Ping Pong Balls Make Plane Buoyant (Nov, 1936)

Ping Pong Balls Make Plane Buoyant

MORE than 10,000 ping pong balls were in the wings and tail of the Vultee airplane in which Harry Richman, orchestra leader, and Dick Merrill, former Eastern Air Lines pilot, flew from New York to London on Sept. 3. Their unique purpose was to supply buoyancy to the airplane in the event that engine trouble caused a forced landing at sea.

The tiny celluloid balls added less than 30 pounds weight to the plane, but pre-flight tests indicated that their combined buoyancy would support the plane on the water indefinitely. The flying team ordered 30,000 balls but dealers could supply only 10,000.

16 comments
  1. jayessell says: March 12, 20087:31 am

    Donald Duck approves!

    From Wiki:
    A 1949 Donald Duck ten-pager features Donald raising
    a yacht from the ocean floor by filling it with ping
    pong balls. In December 1965 Karl Krøyer, a Dane,
    lifted the sunken freight vessel Al Kuwait in the
    Kuwait Harbor by filling the hull with 27 million tiny
    inflatable balls of polystyrene[5]. Although the suggestion
    is often made, Krøyer denies having been inspired by
    this Barks story. Some sources claim Krøyer was denied
    a Dutch patent registration (application number NL 6514306)
    for his invention on the grounds that the Barks story was
    a prior publication of the invention. However no definite
    proof of this story is available.[6][7] Krøyer later
    successfully raised another ship off Greenland using the
    same method, and several other sunken vessels worldwide have
    since been raised by modified versions of this concept.
    The television show MythBusters also tested this method
    and was able to raise a small boat.

  2. albear says: March 12, 200810:35 am

    Wont ping pong balls become loose and wedge on the flap? And besides, he doesn’t need ping pong balls. The guy looks pretty buoyant himself!

  3. Blurgle says: March 12, 200810:44 am

    A few years back, somebody brought up the idea of raising the Titanic with golf balls. It didn’t get far, considering the Titanic is in two large pieces (and about half a million small ones), both of which are open to the water, and it would likely disintegrate if it were raised even six inches.

  4. Blurgle says: March 12, 200810:45 am

    Golf balls? I need another cup of coffee. Ping pong balls, of course!

  5. Rick Auricchio says: March 12, 20081:23 pm

    I believe the balls in the photo were just put there for the photo. The real ones would be inside closed compartments in the wings, stabilizer, and other sections of the aircraft.

  6. jayessell says: March 12, 20082:37 pm

    Blurgle, I think you were right the first time.
    Ping Pong balls would be crushed in 100 feet or so.
    Steel spheres? Glass spheres?
    Either way, the Titanic is a poor candidate for being raised.

  7. galessa says: March 14, 20083:02 pm

    they should reconsider using celluloid balls, since celluloid is a very, VERY flamable, almost explosive substance: cellulose nitrate, aka gunpowder…

  8. jayessell says: March 14, 20084:12 pm

    I think you mean Guncotton.

  9. galessa says: March 15, 200811:24 am

    yeah, guncotton!

  10. Jim Clark says: October 28, 200811:26 pm

    Awesome, can’t see it catching on though!

  11. Luke Smith says: October 28, 200811:26 pm

    I dunno, kind of cool, but like you say!

  12. Toronto says: October 29, 200812:19 am

    Didn’t Douglas Bader, the famed legless fighter pilot of WWII, have his prosthetic legs filled with ping pong balls when he flew in the Pacific theatre?

  13. Toronto says: October 29, 200812:24 am

    Ping pong balls are cellulose, not nitrocellulose (aka gun cotton), which is basically nitroglycerin-soaked fibers (glossing over the details, of course.)

  14. Elliot says: September 18, 20092:55 pm

    Mythbusters proved this it works

  15. Firebrand38 says: September 18, 20093:12 pm

    Elliot: Actually Mythbusters investigated whether you could “pump in” ping-pong balls to raise a sunken boat.

    Also, for the record nitrocellulose is NOT cotton soaked in nitroglycerin. In fact, gun cotton (nitrocellulose) soaked in nitroglycerin is the explosive Cordite.

  16. Jay Turberville says: November 27, 201111:44 pm

    The nitrocellulose used to make ping pong balls has a lower nitrogen content than the nitrocellulose used in explosives or guncotton and is not explosive. Flammable, yes. Explosive, no. At least not in any ordinary circumstance. Millions of people play ping-pong in the U.S. and there are ping-pong balls all over the place. When was the last time you heard of a ping-pong ball explosion or even a fire.

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