Science on a Motherf**kin’ Plane!

When I was younger, I wasn’t a stellar student in school, which you could probably chalk up to having moved around a lot since my dad was in the military. I had an aptitude for the “liberal arts” and excelled there, but apathy and disinterest took over when it came to the hard sciences and math. When I was in High School, I took the minimum, easiest math and science courses I could to graduate. No calculus. No, for me I think the highest I got was some form of algebra. Since I was going to high school in Florida, marine biology and zoology were my science picks, which were cool, but I don’t think they were a proper replacement for chemistry and physics. I’ve always felt like I’m missing a large chunk of basic education when it comes to those subjects, which might explain why the following scenario frustrates me:

I’m on a large, commercial airliner. The plane is airborne, cruising about 500 miles an hour or so. I stand in the aisle, facing towards the cabin and throw a paper airplane down the aisle. How fast is that paper airplane going when I throw it? Did I just make the world’s fastest paper airplane?

I guess this speaks to how speed is measured, and the answer probably involves something about an object’s movement through space relative to it’s environment. So while the plane is covering a certain amount of distance within the cabin over a certain amount of time, it’s still covering a certain amount of distance (in the world) over a certain amount of time. It seems like “environment” is sort of loose.

Where my science homies at?

Me practicing this experiment. In an office. With a suit on. Disguised as a pre-jail energy executive.

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~ by willtuck on August 17, 2006.

4 Responses to “Science on a Motherf**kin’ Plane!”

  1. It’s a question of “air speed” versus “ground speed”.

    The airplane in you would theoretically be in (sans breath freshner or other liquids) is not in itself literally travelling 500 mph. It is covering 500 miles of ground territory in an hour (I suppose – I don’t actually know what average ground speed of aircraft are), but the rate at which it actually moves through space is not 500 miles in an hour (or it might be, I have no idea what their average airspeed is either).

    So, your paper airplane could be said to have a groundspeed during it’s brief flight of, say, 500.05 mph, but it’s airspeed – the rate at which it travels through the linear space it actually goes through – would be something like .05 mph.

    You can find the real heavy science of airspeed in Wikipedia, but I don’t really understand all that crap either.

  2. Is the jet travelling east or west? You have to take the earth’s rotational velocity into account as well. 500 mph (assuming ground speed) east is a lot different from 500 mph west in relation to, say, Paris.

  3. Also, thanks for the new post so I didn’t have to see all about JonBenet Ramsey anymore.

  4. […] Here a physics problem one guy has: I’m on a large, commercial airliner. The plane is airborne, cruising about 500 miles an hour or so. I stand in the aisle, facing towards the cabin and throw a paper airplane down the aisle. How fast is that paper airplane going when I throw it? Did I just make the world’s fastest paper airplane? […]

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