back to article All aboard the Vomit Comet: Not the last train to Essex, but a modded 727 for weightless flight

Anyone who has grown up watching the antics of Apollo astronauts aboard Skylab or the acrobatics of Shuttle and ISS crews has likely dreamed of experiencing weightlessness. Ideally in a way that doesn't involve either a sickening drop in an elevator or alarming turbulence over the Atlantic. But for those lacking the budget to …

  1. Dave 126 Silver badge

    Some videos and films made using parabolic flights:

    - A music video by Okay Go:

    https://youtu.be/D3LBvh07a1I

    Lots of fun and recommended, as is their video of a Rube Goldberg machine.

    - the feature film Apollo 13

    - An adult movie called The Uranus Experiment

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Fly Your Thesis

    If you happen to be a masters or PhD student in Europe, the ESA offers a "Fly Your Thesis" programme, where you can bid to have yourself and your experiments flown on ESA's very own A300 vomit comet.

    They've got a wonderfully Rube Goldberg-ian setup where there are three pilots - one for each major axis, controlling the aircraft through a fantastic network of rubber bands.

  3. Tim99 Silver badge

    Purely academic research

    Kate Upton YouTube Link.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Purely academic research

      Warning! The above video contains flashing lights.

      To wit, flashguns directed at a woman in a swimsuit.

      1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: Purely academic research

        I couldn't help but notice that Kate was the only one in a swimsuit.

        So it must have been scientific research on how swimsuits react to zero-g.

        I wonder why they needed to do that?

  4. phuzz Silver badge

    Is there regulatory reason that this isn't offered in the UK, or just business reasons?

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Airspace might be a bit crowded, I'd guess you'd have to head a ways out over the Atlantic.

  5. kempsy

    ESA flight

    An interesting video on the ESA flight, where you can see the 3 pilots in action, can be seen via the youtube link below -

    https://youtu.be/FO_Ox_dH0M8

  6. This post has been deleted by its author

  7. JimmyPage Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Apollo 13 ...

    The space sequences in the (excellent) film "Apollo 13" were all filmed aboard one of these ...

    1. ChrisC

      Re: Apollo 13 ...

      Many of them were, yes, though there was also quite a bit done on the ground with the actors sat on (essentially) see-saws to give the impression of them floating in front of the instrument consoles, windows etc.

    2. cray74
      Thumb Up

      Event Horizon

      The space sequences in the (excellent) film "Apollo 13" were all filmed aboard one of these ...

      Oddly, I only learned about Apollo 13's real free fall sequences from the bonus features on the DVD for Event Horizon (the movie's a guilty pleasure of mine). The Event Horizon actors were complaining about the wedgies and general discomfort they experienced being in harnesses simulating free fall, and added a comment to the effect of, "We didn't have the budget of Apollo 13 to film the sequences in a Vomit Comet."

      The next time I watched Apollo 13 I realized you could spot the free fall sequences: they're never more than 25-30 seconds long before the camera switches to another view. Those Vomit Comet parabolas only give you that much free fall if you want to avoid a vigorous lithobraking maneuver.

  8. An0n C0w4rd

    Rubber duck

    If I get on board a passenger aircraft and see a rubber duck in the cockpit, I'm getting off again....

    1. Ol'Peculier
      Go

      Re: Rubber duck

      You're never alone with a rubber duck...

      1. My other car is an IAV Stryker
        Joke

        Re: Rubber duck

        Pig Pen, is that you? I told you to back off; I can still smell those hogs!

        --Trucker [lorry driver] "Rubber Duck" (adapted from the song "Convoy")

        1. Dr Who

          Re: Rubber duck

          That's a big ten four.

          1. Dave 126 Silver badge

            Re: Rubber duck

            If I'm on a passenger jet and I see that An0n C0w4rd is allowed in the flight deck then I'm getting off the plane

    2. Oengus Silver badge

      Re: Rubber duck

      With the security paranoia today, if you get to see the rubber duck you must be part of the flight crew...

  9. Lorribot

    "So, go once and go often before boarding."

    Err..... seems contradiciory advice, maybe go big and go often would be better.

  10. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
    Headmaster

    Reassurance?

    The 42-year-old 727 is "built like a tank"

    Very reassuring words, at least until you stop and think quite how well the average tank flies...

    1. My other car is an IAV Stryker
      Go

      Re: Reassurance?

      There are videos of an M1 Abrams in midair off a dirt ramp... for a *fraction* of a second. Despite flexing the suspension a bit, the landing has GOT to hurt!

      1. PNGuinn
        Trollface

        Re: Reassurance?

        So, bung a tank INTO the vomit comet then.

        Bonus points if the tank is full of water and / or rubber ducks ...

        ... The tank hung in the air in much the way that bricks ...

    2. Gordon 10 Silver badge

      Re: Reassurance?

      Yes but if the A Team movie taught us anything it's that you can fly a tank into semi controlled landing into a lake using the main gun.

      It's Hollywood so it must be true!

  11. werdsmith Silver badge

    Can be done in Light Aircraft too

    The look of confusion on this hound's face still makes me laugh:

    https://youtu.be/6NvBGb5lf78

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Can be done in Light Aircraft too

      Indeed, I remember a friend of mine telling me of the time he went for a flight with another friend of ours who has a PPL and whatever the various aerobatics qualifications are.

      He (the pilot) put a sealed can of coke on the top of the instrument panel, and then, very carefully, used the attitude of the plane to lift the can off the shelf, and then did a slow roll so that the whole plane rotated around the can, and then settled it back onto the dash.

      1. ChrisC

        Re: Can be done in Light Aircraft too

        Googling for "Bob Hoover water roll" may also be of interest - I first watched the video (real actual video tape, none of this new fangled digital rubbish :-) of him doing this back in my childhood days with my equally aviation-mad dad, and even though I *know* how he's doing it, seeing it happen on the screen in front of you makes you start to question everything you ever thought you knew about gravity, physics and all that other real-world stuff...

        1. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: Can be done in Light Aircraft too

          Bob Hoover flew those amazing routines in the Shrike Commander with the engines off and the props feathered too.

  12. Milton Silver badge

    Nostalgia dreams

    It gives me a strangely nostalgic feeling to see the venerable 727 being put to use like this. It always was one of my favourite planes, along with the Tristar (amazingly comfortable and advanced for its time, good memories of some smooth cruising over the US in the 80s) and the VC-10, which shared with the 727 an excess of thrust (for hot-and-high airports) that meant pilots could really light the tail and head for the moon when they felt like it. The crabs used VC-10s to ferry soldiers around sometimes, with seats (sensibly, as should be done in all airliners) facing aft, and I swear that sometimes the RAF pilots firewalled the throttles and yanked the nose up just so they could punish poor pongos as their livers were garrotted by seatbelts ...

    I note that £4k is a lot less than the ransom demanded from wealthy adolescents for Branson's fatheaded "Virgin Galactic" deathtrap, which delivers basically the same thing: a few minutes' "weightlessness" which is actually ballistic free-fall—in Beardie's case at a very high altitude so that the aforementioned rich halfwits can get an "astronaut" merit badge despite not even getting into orbit .... or doing anything useful or even going anywhere, in fact.

    1. ChrisC

      Re: Nostalgia dreams

      Not sure quite what your problem is with the Virgin Galactic idea other than the cost (or perhaps just because it's linked to Virgin/Richard Branson), given that a flight on this 727 is equally useless. It's a far cheaper way to experience zero-g, sure, but that's all you get (flight suit and chance to add 727 to your personal flight logs aside) for your still not insubstantial outlay.

      OTOH, if the price of a Virgin Galactic flight is within your means, then you get the zero-g experience (somewhat enhanced compared with the 727 option, given that it's a single extended exposure to zero-g vs several much shorter exposures) *plus* the experience of flying higher and faster than almost any other person on the planet will ever achieve (also you also get to update your flight logs with a seriously exotic entry...)

      Ultimately choosing to do either is throwing your money away if measured in terms of how useful they are, but then the same could be said about so many other things we as humans do. Why bother spending good money on a nice holiday, nice clothes, a nice car, decent food? Sod it, we get one shot at life, your money is useless once you shuffle off this mortal coil, so if you've got it, why the hell not spend it on making your life more comfortable/enjoyable/interesting, and, in the case of either of these zero-g options, giving yourself what really would deserve to be described as the experience of a lifetime?

    2. S4qFBxkFFg

      Re: Nostalgia dreams

      "I swear that sometimes the RAF pilots firewalled the throttles and yanked the nose up just so they could punish poor pongos as their livers were garrotted by seatbelts ..."

      The occasional (unsure exactly how often it was needed) vigorous leap into the sky was very much a requirement for the VC-10 in the RAF procedures - probably to give the engines a workout. My dad was a navigator on them and described a time when they were stationed at another airfield, where the residents were described as "a bunch of fucking arseholes", or words to that effect. The morning of departure was after a particularly heavy night (for those not about to fly) and one of the pilots mentioned that the aircraft hadn't had a full-power take-off in a while. Fortunately, the airfield's layout allowed a fairly close flypast of the mess, giving them the benefit of four Rolls-Royce Conways at full throttle to start their day.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Flight suit policy

    I wonder how many flights it took before they decided "nah... you just keep it" was the best policy for the flight suits?

  14. Cynic_999 Silver badge

    Close to stalling???

    The stall speed of an aircraft is proportional to the square root of the "G" force. Thus the stall speed doubles (relative to the normal 1G stall speed) if you pull 4G.

    At zero-G the stall speed for any fixed-wing aircraft is zero. Of greater concern is that the control surfaces don't work at slow airspeeds, and so the direction the nose is pointing tends to be governed by the spiral airflow in a propeller aircraft and/or gyroscopic effects from the engine. Watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=skfprThzUq4 to see how that works).

    It's when pulling out of the dive at the end of the parabola that you must ensure the airspeed has built up enough before you pull "G" to get out of the dive - but so long as you have sufficient height that's just a question of continuing to increase the dive angle until you have the speed (which builds up PDQ with the nose below 45 degrees, so it's not long to wait).

    As an aerobatic pilot, I was very conscious of the variable nature of stall speed with rapidly changing "G" and could use it to my advantage - if you're about to stall you can "offload" instead of increasing airspeed.

    1. SkippyBing Silver badge

      Re: Close to stalling???

      'Close to stalling???'

      I thought that initially, but it's also got to do the going up bit first, which I imagine they're trying to do as expeditiously as possible. As the stall is directly related to the angle of attack I can see how they'd be close to it on the climb to avoid a tedious 20 minutes between zero g sessions.

  15. Philip Stott

    Well played Mr. Speed

    When I read your last article I thought could that be you, and now I see it is!

    To think that I once worked with a Reg Hack - pub bragging rights indeed ;-)

    1. Cederic

      Re: Well played Mr. Speed

      Wait? Philip Stott? Did you use to sit in front of Kirsty in maths classes in Hostert?

  16. FozzyBear Silver badge

    Zero-G also wheel out the pilots to allay the worries of nervous fliers.

    Umm. Not while the plane is going through the motions right?

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oh that would be a ...

    Interesting list of faults for that aircraft ... not sure I'd be calling it a tank. Sounds like lots of oil and engine problems. I think I'll stick to the Russian option.

    AIRCRAFT DEPRESSURIZED IN THE MIDDLE OF A PARABOLA. DESCENT WAS INITIATED AT FIRST INDICATION OF DEPRESSURIZATION. MAXIMUM ALTITUDE REACHED WAS FLIGHT LEVEL 310. FOUND THAT THE CABIN PRESS CONTROLLER HAD FAILED.

    DURING CLIMBOUT THE NR 2 ENGINE LOSS POWER.

    CLIMBING THROUGH 12000FT B-SYSTEM 2 PUMP LOW PRESS LIGHT FLICKERED FOLLOWED BY A-SYSTEM FLUID DECREASING TO 2.5 GALLONSAND B-SYSTEM FLUID DECREASING TO 0. APPROPRIATE CHECKLIST INITIATED AND RETURNED TO BASE WITHOUT INCIDENT. AN EMERGENCY WAS NOT DECLARED. MAINTENANCE REPLACED THE RUPTURED B-SYSTEM NR 2 HYDRAULIC PUMP PRESSURE LINE, SERVICED THE HYDRAULIC SYSTEMS AND PERFORMED AN OPERATIONAL AND LEAK CHECK.

    DURING PARABOLA NUMBER 2 STRONG SMELL IN FLIGHT DECK AND CABIN AFTER NUMBER 5. COULD NOT IDENTIFY AND RETURNED TO BASE.MAINTENANCE FOUND THE SMELL TO BE SKYDROL FROM THE HYDRAULIC RESERVOIR PRESSURE REGULATOR LEAKING INTO THE PRESSURIZING LINE. THE LINES WERE FLUSHED AND THE REGULATOR WAS REPLACED.

    DURING CLIMB BETWEEN 180 TO 210 FLIGHT LEVEL NR 1 ENG COMPRESSOR STALL FOLLOWED BY OIL TEMP RISE. AFTER SECOND COMPRESSOR STALL NR 1 ENG OIL PRESS LIGHT ILLUMINATED. ENG WAS SHUT DOWN PER AOM. NR 1 ENG OPERATED APPROX 9 MINUTES OIL PRESSABOUT 20 PSI. POST FLIGHT INSPECTION REVEALED NO INLET OR EXHAUST DAMAGE. THE NR 1 AND NR2 COMPRESSORS WOULD NOT ROTATE. THE ACFT WAS RELEASED FOR A TWO ENG FERRY TO KMIA. (S)

    ON TAXI OUT CONTROL YOKE JAMMED WILL NOT MOVE FWD. AC RETURNED TO RAMP. AIRCRAFT WAS FERRIED BACK TO MIAMI. NO DEFECTS REPORTED ON FLIGHT. REMOVED FLOOR PANEL, INSPECTED CONTROL CABLES EBL, EAL, EBR, EAR & PULLEYS BS 540, 740, 870, 950& 1050 NO DEFECTS. OPEN PANELS ON TOP OF VERTICAL STAB TO GAIN ACCESS FOR INSPECTION OF CABLES AND PULLEYS, NO DEFECTS.OPEN LH & RH PANEL TO ELEVATOR PCU'S FOUND COLLAR MISSING FROM THRU BOLTS AT RH PCU TAB ROD REACTION LINK, REMOVED & REPLACED ELEVATOR PCU. INSPECTED LH & RH ELEVATOR TAB CONTROL ROD FOR CORRECT INSTALLATION PER BOEING ISAR 97-06-2735-10. CASTELLATED NUTS & COTTER PINS INSTALLED IAW SPM 20-50-01/2 & IPC 27-30-00-31. TEST FLT PERFORMED WITH NO DEFECTS.

    IN FLIGHT NR 3 ENGINE COMPRESSOR STALLED TWICE AND HAD HIGH EGT INDICATION. ENGINE NR 3 WAS SHUTDOWN IN FLIGHT AND FLIGHT CONTINUED TO KMIA WITHOUT FURTHER INCIDENT. MIA MAINTENANCE INSPECTED ENGINE NR 3 AND FOUND THE C-9 THROUGH C-13 BLADES DAMAGED. ENGNE WAS REMOVED AND REPLACED IAW AMJ FORMS B-48 AND B-49. MAINTENANCE PERFORMED LEAK CHECKS AND OPERATIONAL CHECKS NORMAL IAW AMJ FORM B-41. AIRCRAFT WAS RETURND TO SERVICE. (M)

    LEFT WING OUTBOARD AFT FLAP (PN 65-21635-85) (SN BN486) UPPER AND LOWER SKIN DELAMINATED.

    LEFT MAIN LANDING GEAR, WING DOOR AFT FRAME CRACKED.

    MAIN CARGO CABIN BS 1130 LOWER CHORD CORRODED.

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Oh that would be a ...

      All that & it could still fly? What're you worried about?

  18. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

    Essex?

    Which last train to Essex were you referring to? C2C via Basildon, or Greater Anglia towards Shenfield, which then splits to various places such as Southend, Colchester, Clacton etc?

    Some of us need to know.

    The physics of puddles of vomit sliding around the floor, and of people slipping in said vomit are an important research topic, I'm sure.

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