BoingBoing.net ran yet another post on the stupid “Plane on a Conveyer Belt” question:
Imagine a plane is sitting on a massive conveyor belt, as wide and as long as a runway. The conveyer belt is designed to exactly match the speed of the wheels, moving in the opposite direction. Can the plane take off?
Of course the plane is going to take off. The wheels are only there to hold the plane up and allow it to roll freely when it’s on the ground. So many people spouted off on that original post displaying nothing but ignorance. They figured the airplane accelerates down the runway the same way a car does, with the wheels doing the work. But with an aircraft, the propeller or jet engine provides rearward thrust, and will move the plane down the runway/conveyer belt with no problem. The only thing that would keep the plane from taking off is if you also tied the aircraft down so it could not gain forward momentum.
This question has been beat to death everywhere on the Internet. Just do a Technorati search on the topic. It’s so very sad to see so many otherwise intelligent people get sucked in by a stupid puzzle like this. But the reason behind BoingBoing’s latest post on the subject is that Mythbusters is going to tackle the puzzle tonight to see what happens. No idea how they’ll do it — a scale model plane and suitably-sized conveyor belt, or full-size everything. Either way, it would be fun to watch. Too bad I don’t subscribe to cable TV & get The Discovery Channel. But it’ll be a matter of hours after the broadcast before it hits YouTube, so no worries.
But, yup; that puppy’ll fly. Guaranteed. Also guaranteed is that this stupid discussion will go on because many people just won’t the conclusion, and won’t want to admit that they were wrong.
Update: Of course, Mythbusters proved me right on both accounts, that the plane would take off (it did) and that there would be no conclusion to this inane debate. Here’s the YouTube video of the experiment:
Turns out that rather than building a huge conveyor belt for the experiment, they used a huge sheet of material pulled by a truck going in the opposite direction of the plane. Not perfect, but it works. Surprisingly, the pilot of the plane thought he’d “sit there like a brick” and not take off. That guy should have his license pulled.
As predicted, the plane did move forward with it’s wheels spinning twice as fast as its ground speed, and it got off the ground. Duh.
And as predicted, the controversy rages on. Mental Floss picked up the subject, and the comments show that people still just don’t get it. They’re reading all kinds of stuff into the original question that shouldn’t be there and finding all kinds of nonexistent flaws in the way that Mythbusters executed the experiment. Some guy even bought the domain name AirplaneOnATreadmill.com to help settle the issue, but from the comments left behind by readers, it’s obvious many just don’t get it.
But the one that really takes the cake is Cecil over at The Straight Dope; he got it right on his first try and did an admirable job of explaining it, but later on he twisted the question and proves, in a way, that the conveyor belt can indeed keep the plane on the ground. Yes, Cecil, given the conditions and theoretical equipment you present, you could keep the plane on the ground. But your theoretical equipment and conditions don’t conform to the parameters of the original question!
The smart set can even buy a t-shirt that expresses your thoughts on the subject, although I’m not sure how smart it is to spend $18 on a t-shirt. Don’t think I would anyway.
I don’t mean to come across as insulting or snobbish, but this puzzle is just not that difficult and all the arguing seems so silly to me. I guess this whole experiment proves that some people will not believe the truth regardless of the logic involved and the evidence presented. And that truth transcends to larger questions, even to faith in an omniscient, omnipresent and omnipowerful God.