A Wingsuit Could Let Usain Bolt Fly On Saturn’s Largest Moon

Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Usain Bolt, who holds records as the fastest man on Earth on two feet, may be so fast that he could fly if he was dropped off on Saturn’s moon Titan and given a wingsuit.

Physics students from the University of Leicester have calculated that, based on the world-record holder’s superhuman speeds, he would be able to take flight on the distant moon.

Bolt has been recorded reaching speeds of up to 40.25 feet per second, or about 28 mph. At these speeds, the Olympic gold medalist would be able to soar above the planet with no need for a propulsion system.

The physics students made the calculations as part of their final year paper, which has been published in the University’s Journal of Physics Special Topics.

Based on the physics of Saturn’s largest moon, experts have previously suggested that humans would be able to lift off from the moon’s surface if they had wings on their arms. This is because Titan has a dense, nitrogen-rich atmosphere with a surface pressure almost 50 percent stronger than Earth’s.

However, the Leicester physics students have shown that it would even be possible to achieve liftoff with a regular wingsuit like the ones used by skydivers if the person wearing the suit could achieve a fast enough speed.

To figure out the required amount of speed for propulsion-less flight to occur, the team calculated several factors, including density and air at the surface of Titan; acceleration due to gravity; wingsuit wing area; and the ratio of the streamline path of the air above the aerofoil to that below the aerofoil.

The students determined that an average person with a normal-sized (1.4 meters squared) wingsuit, would need to achieve speeds of 36.09 feet per second, or about 24.5 mph, to become airborne. While humans are not built to run this fast, some sprinters have been recorded reaching these speeds and Bolt has been recorded moving even faster.

The team found that flying on Titan would not be limited to those with the fastest footwork. Any average person could possibly spread their arms and take flight on Titan – although it would be much less comfortable and may look rather silly.

The team found that people could possibly take off on Titan if they could reach a more manageable speed of 19.68 feet per second, or about 13.4 mph, and as long as they were wearing a wingsuit with a surface area more than three times larger than a normal-sized one.

While the numbers look right on paper, putting it to practice could be more of a challenge.

Student Hannah Lerman, 21, from Mill Hill, North London, said: “I had seen a lot of claims online that humans would be able to fly on Titan, but no one had given the physics behind it.

“I thought it would be interesting to try it with a wingsuit – something that you actually use on earth. It is a really exciting idea that someone like Usain Bolt could actually fly unaided. It would give a whole new dimension to travelling,” she said in a statement. “I am really interested in the journal side of science, and it was really interesting to see how that was run as part of this module.”

The students’ paper was part of a larger module aimed at helping them learn about peer review and scientific publishing.

“The students are encouraged to be imaginative with their topics, and find ways to apply basic physics to the weird, the wonderful and the everyday,” said course tutor Dr Mervyn Roy, a lecturer at Leicester’s Department of Physics and Astronomy.