All our failed flying machines could finally work (just not on Earth)

Many of humanity's early attempts at flight involved pedaling contraptions or flapping artificial wings. Turns out they weren't such dumb ideas after all -- in another part of the solar system.

Eric Mack Contributing Editor
Eric Mack has been a CNET contributor since 2011. Eric and his family live 100% energy and water independent on his off-grid compound in the New Mexico desert. Eric uses his passion for writing about energy, renewables, science and climate to bring educational content to life on topics around the solar panel and deregulated energy industries. Eric helps consumers by demystifying solar, battery, renewable energy, energy choice concepts, and also reviews solar installers. Previously, Eric covered space, science, climate change and all things futuristic. His encrypted email for tips is ericcmack@protonmail.com.
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Eric Mack
2 min read

This could be the way to get around on Saturn's moon Titan. US Library of Congress

It turns out that some of mankind's earliest and silliest-looking attempts at getting off the ground -- see the video at the bottom of this post for plenty of examples -- weren't quite so ill-conceived as they appear, they just weren't designed to succeed in this particular corner of the solar system.

Web comic xkcd creator Randall Munroe's "What if?" blog features an excellent new post that considers how a common small Cessna plane would fare on other planetary bodies in our solar system. That single-engine plane would have the easiest time on Saturn's moon Titan, the post says, perhaps finding it even easier than flying here on Earth.

I've already preached about what a fascinating place clearly worthy of addition to humanity's bucket list Titan appears to be, but this is yet another reason to love this absolutely crazy satellite. According to Munroe, (who had help from the community of users of the X-Plane "ultrarealistic flight simulator"):

"When it comes to flying, Titan might be better than Earth. Its atmosphere is thick but its gravity is light, giving it a surface pressure only 50 percent higher than Earth's with air four times as dense. Its gravity -- lower than that of [our] moon -- means that flying is easy. Our Cessna could get into the air under pedal power."

Beyond pedal-powered flight, humans on Titan might even be able to get off the ground using just muscle power. Munroe hypothesizes that if you took off in a hang glider on Titan, you could stay in the air by simply putting some scuba-style flippers on your feet and flapping them with about the same energy it takes to walk.

Even more potentially vindicating for the woeful folks in the video below is the notion that the flapping of artificial wings that seems ridiculous to us today might be enough to get airborne on Titan.

It's all a moot point for now, of course, because it's insanely cold on Titan and it would be critical to figure out a way to keep both yourself and your wacky flying contraption warm enough to keep from freezing up and breaking apart.

But flight on Titan sure sounds like an experience I'd love to see on the Oculus Rift. Make it so, Crave kingdom!