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Transportation Science Technology

High School Student Launches a Trash Bag Aircraft 103

An anonymous reader writes with a great write-up of a project completed last month by Manuja Gunaratne: "A high school student at Advanced Technologies Academy in Las Vegas, Nevada managed to launch an aircraft using trash bags. The trash bag aircraft traveled for hundreds of miles and rose to thousands of feet while capturing thousands of images of the Earth. The trash bag craft consisted of household equipment and only cost $50."
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High School Student Launches a Trash Bag Aircraft

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  • well the trash bag part ... anyway this is pretty cool

    • howling mad murdock did it, he could fly anything!
    • Arizona: Two people are being detained by the Department of Homeland Security after being found with suspicious surveillance equipment that they had recovered from the Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge. The pair were tracked to their home by DHS working in conjunction with local and state police. The FBI executed search warrants at two locations - the suspects' home and an unnamed local welding shop, where they found all the ingredients necessary for constructing Unmanned Reconnaissance Vehicles, as well as quantities of highly compressed gas - helium - which also powers thermonuclear reactions.

      The pair were found in possession of approximately 2,000 surveillance photos from their last sortie. Officials refused to comment on whether the arrests have any connection with either of two nearby military installations, Area 51 or the Nellis AFB Test Site at Groom Lake.

      Additional quantities of liquid dihydrogen monoxide, a clear substance that is toxic when inhaled, were also recovered. No court date has yet been set.

  • Using trash bags as balloons is nothing new, or innovative. Its a bag that holds stuff.. making a balloon out of them ( or using them to restrain a bunch of smaller balloons ) is just common sense.

    Using them as kites isn't even new..

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Don't see you doing it.

      A high-schooler is thinking outside the box, yet you come along and just crap over it because it isn't anything new.
      Seems a little childish.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I was using trash bags (and cleaner's bags), before high school, twenty plus years ago. Pointing out its hardly new, novel, or even NOT out of the box, is hardly crapping all over it. The accomplishment is cool in its own right. The fact is was done with trash bags is simply an interesting side note. If the fact its made out of trash bags is the point of interest in this story, you entirely missed the point. The same goes for the student.

      • by nurb432 ( 527695 )

        You don't see me doing it beacuse i am no longer a child and can afford real balloons now.

        And before you continue on your uninformed rant i did something similar 40 years ago, in GRADE SCHOOL ( not highschool as i couldn't afford 'real' balloons. The helium to go in it was hard enough on an allowance at that age ( of course we didn't have fancy GPS or WIFI cameras to put on them, only 8mm .. Oh and trash bags make great kite material, along with hollow aluminum tubing for bracing )

    • by fantomas ( 94850 ) on Saturday September 24, 2011 @03:55PM (#37503872)

      Slashdot posts an article on some kid flying a balloon and gps and camera for 50 dollars, he's worked out to do it with a couple of people and a bit of research. Slashdot posters moan about how crap the balloon is. You are guys are the reason the USA is screwed in the long term - loads of people moaning when a 17 year old or so kid pushes himself and gets something like this happening? A better place would have praised the kid, I think it's great teenagers are trying to come up with technological hacks that are new to them and dreaming great goals.

      A better audience, had it had any reservations, would offer kind and politely worded guidance to help him keeping creating but in a better and informed way. Instead - bitchy comments from a good number of people who are too scared to use a slashdot identity.

      If you're a representative sample of how Americans respond to teenagers trying to push their technical knowledge, I reckon the USA is screwed... stamping on 17 year olds trying to be innovative and push themselves is no way to encourage your future generations. So he didn't achieve a PhD level of novel research? he didn't do something worthy of a Nobel prize? Who cares?! this might be the spark that gets him to those heights ten years down the line. He pushed himself, he wrote it up nicely, he was brave enough to publish to the world and allow comments. What were you doing when you were 17? he deserves encouragement, not scorn. Shame on you.

      • The scope of dissemination is the problem. When I was 17 model rocket payload cameras were already back-of-catalogue novelties, my $20 microscope with inline camera/projection attachment had been sitting in my closet for around ten years, my first breadboard had been consigned to the realm of forgotten toys for nearly that long... and each kid who came after could rediscover each of things on their own because I was not going around ruining the surprises for everyone by disseminating all of my experiments.
        • by Anonymous Coward
          Worrying that anything doesn't have value because it's somehow a derivation is stupid.

          What I can be proud of, is that it's a big, amazing world with lots of things to discover, and I'm doing my best to enjoy that. I'll die having only seen and learned a tiny, tiny fraction of everything there is to see and learn. I simply don't need a Nobel prize for my life to have value.

          I think we all need to relax a little on the doom and gloom. Good on this kid for making something he thought was cool, and fuck
          • Have you tried getting kids interested in things they have already seen done on the Net or t.v.? I have a highly motivated nephew in early elementary school that went from constantly building to only playing with his iphone because he already knows about cooler stuff now that his mom and teachers let him roam around educational sites. Two years ago you could walk into a room and find his self-made structures all over the place. Now, nothing but watching on his educational devices and tantrums when human
        • Interesting point though I'd not be too worried about the global dissemination: I think the important point is that teenagers are inspired to try something that pushes them, and they achieve some goals as a result. I can remember as a kid seeing science experiments on tv and trying them at home and being so proud when they worked, showing my dad. It didn't matter that this wasn't novel science, what mattered was that I'd had the drive to replicate what I'd seen and learn something on the way (not always wha

          • I'll try for a bit more optimism. The issue of mass communications sends me off on the Armageddon routine. I would give anything to live in a world where the expectation was more along the lines of each tending their own gardens and trading tools rather than all living on a commune and trading designs.

            I enjoyed reading your reply.
      • You are guys are the reason the USA is screwed in the long term - loads of people moaning when a 17 year old or so kid pushes himself and gets something like this happening? A better place would have praised the kid, I think it's great teenagers are trying to come up with technological hacks that are new to them and dreaming great goals.

        No, you're the reason the USA is screwed up. This kid did not push himself, he watched a youtube video [] or googled it []. Why should we praise a 17 year old for doing what he saw in a youtube video?

        This generation has been brought up to believe that every child is a winner. [] Awards aren't just given to the top of the class anymore, they give awards to every kid, no matter what they do or fail to do. Brookings Institution 2006 Brown Center Report on Education finds that countries in which families and scho []

      • How many times have you seen this story on Youtube? I'd be willing to put money on this being a submission either by the kid himself, or someone close to him. What he did was cool but not at all newsworthy.
  • Inb4 UFO sightings flare up!

  • Yay! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 24, 2011 @12:39PM (#37502430)

    More helium stocks depleted!

    • Yeah I don't get why hydrogen isn't used for more unmanned projects at least. The US military is straining world helium supplies to fill its massive Blue Devil unmanned recon blimps as it is. Hydrogen isn't super-dangerous if your blimp isn't painted with rocket fuel. We fly kerosene-filled planes all the time that would plummet if the kerosene tanks (wings) were seriously ruptured and it's no big deal.

      • by mrmeval ( 662166 )

        Hydrogen is flammable and a hazard to ground personnel filling static charged garbage bags. Storage of hydrogen is regulated by state and local law in my state. I'm sure if those obstacles were overcome it could be used but then it would not be a project made of cheap trash bags.

    • Re:Yay! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by hawguy ( 1600213 ) on Saturday September 24, 2011 @12:58PM (#37502606)

      More helium stocks depleted!

      Don't blame the kid that bought the Helium, blame the helium repositories that don't price it as the scarce resource that it is. If a 244 ft^3 tank cost $1000 instead of $100, then maybe there would be less waste.

      • by illtud ( 115152 )

        Don't blame the kid that bought the Helium, blame the helium repositories that don't price it as the scarce resource that it is.

        ie, blame Congress, who passed the Helium Privatization Act of 1996 [] forcing the stockpile to be sold cheap regardless of any market forces on scarcity.

  • I don't have any 55-gallon trash bags in my house, nor the helium it would take to fill even one of them.

    Cool high-school project, though. Or should that be "high school-project".

    • by Osgeld ( 1900440 )

      well you can buy them at the local big box hardware store ... and if you want to try it out without the gas just get a black bag, fill it up with air and set it in the sun for a little while, it will float off (yay Mr Wizard!)

    • You can get 55 gallon trash bags from a hardware supply store like home depot. You can get the helium from AirGas or iParty to name a few, or even your supermarket's florist. In fact, you can probably get the local supermarket to donate all of the supplies if you're a high schooler with the ability to overcome any nervousness about talking to the manager.

      Airgas is a great place to go for all kinds of cool "sciency" supplies, and they're all over the place.

  • Technically it is an aircraft, when you fill a bunch of trash bags with helium, but it's not an airplane.

    First one of these I've seen done in a desert....someone's probably done it, but it's kind of cool to see a different landscape.
  • I've seen a couple of these projects, and since this isn't a commercial vehicle, couldn't you just use cheap 'ol hydrogen, rather than comparatively rare and expensive helium?

    It'd be a rather neat project to combine electricity and water to get the hydrogen for a project like this. Then, your only costs would be the bags, the cargo, strings, water and electricity.

    Ryan Fenton

    • DHS would probably put you in Guantanamo for terrorist activities.
    • It'd be a rather neat project to combine electricity and water to get the hydrogen for a project like this.

      But then you're manufacturing an explosive device so you have to get licenses, and permits, and insurance...hire explosive experts, firemen, off duty police, ATF, FBI, Homeland Security, etc. What's that, kid? You can't afford all that? Sorry then. Safety first! Why don't you make a nice baking soda and vinegar volcano instead.

    • Issues with hydrogen;

      Volatility; All one needs is a spark at the wrong time and all your work if lost and maybe some body parts too.
      Permeability; Due to the small size of the H2 molecule it passes through plastic much faster than helium. This will decrease the range of the balloon.
      Storage;: Sure you can make hydrogen using electrolysis but you need to store it before it is used. Electrolysis is relatively slow and you need to fill each bag and save them until you get enough for the launch. Permeability come

      • Actually, diatomic hydrogen is less permeable than monatomic helium. []

        • Thanks. You just revived a project that I had given up on. I had wrongly assumed that hydrogen was a non-starter due to permeability and didn't bother to check. I'll have to think about how to handle the other danger, though I think my volume is small enough that it's safe.

          This goes to show that you should a)check everything and b)recognize that there can be value in "wasting" time.

      • And remember that literally thousands of perfectly safe Zeppelin inflations were effected prior to the Hindenburg, without a huge amount of safety protocol beyond minimal training and making sure common sense and non-ferritic tools were used in the vicinity of the work.

        Hydrogen welding gas is far, far cheaper than helium, available in much larger tanks, and is quite safe. It's used for preheating in industrial welding.

  • by spongman ( 182339 ) on Saturday September 24, 2011 @12:59PM (#37502614)

    if the wind had carried it slightly farther west, it would have ended up over the Nellis Air Force Range [] which contains the Nevada Test Site [], Area 51 [] and other fun stuff the Air Force probably probably doesn't want you taking pictures of.

    • I really doubt the pictures would matter much. I could probably get better photos zooming in with Google Maps.

      Like Area 51 []

      I'll let you zoom in on the others.

      • I wonder if the folks who manage Area 51, and other secret sites happen to know when these commercial satellites will fly overhead and are capable of taking pictures. Hell's bells, I wouldn't be surprised if they see these images before the companies that own the satellites can see them. You won't ever see anything interesting at Area 51 through google maps, google earth or any other mapping/photo service.

        Although it seems remotely possible, I'm also willing to bet that you won't ever see anything interes

      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        What, no streetviews! How disappointing!

    • And he wouldn't have gotten the pictures, and likely not the camera, back.


    • by capnkr ( 1153623 )
      Not to mention the possibility of it getting sucked into a jet engine intake, or being involved in some other sort of mid-air collision with an engine-propelled, person-carrying aircraft.

      Knock a Cessna out of the sky with your trashbag-levitated picture taker, and I'd wager that lawyers are gonna have you working to pay off that injury/wrongful death suit for the rest of your natural life, regardless of what the FAA regs say about your type of "aircraft" being legal (or not)...

      I would hope that people doi
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by luckymutt ( 996573 )

        Knock a Cessna out of the sky with your trashbag-levitated picture taker..

        If your flying a Cessna and you can't see and maneuver out of the way of a floating collection of trash bags, you have no reason to be flying in the first place.

        • by guruevi ( 827432 )

          I doubt trash bags would do much if any damage. They get occasionally on highways and probably float on airports as well, most likely the thing will be shredded to pieces. Even a simple phone or whatever electronics the kid had will be destroyed or knocked out of the way by either propeller or jet engine.

        • Silly. Even if a pilot had a hard time seeing it (which is likely), it could also be another airplane. Your chanced of hitting it are about the same as if it were another airplane. In other words, you worry about something a lot more threatening, like lightning.

          Basically, the reason we don't see more mid-airs in sparse airspace (away from established, busy airspace) isn't so much that pilots are good at picking out other unannounced aircraft, but because it is so unlikely. Seriously. The FAA and the Force s

      • by waives ( 1257650 )
        Get real. Do you have any idea how much space there is in the sky? I would be a lot more worried about it landing on someone's windshield, and even that is terribly unlikely
  • by Anonymous Coward

    In sixth grade, my MGM class built a hot-air balloon out of trash bags. In 1980. And ours was better than this. We cut open the bags then ironed them together to make a single unit, not this hackneyed "I'll-use-trash-bags-instead-of-helium-balloons-and-recreate-UP" lazy approach.

    So, in summary:
    Get off my lawn;
    Don't be a lazy-ass and go back and do it right.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      In sixth grade, my MGM class built a hot-air balloon out of trash bags. In 1980. And ours was better than this.

      Do you have 2000 pictures of your experiment?

      Don't be a lazy-ass and go back and do it right.

    • This. He could have gotten much more volume for the same surface area. I just thought to duct tape them together, I'll have to remember to try ironing if I ever make one.
  • Neunundneunzig Muellbeutel?

  • by koan ( 80826 )

    Advanced high school? Seriously? This is something I would've done when I was 10, (in fact I did but there was no civilian GPS in 1970's and I used a 3.5 minute super 8 movie camera) this is one of the easiest off the shelf projects there is and frankly I expect more...wonder what other nations high school students are doing.

  • by curmudgeon99 ( 1040054 ) on Saturday September 24, 2011 @04:02PM (#37503926)
    There is an infinitely better way. Buy the thinnest clear drop cloth plastic you can find. Fold it into a pillowcase shape. With a piece of fabric to insulate the plastic, melt the edges around all four sides with a clothes iron. Just melt it enough to make a seal. You have a perfect bag that will hold air much better than this painfully ugly trash bag aircraft. When combined with a balsa-wood cross at the open bottom and birthday candles, you have infinite teenage fun.
    • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

      Teenage? Sounds like fun on a boring winter weekend.

  • The A-Team did that years ago!

  • Brilliant concept, well executed! Helium is a good choice, I initially thought that the balloon might be thermal, powered by wax or some liquid fuel. (eg kerosene). The ballon project video is good but it could be improved.
    Perhaps with a 360 degree fisheye or some kind of spin correction system, I felt a bit dizzy watching it. A really stand-out high-altitude stop-motion vid' with good production like this one of mountain views of Annapurna in Nepal [] can be really successful and might do a lot to promote th
  • I believed somebody made a plastic plane by fusing trash bag the same way you can make a laptop case. Silly me! []
  • I'm not impressed at all until he can make a flyable craft to escape a prison. @40 min 30 sec

Sigmund Freud is alleged to have said that in the last analysis the entire field of psychology may reduce to biological electrochemistry.