Quantum Gravity

Can a helium balloon lift a person off the ground?
Answered by Discovery Channel
  • Discovery Channel

    Discovery Channel

  1. Technically, you'd need a lot of balloons or a few really, really, really big ones. It takes about one quart of helium to lift just 1 gram or 0.03 ounces of weight. So in order to lift a human, you'd need a lot of helium -- about 13,000 gallons to lift a 110-pound person (50,000 liters to lift a 50-kg person). And you'd need a little more than that if you wanted to make the person rise and not just hang slightly above the ground. A regular amusement-park type balloon is about 1 foot (30 cm) in diameter, and it holds around 3.7 gallons (14 liters) of helium, so you'd need some 4,000 of these balloons to get your 110-pound person floating. Four army surplus balloons (10 feet/3 meters in diameter), each containing just under 3,700 gallons (14,000 liters), would do the same job.

    Truth be told, the best balloon for lifting humans off the ground -- up, up and away! -- is one whose basic design has been around for more than a hundred years: the hot air balloon. In 1783, the first balloon -- one crudely constructed by today's standards -- drifted above the French countryside. Months later, Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier, a French scientist, took a tethered balloon ride up 250 feet (76 meters). de Rozier cut the cord the following month, this time taking an untethered flight 500 feet up. He, and a companion passenger, stayed aloft for about 20 minutes, marking the first manned, untethered flight [source: PBS].

    Today's propane-powered balloons are a far cry from the early designs, and they tackle distances and altitudes that de Rozier (who died in an explosion trying to cross the English Channel in a balloon, just two years after his successful first flight) could only have dreamed about. Today's balloons and balloonists cross entire oceans, zipping along at hundreds of miles and hour. Just ask Sir Richard Branson and Per Lindstrand, who were the first to balloon across the Pacific in 1991 [source: PBS].

    So, yes, while technically a helium balloon, one of enormous size and volume, could life a person off the ground, it would hardly be worth the effort, given the small lift our adventurer would obtain. Better, perhaps, to join one of the many ballooning groups across the globe and get a real ride.

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