Monday, January 14, 2008

Stardance II : : Las Vegas Drift

The stillness and perfection of simulated Zero neither still nor perfect. Immensely cool? Yes. Loads of fun? You betcha! Stillness and perfection? I think we will have to be on board an orbiting vessel to experience that. In addition to the noise (see footage, wait for the end) there is "the drift".

First of all: there is a highly competent captain at the helm of Zero-G's 727, and he doesn't just press a button that makes the plane go into perfect parabolic arcs - no, he's a true artist, creating this experience by the seat of his pants. He pulls the yoke back and puts the 727 into a powerful climb, and we fliers (we are called fliers because we cannot legally be passengers, as we have no final destination - no passage made) are pressed into the padding with 2Gs of force - all the time marveling at the Zero-G staffers who can WALK AROUND IN THIS GRAVITY SOUP!

As we approach apogee of the arc we fliers start to magically lift off the padding and float up into the cabin - we are experiencing microgravity, and loving it. Drifting about. And there is the thing we didn't quite expect - DRIFT. Not only does one drift from that measly quarter newton push against the bulkhead that caroms you across the cabin - there is another relative motion effect at work. Remember the captain's job - making the airplane travel in a way that we groundhogs in the cabin experience as Zero G?

You will notice that a Boeing 727 has 3 engines at the rear of the plane - two placed in nacelles on either side of the eppenage, and one at true centerline - shooting straight out the back. As the plane approaches apogee the pilot IDLES the two outside engines, and then performs a controlled stall as the plane glides slightly belly first through the arc - during this entire time he is adjusting the ride by varying the thrust of the centerline engine - more thrust....less thrust...more thrust - artistically keeping the fliers inside the belly of the plane, and the aircraft itself, moving at the same relative speed.

Nobody is perfect, but this pilot comes pretty damned close (sorry Spider) and he does a great job of keeping us in play. But ultimately he must adjust, and from a flyer's point of view we drift. My feet were firmly strapped in as I shot the footage of Kathleen - but Kathleen would find herself floating either toward the bulkhead (away from the camera) or toward the cabin (closer to me) without any apparent motive force.

We will release some footage tomorrow evening that shows this a little more, stay tuned. And speaking of staying tuned - tune in tomorrow morning to Canada AM (I can't since I am State-Side) and see our beloved Jeanne and Kathleen chat about their experiences live on honest-to-god TV. (You remember TV, right?)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If you're going to do more filming on a parabolic flight, you might consider traveling to Russia and using Incredible Adventures. They use a mammoth IL-76 cargo plane, much bigger than a 727. From clips I have seen from their flights, they seem to also get a few more seconds of zero g per parabola (25-30 secs. rather than 20-25 secs. from a 727), and it just looks like things are more steady, less drift. Maybe this has to do with the size of the plane - the bigger the plane, the easier it is to control? I don't know.
This would be tough since you really owe Peter Diamandis big time for his help. The man is a God. But if you want the best results you may want to explore other options. Just my 2 cents.