How to Fly by Flapping Your Arms

Have you dreamed of soaring above the city, without being strapped to a chair in a giant metal bird? Well, now your dream could be fulfilled! As it turns out, there is a fascinating world not far from our own where this might be possible.


An artist’s impression of the surface of Titan. Picture by NASA from Wikimedia.


Titan, one of Saturn’s many moons has been in the spotlight as a potential home of alien life. What is more interesting, is that I heard being on Titan allows you to fly! By simply strapping on a pair of makeshift cardboard wings, flying becomes as easy as floating in water.


Gravity and Air


The reason why we even thought this is due to the wonderful properties of the moon discovered by many missions to Saturn. In 2005 the Huygens probe entered the atmosphere of Titan. During a gentle parachute through the thick, dense atmosphere, the lander measured many properties such as gas composition an air density of the atmosphere. As it turns out, some of these properties enable our dreams, but some could also kill us. : (


The gravity of Titan is a lot weaker. Being 2.5 times smaller than Earth, and much lighter, gravity on Titan is only 13% that of Earth! If you could jump 1m up on Earth, you would now be able to jump 10m on Titan. How does leaping 2 stories into the air sound, eh? Perhaps it is a bit scary, but still cool!


Another enabler of flight is the higher atmospheric density. We find that the density of Titan’s air is around 4 times that of air on Earth, giving you more mass to push against when you are propelling yourself through the air. Combined with the reduced gravity, it will allow you the power of unassisted flight. The article Interplanetary Cessna has proposed that just by strapping on a pair of wings gets you lift-off, and with some flippers you have complete aerial freedom.


While this all sounds pretty good, the air is also trying to kill you. For one, the air on Titan is without any oxygen. Not a problem, with only 50% more atmospheric pressure, you will not be crushed to death, and a simple oxygen tank is fine. But, it is really cold out there! On the surface, the temperature is at a frigid -179 ̊C, you would instantly be turned into a meaty icy pole as soon as you step out! But, piling on 15 parkas should do great.


So, Are you On Board?


With all this in mind, are you ready to book a flight to Titan? You can’t quite yet. With the current spaceflight technology, a manned flight to Titan would set you back tens of billions, on the way, you will be exposed to deadly radiation, you might also starve during the journey which lasts at least 6 years, you might miss your target and plummet into Saturn.


While you might think this idea is just a pipe dream, it is always good to imagine. Who knows? With enough people imagining the same thing, it might just come true!

2 Responses to “How to Fly by Flapping Your Arms”

  1. Yue Li says:

    Interesting topic! Clearly demonstrate how we can fly on Titan with an oxygen tank and 15 parkas 🙂

  2. icrossing says:

    This was super interesting! I was totally grabbed by the title, and then sucked in by wanting to know more about Titan. Maybe one day we’ll all be having holidays to Titan!