Could That Fast & Furious 6 Airplane Stunt Really Happen? An Aerospace Engineer Weighs In

By Katey Rich 2013-02-04 14:53:46discussion comments
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Last night living rooms across America were on the edge of their seats and clapping with glee-- not during the actual Super Bowl, but during one very particular commercial. Fast & Furious 6, which hadn't shown a scrap of footage before last night's big ad, burst out of the gate with an insane 30-second spot, culminating in a scene of the crew bringing down an enormous military aircraft with just their cars, some cables, and Vin Diesel's bravado. Before we go any further, let's revisit that trailer below.



While none of us go to the Fast & Furious movies for realism, that airplane stunt seemed to cross a line, from outlandish action to outright cartoon. But what do we know? We're just movie bloggers. So we went to an actual aerospace engineer to find out if it's actually possible to bring down an airplane with race cars. And, well, the answer might disappoint you.

"It would take a combination of a lot of improbable events for a few cars to pull down an plane designed to carry a couple hundred thousand pounds. My opinion, impossible."

That's Eric Smith, an aerospace engineer with the United States Air Force, who watched the Super Bowl last night along with some engineer friends and admitted "we were all laughing at how impossible that would be." But before you think these smartypants are just dismissing some good old-fashioned entertainment out of hand, he walked me through exactly what those improbable events could be to make that kind of heist possible. In short: the heavier the plane, the more possible it would be for the gang to pull it down:

"Is the aircraft taking off or landing? That would determine if it's got full fuel or less than full. Also, is the plane fully loaded (I think it can carry 270,000 lbs of payload and about 51,000 lbs of fuel)? If it is, that plane will weigh roughly 800,000 lbs. In my opinion, it would be easier to pull the plane down with a full load rather than a lighter load. At takeoff the engines will be operating at their takeoff setting no matter what the load is (it would just take a heavier plane longer and farther to actually take off).

Ultimately, if you have 2 of the same planes with 2 different payloads, the one with the lighter load will require a shorter distance to take off (because there is less weight for the thrust to ultimately overcome). So adding a few cars onto that lighter plane wouldn't change much in my mind other than you'll have some flying cars. Now a heavier plane would take a lot longer and you might risk being too heavy to take off if you add those extra cars trying to pull it down." 

But don't give up hope! Eric allows that we haven't seen the whole thing yet, and "there might be some wiggle room in the movie for them to make it way more realistic." And as a fan of the Fast and Furious movies he allows, "I wouldn't put it past them to come up with some crazy scheme to pull that thing down."

As for the trailer's money shot-- Dom Torretto's car shooting through the nose of the downed plane-- don't get your hopes up. Science is pretty firmly against that one, Eric says: "It would require a lot of power to bust through the nose of that aircraft. I highly doubt anyone would actually do it, especially if they plan on their car being anywhere near usable and not a pile of junk afterwards."

You might have noticed that the plane in the spot is way, way bigger than anything you've flown in. That's because it's a C-5 Galaxy, one of the largest aircraft in the world, capable of flying with nearly 420 tons weight on board. According to this fact sheet, it "can carry a fully equipped combat-ready military unit to any point in the world on short notice and then provide the supplies required to help sustain the fighting force." But in the world of Fast & Furious 6, it's no match for Dom Torretto and his team.

While it might be a bit of a bummer to know that director Justin Lin is wildly flouting the rules of physics in Fast & Furious 6, take heart in knowing that even the people who know it's not possible are still psyched to see it. As Eric puts it, "I would definitely consider going to see Fast & Furious 6. I have to get the whole story on how they plan on bringing that plane down."
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