How to Glue Yourself to a Plane, According to Science

From Popular Mechanics

A protester did it. We can do it better.

By Andrew Daniels

Oct 11, 2019

Twitter/@JonMew/Creative Commons

Twitter/@JonMew/Creative Commons

Popular Mechanics HQ was predictably spellbound yesterday when news reports trickled out concerning a protester who glued himself to the top of a British Airways plane at London City Airport.

On top of that, the protester, identified as a man named James Brown, is a partially visually impaired former Paralympic runner and cyclist. Meet your new Most Interesting Man in the World.

While we’d like to reach out to Brown to ask him some questions—actually, all the questions—what’s complicating matters is the small fact that he may or may not be in jail at the moment. Brown was acting on behalf of Extinction Rebellion, a London-based environmental group known for theatrical gestures of protest, when he bought a ticket for a flight, went through security, proceeded up the steps of the BA Embraer 190 jet, and propelled himself on top, according to The Sun.

“Here I am on top of a f****** aeroplane at City Airport,” Brown said in a video he posted online during the stunt. “I hate heights, I’m s******* myself, I managed to get on the roof. I am so shaky.”

Security soon approached Brown, and not a moment too soon. “Oh good,” Brown said after a few impassioned rally cries against government inaction on climate change, “security are coming. I hope they don’t take too long, because this is f****** scary.”

Brown was eventually removed, and we await more information about his status.

There’s lots to unpack here, like, say, how exactly a partially visually impaired man was able to climb on top of a twin-engine jet airliner. Seems pretty hard! But we were mostly curious about how you’d go about gluing yourself to a plane. Since airport security pulled Brown off the jet with relative ease, he honestly couldn’t have tried very hard.

So. Let’s say you actually wanted to do this thing the right way. We won’t ask why. But you’re dead-set on sticking to a plane, dammit, and that’s all that matters. Where do you start?

Master the Physics

“The first order of business,” says Giles Dillingham, Ph.D., the CEO and chief scientist at BTG Labs, a materials science company that performs research in surface science, surface treatments, and adhesion, “is to determine the load we are asking the bond to withstand.”

In this scenario, imagine you’re 170 pounds. This is your load. If you try to stick yourself to the bottom of a plane, you’ll put the adhesive bond (the glue) into too much tension, and the forces will probably fail it, Dillingham says. But go to the top of the plane and your weight will compress the bond instead. In that case, the only thing that could fail the bond is the shear stress that results from the drag of the airflow on your body.

our bond will have to resist the force of wind, says Dillingham, so you’ll need an estimate of that force. “A skydiver who is facing straight down has a terminal velocity of about 200 mph,” he says. “At that speed, the force of gravity pulling the body down is just equal to the force of the wind on the body.” Let’s assume, then, that your bond has to survive a speed of 200 mph and withstand a 170-pound load.

You’ll want to maximize the entire bonded area, of course. If you only glue your hand to the plane, your entire load—your weight, plus the drag from the airflow—must be supported by the spot on your skin that’s actually bonded. Bond a large area, however, and the force per unit area will be low, Dillingham says.

In other words, spread that glue all over your body, and leave no patch of skin unturned.

Full article here.

105 thoughts on “How to Glue Yourself to a Plane, According to Science

      • Or at least, glue producers could use the incident for consumer information on the package; “Do not apply on airframes at 50 feet above ground or more”, a bit like it says on all nuclear weapons: “Do not put in mouth. Unsuitable for children, including politicians.”

          • Not on top of an aeroplane it hasn’t so therefore the experiment is still required. I predict that he would most certainly have shat himself.

          • A South African manufacturer of a powerful epoxy used the stuff to glue two sheets of metal together. One end of the bonded sheets was attached to a crane, the other end to a 20 ton bulldozer. Then the CEO of the company stood under the bulldozer for the commercial. Now THAT’S faith in your product!

      • Was thinking the same thing myself.
        He had a ticket.
        He boarded the plane.
        Just let everyone else board and take their seats.
        Give him one last chance to get down.
        Either way, close the door and begin taxiing to the end of the runway.
        If he chooses to fly on the outside rather than the inside, he better hope his glue holds…

      • The problem is breathing after the plane reaches cruising altitude. Even if he could stay on the plane, he won’t survive without an oxygen source.

        • If he survived the climb to 30,000 feet the effects of the low of air pressure, low temperature and force exerted by the air flow might leave something glued on the skin of the plane.

    • Exactly. Or at least taxied to the end of the runway and doing a preflight checklist and run up while videoing that fools reaction.

      • It is one thing being on the side of the stairs. The scary part is to know there is nothing to stop you before smashing on the runway on the other side (8 to 10 meters lower). Taking away the stairs would have done the job.

    • If a good hang on for a few miles it would have been a great advertisement for the glue company.

    • He’s probably confused by the gate crew instructing him to ‘get on the plane’ and too dim to say ‘frack you, I’m getting IN the plane! Let the dare-devils get on.”
      Hat-tip the late, great Geor-ge-or-ge… Carlin

    • I’m calling “shenanigans” on the glue part of this story. Nothing in the original coverage suggested he tried to glue himself to the plane.

  1. This cult XR, isnt funny any more 😐 Stopping people from living and earning money is utterly selfish. Yesterday in london they blocked a ambulance from getting past, even though the ambulance was on a emergency call. A friend heard on the radio that XR protestors are getting paid £400 per week, and the british government is asking them to pay tax on moneys earnt.

    • And someone on twitter said they eat babies – their own – I thought they were supposed to be vegan, eww.

        • Well, if they’re considering their own babies and if one observes that ‘the apple never falls far from the tree’, their own children probably are destined to be vegetables just like their parents.
          So extinction retardation types could conceivably have their vegie and eat it too.

    • Which begs the question, can’t the people paying for this be charged, arrested and thrown in jail? As long as the useful idiots at the bottom of the food chain are the only ones being arrested, the people behind this get to gleefully look at their useful idiots’ antics with no personal consequences.

      • Uh, no, John, they can’t. See one of the advantages of being a billionaire lunatic is you can never be jailed or convicted of anything. This has been true throughout history. In view of the fact that there are literally millions of useful idiots at the bottom that happily go to jail to show their loyalty, this time-honored method of doing business as a billionaire lunatic will survive for many, many more centuries.

        • Good point about the inequity in criminal justice, but what about a civil suit? Juries are more than happy to award huge punitive damages against anyone with deep pockets. Then with my new found wealth I can hire a bunch of East End thugs to follow XR’s around and … well things happen, you know

      • “Which begs the question”

        Begging the question isn’t what you portray. You meant “Which raises the question”.

        • Thanks for pointing that out Jeff, but I’ve given up on telling people this. It has become more common than the proper use of the phrase, referring to the logical fallacy of affirming the antecedent .

          It is in the same category as when people say “We find the rise in CO2 concerning.” They mean “disconcerting” and it is clearly a misuse of the word “concerning” which is a preposition not an adjective. But, sadly both of these misuses have become so common that most linguists accept them as examples of English “evolving”.

          That’s why I teach math and not English. 2 + 2 will never equal 4 no matter how many dolts say that it does.

          • 2 + 2 will never equal 4 no matter how many dolts say that it does.

            I’m assuming you meant “2 +2 will never equal 5”, but it can. Consider:

            2.4 +2. 4 = 4.8

            now round to the nearest integer:

            2 + 2 = 5

        • Merriam says it this way:
          “Begging the question means “to elicit a specific question as a reaction or response,” and can often be replaced with “a question that begs to be answered.” However, a lesser used and more formal definition would be “to ignore a question under the assumption it has already been answered. The phrase itself comes from a translation of an Aristotelian phrase rendered as “beg the question” meaning “assume the conclusion.”

          • As English is a “live” language, there is a continual adoption of misused words and phrases, idioms,slang and colloquialisms by the dictionaries. If enough influential people write the word ‘nucular’, don’t be surprised to see it become legit.

      • Mike the morlock

        Mass media is lying again 😐 Coal is only 2.2 % thats very low.. But Ccgt, wow… Gas is king… wind and solar are very very low and couldn’t power the nation now, let alone if we all started driving EV’s, or stopped using, all fossil fuel energy.

        A combined-cycle power plant uses both a gas and a steam turbine together to produce up to 50 percent more electricity from the same fuel than a traditional simple-cycle plant. The waste heat from the gas turbine is routed to the nearby steam turbine, which generates extra power.

        • Strangely, since the big power outage the amount of wind power has been massively reduced even when available, which means that it is costing us more money not to have it. So the ‘it wasn’t anything to do with too much wind’ crowd are being shown up as liars.

      • This series of graphs is very telling. Note how the variation in load is met – CCGT’s do the work. There has to be a generator that can be adjusted to meet the constantly changing load. This is also why solar and wind cannot be more than 40% +- (I am recalling this and could be off) of the total maximum load – you have to be able to match the demand and the renewables are unable to do this.

  2. Would that be the same James Brown Paralympian who was banned by Ireland for a couple of years for a doping violation? Not sure how relevant that is but it’s nice to see that ER attracts quality protesters!

  3. See, this is why I let my subscription lapse. Why doesn’t Popular Mechanics tackle more practical questions, like how to compensate for the drag created by an extinct protester on top of your fuselage when planning your approach to the destination runway? Or even: how many extra Pacific islanders will drown per cadaver attached to an aerodynamic surface of a transatlantic airliner?

    I look forward to the Mythbusters episode that takes on that old wives’ tale: wait til the ex-protester is good ‘n’ frozen, then simply apply peanut butter for effortless off-scraping.

  4. Was the glue made from petroleum? No, no, the hypocrisy would be too huge to get by the ever-inquisitive news media.

    So, the glue was made from dead horses then?

  5. Stupid.
    The guy was hanging on to the upper doorway frame. His knuckles were right there.
    All they has to do was slam the door shut.
    That would have fixed everything.

  6. Well, if this works out, we double the capacity of aircraft, with outside seating… I guess you could smoke out there too!

  7. The problem is that the human body is not shaped to fit against an aircraft, so even if you coat your body in glue only a limited area will make contact and bond. So you need a filler so that the entire lower surface of your body is attached to the aircraft. This will also prevent airflow between the aircraft and your body, which would have imposed additional stresses on the glue.

  8. Simple punishment needed, Ban him from representing his country at future events because, he is just a silly stunt….

  9. I think your assumptions are flawed.

    You use 200mph based on the fact that is the terminal velocity of skydivers. However skydivers are only accelerating from gravity. Airliners are accelerating from the power of those honking big engines hanging under each wing. Casually research suggests this aircraft has a cruise speed of 495mph (797km/h).

    Can we have a re-cal please? 🙂

    • Yes but the 200 mph is for a sky diver presenting maximum drag (facing ground with arms and legs out-stretched.) The drag is considerably lower if it is headfirst or feet first. It would be pretty stupid to try to ride standing on the fuselage (that should be more stupid – I like to ride inside the aircraft myself) as that would maximize drag. Head first there are probably any number of epoxy formulas that would hold them. Of course scraping their dead body off after the flight would be difficult because if the plane spent much time at all above 12,000 feet death is assured. Also without a helmet, any bugs met on climb out could do serious cranial damage – oh wait, we are talking about an extinction rebellion member – no brain to damage, carry on.
      (Note to readers, this reply was fact based with a HUGE amount of sarcasm thrown in for good measure. I would never recommend flying an aircraft with a person glued to the surface as it could potentially damage a perfectly serviceable aircraft!)

    • The glued external passenger would never survive
      decompression at 30,000 feet and wind resistance at 500 mph.
      He would save money by buying a one way ticket.

  10. … arrests topped 1,000. link

    What do you do when you have a whole bunch of political prisoners headed for prison. In Canada, there was a group of radicals known as the Sons of Freedom. Three times in the twentieth century, the government built a special prison to accommodate them. link

    I’ve heard protesters say, “They can’t arrest all of us.” Well, yes they can.

    • Special prison for them: St Kilda, where they can try living without the benefits of fossil fuel or other capitalist inventions. See how long the vegans last when both food and fuel comes from seabirds.

  11. Oddly enough I was thinking about this sort of thing today. not adhering myself to an aircraft, mind you but what I would do if I found one of these dedicated XR protesters glued to a roadway..

    Any way I resolved to carry several items next time I went to an XR rally just in case I came across one such dedicated XR protester.
    1 Bottle of acidified sea water. This is of course empty.
    1 Bottle of normal sea water.
    1 Bottle of Glacier water, extracted from a pristine ice field some where in Greenland and transported here at great expense on oil burning ships or aircraft.
    1 Bottle of tap water, chlorinated and fluoridated.
    1 Bottle of untreated water from the creek behind our house.
    1 Hospital urine collection bottle.

    I would after 30 minutes or so in the sun offer the thirsty protester the various samples. Naturally he could not drink the acidic sea water as the bottle is empty. Being a dedicated XR protester, he would refuse the slightly alkaline seawater as according to green logic, this should not even exist. Besides it is salty. His green convictions would prevent him from taking the glacier water. Tap water he would also reject as it contains chlorine and other nasty chemicals. By this time he should be quite thirsty, water water everywhere and not a drop to drink. This is where the unfiltered muddy creek water comes in. If he gets thirsty enough he will drink it. Wait another 30 minutes of so and produce the urine bottle but place it just out of reach. I then drink the glacier water myself and then slowly pour the sea water from one bottle to another within sight and hearing of the dedicated XR protester. The sound and sight of trickling water has a profound effect on a man.

    And the urine bottle is just out of reach.

    • You know he’s going to have to wait until he has a full load to wash those pants he wet. He’s not allowed to waste water on one pair of soggy trousers, no matter how bad they smell after a week. It’s all natural, though, so he shouldn’t be bothered.

  12. If you have any lingering doubts about the vile nature of the XR leaders please be aware that they wish to subvert Parliament and elected leaders and organise “people’s assemblies“ to decide how to run the country. These assemblies would doubtless be intimidating groups of eco-thugs and anyone expressing a contrary view would be howled down and led off to the nearby gulag.

    Personally I think they should have taxied the plane round to the runaway. I expect he would have rapidly freed himself. These protestors are arrogant, uninformed, hard-line anti- capitalist, jerks. Most of their followers are ignorant and misguided.

  13. Why should competing in the Paralympics grant any legitimacy to utterances about climate change?

    There is nothing there to suggest the man knows the first thing about weather or climate.

    The news should eliminate all mention of the mans name, depriving him of any titillation gained from being a wastrel in public.

  14. He’ll probably be put on the no-fly list. Probably won’t matter to him because he can’t see where he’s going anyway.

  15. Blackadder: ‘We’re in the stickiest situation since Sticky the Stick Insect got stuck on a sticky bun.’

  16. “security are coming. I hope they don’t take too long, because this is f****** scary.”
    Sorry, mate, they’ll be a while yet, your friends have set up a roadblock.

  17. I wonder what safety checks were required on the structure of the aeroplane before it was allowed to take off?

  18. I wonder what safety checks were performed on the structure of the aeroplane before it we allowed to take off?

    • A guy with a maglight, then another one without a maglight. Then several others discussing with very concerned voices. Then shuffling manuals. Finally someone signs it off with a note for the next check.

  19. It’s just a shame, isn’t it? That there was no snow and bitter cold in the forecast, and a cold front swooping in from the northeastern Atlantic? That would have been awesome.

    They should just leave him there for a day or so. There’s some “senior” gal in the Chicago area whose “hobby” is sneaking around security at airports and getting on planes without a ticket or passport. She managed to get to London that way, but was arrested and sent back to Chicago. Then she had to try again, and got busted at the airport, and had to spend several months in a supervised environment, and said she wouldn’t do it any more, when a reporter talked to her about it. When she was released from supervision, guess what she did?

    Yep, busted again, and this time she got to go to jail again. Some people just don’t know when to quit.

  20. Now, how do they become unglued?
    If you answered “solvent”, that is incorrect.
    You tell them the truth about CO2 – that it is in fact beneficial, plants love it, and we actually need more of it, not less.

    • That might be the thing that reglues them. Their problem is that catastrophists have driven them to being unglued in the first place.

  21. These protestors need to be sued by the entities they caused harm to. The airline should sue for operational costs. The fake blood people need to be sued for the cost of cleanup. The person whose ambulance was delayed should sue for the emotional/mental trauma. XR shouldn’t be sued, because Soros will just pay for it. The protestors themselves should be taken to court. Support would dry up pretty quickly if these people knew their own money was on the line. As it stands, there are no consequences for their actions. They might spend a night in jail, but protesting is their job, so it doesn’t affect them. They might get a criminal record, but if anybody asks, they just say they were arrested protesting. There’s got to be a number of lawyers out there that would do the work pro bono or for a minimal fee. Winning a suit would be a slam dunk, as the injured party was injured while the protestor was committing a crime.

  22. I’m personally shocked this old act hasn’t been brought up. Really, in most of the “Climate Action” events, George Carlin really covered them best:

    I mean really. On or In, that’s the ultimate question on this type of thing.

  23. He is an example of the mentality of the entire group, unhinged, , and shibboleth.
    shibboleth: a word or saying used by adherents of a party, sect, or belief and usually regarded by others as empty of real meaning.
    I never heard of that word but it sounded interesting.
    Wonder who talked him into it. Probably while consuming Irish whiskey.
    The probability of urine: Take for example, a bridge in Palembang, on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. “one of the reasons for the apparent structural deterioration was due to the frequency of people urinating on one of the steel pillars of the bridge, causing it weaken due to the corrosive forces of human urine.”
    Just speculating with no evidence.

  24. Regulations authorize the captain to call for ABP, able bodied passengers to help ensure safety in flight and the cabin crew is trained to spot such helpers prior take-off.

    If you are about to do anything on my board, please consider that we are very honored to be accountable for the safety and wellbeing of our passengers. Which means that:

    ABP’s will be solicited for help. Each and every way they know.
    The captain will issue an emergency call for threat level 2 potentially escalating to level 4
    The aircraft will land on the quickest to reach suitable alternate
    Authorities will be involved

    Further, a full legal packet, inclusive amongst a long list, the price of fuel involved in the process.

    Just as a reminder, restraints are available on-board. The crew has full authority and training and the emergency flashlights are sturdy orange shock resistant quite heavy cylinders.

  25. If the guy covered himself with super glue and could not be removed from the top of the plane, the plane could take off and climb to 30,000 feet, where the temperature is about -50 F. The glue would probably become brittle at that temperature, and the frostbitten man would fall to his death.

    He should be thankful that security took him down.

    • Just call the de-icing truck for a fullmonty contaminated fuselage job. Hot glycol jets are known for compromising even purposely designed decorative folio.

  26. Bottom line is the UK is a travel risk country because of glue and drones.

    I’ll continue with my staycation home improvement projects but not because of Greta. I bought a big, used V8 SUV to deal with her.

    BTW, how do you justify ignoring a country-wide voter referendum on Brexit in a democracy? Is it secondary to the committee form of democracy or what?

  27. Was this designed to be the next episode on the “muppet show”?
    Wasn’t that also on the BBC?

    “pigs in space” starring Brown glued to the outside of the spacecraft?

    In Mikado….”make the punishment fit the crime”,
    so what shall we do with the gluey flier ….so what shall we do with the gluey flier, early in the morning???

    Talking of which I just had an e-mail from a son, who part times at KEW…
    This was a tiny extract…..(I’m not making it up!).
    At least he won’t be getting a Darwin award, but things are looking up when you get a 30yr old come to their own conclusions n’est pas?

    My answer HEY join the club!

    Here it is:-
    “I started to look back at Kew’s research on climate activity, and lo and behold the IPCC are in every bibliography, so the data manipulation has seeped into a huge amount of the scientific community as reference material………”


    “Science itself has been undermined, that the scientific consensus that everyone talks about these days is just a corrupt racket of ideologues manipulating the data to serve their narrative.
    I’m extremely disturbed by all of this and it has shaken me to my core, it has made me feel extremely isolated from my peers.

    These people who I considered friends turned on me for having “the wrong opinion” when trying to explain that CO2 cannot be the sole cause for differences in climatic activities they turned around telling me the science is settled, when it actual fact science is about being sceptical and not settling for quick answers but trying to find instead the correct ones.

    Also when I asked people to cite their sources, I found most of their sources were either poorly written grad papers on how to deal with coping knowing the planet is going to kill us all, or dogmatic IPCC “papers” using the same hockey stick graph of a very short period of time claiming that were arriving at boiling temperatures.

    People have been calling me climate change denier, I don’t deny the climate changes, I do deny the premise that we are the ones causing it to do so, CO2 cannot be the cause for it, nor can humans be influencing it to such a degree either.

    And for thinking critically, applying logic to my independent research and daring to question the current rhetoric, I’ve been demonised and vilified over it.”

    Yum! Nice..

  28. Should have left the stupid b***tard up there! If I was in charge, I’d climb up there and add more glue . . . “Just helping you out mate! Here’s more superglue. No point just gluing your hands. You’ll come unstuck when we take off. Enjoy the ride!”

    I mean, why aren’t these morons more committed to their own cause and glue their faces to things as well as their hands? And what sort of glue do they use? An easy-to-remove water-based glue, or is it really strong superglue like it should be? They’re not really committed unless they go the whole hog and do it properly.

  29. Arrest the fool. Convict the fool. Give him a sentence long enough to discourage other fools.
    And do it all quickly and publicly.
    (OH! And check out just who was on security at the time at that airport. And fire them. How can a nut climb on top of an airplane unnoticed without somebody noticing without choosing NOT to notice?)

  30. Hey wait on . . . how did he get to the airport in the first place? A fossil fueled car by chance? And did he park his (fossil fueled) car in short term parking, or long term?

    Whatever. I hope that when he gets back to his (fossil fueled) car he finds another extinction rebellion nutjob glued to its roof. Wouldn’t that be a hoot?

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