a dangerous experiment

Someone Actually Lifted A House With Balloons Like In 'Up'

Can helium really lift something as large as a house, like in Up? Yes, of course it can. You just need enough of it to give the total structure enough volume. 

Consider the last Zeppelin airship, the LZ 130 Graf Zeppelin II. This huge 1930s aircraft blew up to a volume of over 7 million cubic feet. This gave it enough power to lift over 250 tons, which is easily more than a small house weighs, even including the weight of the foundations. The LZ 130 was designed to use hydrogen, not helium, but it switched to non-combustible helium, and that worked just fine. 

Airships have rigid skeletons. They use lacquered fabric, not inflatable rubber. That means if you poke a hole in a flying airship, it won't go pop. The helium won't even rush out, since its gas is kept at the same pressure as the atmosphere outside. So, lifting your house with a bunch of helium balloons, like in Up, would be a slightly different endeavor than flying an airship. Would it be possible? 

National Geographic gave it a go. They built a wooden house, and attached 300 helium weather balloons, each around 12 feet tall. The house took flight, successfully reaching a height of 10,000 feet. Best of all, no one involved in the stunt died. 

The house they built didn't accurately stand in for the one from Up, however. They made this wooden model just for the experiment, and it weighed only one ton, a lot less than a real house would. So a real house would need ... a lot more balloons. For Up, the animators attached about 20,000 balloons to the cartoon house—party-size balloons, not weather balloons. They figured that many balloons made for the best-looking image. It looked a lot better than the number of balloons they actually estimated would be necessary to lift the house: 23.5 million. 

For more movie math, check out:

Top image: Walt Disney Pictures
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