft.
When I talked to Tanner Foust a few days before he attempted to break Johnny Greaves's 2009 four-wheel jump record of 301 feet, there was one question I had to ask: Really? The three-time X Games gold medalist, Hollywood stunt driver (Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift, Dukes of Hazzard, Bourne Ultimatum) and host of the History channel's Top Gear USA laughed. "Yeah. Why are we doing this? It looks daunting on paper, but when you break down the science – certain miles per hour over this distance, ramp like this – you just make sure you hit that mark and let physics do its job. For a jump like this, it's all just science."
There are a few perks to my job as a mad scientist, and one of them, as I recently learned, is being able to tell my colleagues that I can't attend their terribly important meeting because I'm going to set my hand on fire.
In the movies, people on fire stumble out of burning buildings all the time. If you look closely, however, you'll notice that they are almost always fully dressed, and that they tend to keep moving. These are two important factors that make the stunt much easier.
The spectacular picture above was (reportedly) shot high above the set of a movie. Producers for an unknown movie paid a couple of Russian pilots to fly their SU-35UB jet at speeds past Mach 2.0... without a canopy! After the flight, the pilot said, "While on this speed I even managed to pull out my fingers in glove for an inch or two outside - it became heated very fast because of immense friction force plane undergoes with the air."
Nothing puts the DIY in climbing a building like a homemade pair of suction gloves. Inventor Jem Stansfield used his vacuum-powered device to clamber up the 120-foot aluminum wall of the White City building in London last week.
This video puts some perspective on the action-movie high-speed car chase jump phenomenon. Notice how close this car comes to wrecking when launched off of a little teeny two-foot-high ramp and moving at a relatively slow velocity.
In fact, just for fun, let's do a rough estimate of the takeoff velocity. We approximate that the car lands about 10 meters from its takeoff point and is in the air for close to one second. Applying this information we can do a simple calculation to determine its horizontal component of velocity on takeoff:
vx = Δx/ t = 10 m/1s = 10 m/s
Using a little vector addition we can also determine the net velocity off the ramp based on the ramp angle. We'll leave this as an exercise for anyone so inclined (no pun intended), but because the take off angle is pretty small (we estimated 17 degrees) the net velocity is still only approximately 10.5 m/s or 23 mi/hr -- not really a high-speed stunt.
Fun, games and calculations aside, one of many problems any "would-be" stunt car driver is going to face on attempting a jump, is that the car is generally going to follow the standard parabolic trajectory of a projectile.