±99 Luftballons
August 29, 2010 2:49 PM   Subscribe

I would like to float using balloons. Is this possible? How many will I need?

Call it performance art, call it childhood fantasy, call it actually-all-of-my-life-not-just-my-childhood fantasy, call it what you will, I really want to attach enough balloons to my body that I float above the ground. I'm not talking like flying through the air, a lift of 2-3 feet would suffice.

I weigh appx. 140-150 pounds and I would have friends on hand. How many balloons and of what type do I need? What should I fill them with? Preferably they won't be too expensive nor would ordering them arouse too much suspicion.
posted by Chipmazing to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (21 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Yep, it can be done. You need large weather balloons instead of party balloons. A strong tether and friends with BB guns are recommended if you try it.
posted by Frank Grimes at 2:53 PM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Larry Walters' adventure in a lawn chair can give you some guidance.

Also, for your safety, I have to point out that someone won a Darwin award doing something similar.
posted by jasonhong at 2:54 PM on August 29, 2010

It will take an awful lot of balloons.
posted by zsazsa at 2:58 PM on August 29, 2010

I've seen people lift model houses with large clusters of balloons recently.
posted by nomisxid at 3:01 PM on August 29, 2010

Oh, this is a fun one, and I have some actual numbers for you!

When Disney's Up! came out on video, they gave me these "fun balloon facts" for the review on my blog:

You could lift a dog (labrador retriever sized) with ~3200 average-sized helium balloons, and a Sumo Wrestler would take ~148,000.

So you could easily get airborne with less than 74,000.
posted by misha at 3:05 PM on August 29, 2010

Mythbusters showed that it would take an extraordinary amount of small party balloons, or a smaller number of large helium balloons. Both methods looked really dangerous and unmanageable to actually try as anything other than a stunt for TV.

Instead, I recommend a traditional hot air balloon, but to see if you can stay at a low altitude, safely, above something interesting. One of the coolest experiences I had was silently floating over a forest, *just* above the treetops.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:08 PM on August 29, 2010

Best answer: The Mythbusters found it would take about 3500 party balloons to lift a 44 pound girl, so for a 150 pound person that's about 12000 balloons. According to this page the largest helium tank can fill about 500 12" balloon and costs $189 to rent, so already you're looking at about minimum $4800 just for helium, not counting any extra needed for those that leak or pop, and not counting the cost of the balloons themselves or any of the rigging needed to hold 12,000 balloons together, or the spare time of an army of friends to blow up 12,000 balloons, or the space to store the balloons while you work, etc.

In short, forget about it.
posted by Rhomboid at 3:35 PM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's a super-mega-epic thread, so I didn't bother searching past this post mentioning that the rule of thumb is 1 cubic meter per kilo, but as I recall the "balloon boy" thread from last year contained a great many calculations as to how much helium it would take.
posted by ob1quixote at 3:45 PM on August 29, 2010

Make your own Hydrogen it lifts a little better than Helium .
posted by hortense at 4:22 PM on August 29, 2010

I realize the Hydrogen suggestion is in jest, but given a short distance off the ground and the appropriate grounding and keeping a good distance from the balloon it could work. Do a lot of research and pick a desert area on a day with really low winds. The difference in lift is immense. Maybe a cool Burning man project, say three feet off the ground. Then a burn on the last day.
posted by sammyo at 4:33 PM on August 29, 2010

The term is "cluster ballooning":
It is, however, expensive and organizationally complex, costing between $2,500 and $4,000 to launch one flight, without counting costs for reusable items, such as a parachute, transponder, and oxygen tanks. Then there is crew. Ninomiya, for example, says, “I need 15 people for the period of two hours” to inflate and assemble all the balloons.

posted by djb at 4:37 PM on August 29, 2010

The only practical method is the Larry Walters method which the Mythbusters (again) reproduced. It will cost a lot of money, take a lot of assistance, and you will get into real trouble if you get caught at it without clearing it through the FAA.

Make your own Hydrogen it lifts a little better than Helium.

Hopefully this is a joke, this is a ridiculous suggestion in every respect, hydrogen is explosively flammable and making it in bulk is not trivial and not a job for any amateur.

So you could easily get airborne with less than 74,000.

Yes, because "fun balloon facts" from Disney are a reliable source of scientific data on balloons as practical lift devices. Nobody has ever gotten off the ground using conventional balloons and that means you will never get off the ground using conventional balloons. Here is the relevant Mythbusters clip.
posted by nanojath at 4:38 PM on August 29, 2010

Risk of injury would pretty minimal if you didn't mind being tethered. 4' of rope attached to half a dozen 4l jugs of water at one end and to a climbing/safety arrest harness at the other end would be lots of safety margin.

Also this has been implied but not explicitly stated: Everything else being equal the larger the balloons the less helium you need.

Also if you really want to do this you'll want to do it soon (IE: next couple years). Helium prices are currently artificially low because the US government is dumping their strategic reserve until 2015 after which the price is probably going to sky rocket.
posted by Mitheral at 4:42 PM on August 29, 2010

I know I saw a video on YouTube of a woman "flying" low to the ground indoors suspended from a large-ish blimp, but I didn't bookmark it and now I can't find it. I thought it was one of the sidebar links to one of these videos, but if it was it isn't now, and search is getting me nothing. I swear that video exists! The woman had some trouble controlling speed and direction, and this was indoors in a large hangar. I would be very wary of doing any such thing outdoors, and I doubt whether it would be feasible with party balloons.
posted by Marla Singer at 4:43 PM on August 29, 2010

There's some kind of balloon on a tether ride thing at Navy Pier right now, if you're going to be in Chicago anytime in the near future and don't want to DIY it.
posted by phunniemee at 5:29 PM on August 29, 2010

My math came out at about 14,000 toy balloons which seems high.
Anyway my working was:
150 pounds in grams = 68,039
According to this page, a toy balloon can lift 4.8 grams.
68,039 / 4.8 = 14,174 balloons.
posted by w0mbat at 6:06 PM on August 29, 2010

Falcon Heene? Is that you?

If you do go through with this, I think you should find somewhere indoors with a relatively high ceiling like a gymnasium, so that hey, you're not accidentally all of a sudden 300 feet up, and your "flight" is controlled that way. Preferably one without nails through the tin roof so you don't get a surprise! landing, either.
posted by kpht at 6:39 PM on August 29, 2010

Hydrogen would be the go, much more efficient. Dangerous, well maybe, just like petrol, LPG, electricity ...

If you do it outside, make sure that whoever ties the tether knows their knots.

Actually, if you use hydrogen, it might be better to do it outside ;-)
posted by GeeEmm at 7:45 PM on August 29, 2010

Response by poster: The plan was always to do it inside for a mock-avante garde show, and it was always just a pipe dream. Back to the drawing board.

posted by Chipmazing at 8:55 PM on August 29, 2010

Do it in a gymnasium the first time so you don't miscalculate and die.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:08 PM on August 29, 2010

One of the people who lived in my dorm at college (although before my time) did something like this at Burning Man one year. They lifted people up to 50 feet in the air using at most 24 balloons at a time (due to popping and wind). Each 291 ft^2 tank of helium was enough to fill about two 7-foot balloons. Take a look at the pictures on the linked page—there are plenty more details about what they did in the captions.

So, this should be possible, although not easy. Costs will probably be in the thousands of dollars range, it will require some engineering, but if you're committed...
posted by JiBB at 10:16 PM on August 29, 2010

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