The Most Trivial of Pursuits: Can An Airplane Take Off of A Treadmill?

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The Most Trivial of Pursuits: Can An Airplane Take Off of A Treadmill?

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The modern airplane is an ingenious machine. The idea that a multi-ton piece of metal can fly through 30,000 feet in the sky at speeds of over 500 miles per hour would baffle the mind of anyone born before 1800 (besides maybe Leonardo Da Vinci). But we’re living in the 21st century, and airplanes roar overhead everyday.

What matters now is how creatively an airplane can take off.

Usually an airplane at an airport starts at the end of a runway, picks up speed, then takes off into the sky. The question is, how far does an airplane need to travel to take off? Specifically, can an airplane take off a treadmill?

Let’s set some parameters for this hypothetical situation. The airplane we’re dealing with is a standard Boeing 737. It is a sunny day with a light breeze, and the treadmill we’re using is twice as long and just as wide as the aircraft.

Will the plane be able to take off?

 

It Will: Gavin Meyer

The airplane will take off like a normal plane. The wheels don’t matter, it’s the propellers [jet engines] that get the plane moving. The wheels are basically frictionless. It’ll just take off like a normal plane. It will fly off like a normal plane from a normal runway.

 

It Will Not: Nathaniel Martin

Newton’s Third Law states that “for any action there is an equal opposite reaction.” Airplanes are designed to use this in order to take off. An airplane’s wing is built so that the wind is pushed below the wing, and the reaction of the wind being pushed down is the wing being pushed up into the air. This only works when air is moving around the plane. On a treadmill the plane may be traveling at hundreds of miles an hour, but it is still stuck in the same spot. The air around it is not moving. With no air movement, there is no lift, and with no lift, the plane cannot take off.