Youtuber Rents a Helicopter to Solve Physics Exam Question

Youtuber Rents a Helicopter to Solve Physics Exam Question: Derek Muller, a science youtuber, rented a helicopter to solve physics question asked in qualifying exam for US olympiad. The question was to identify the shape of a rope hung down a moving helicopter. To finally end the confusion on the answer to the question, Derek Muller , rented a helicopter. He hung a rope down the helicopter , and when the rented helicopter was moving, the shapes were recorded.

Origin of the question

The question was authored by professor Dr. Paul Stanley. The question came to his mind when he was teaching for a semester in Hong Kong and would go hiking in new territories. Once he saw a helicopter flying with a cable beneath it, carrying something to remote areas. An idea for a good multiple choice question came to his mind looking at the cable.

To make the question more interesting , another professor suggested , what if the load was removed off the cable. That’s how the question appeared in olympiad paper with 5 probable options . And to demonstrate the answer, the youtuber rented a helicopter.

Confusion Regarding the Answer to Question

This question was asked in 2014, but since then, there hasnt been any answer everyone agreed to. Some students would chose option (c), in which was a C shape. Some chose option(D), the inverted J shape, some said (B), straight shape. What’s interesting was no one chose (E) option which was S shape.

Some students used a fan on top ,and a smaller fan by the side to create the situation of helicopter, and their professors would agree to the solution. Everyone cane by their solution, which looked perfect, but answers weren’t the same , they disagreed. To put a stop to the question, once and forever , Derek Muller, rented a helicopter to demonstrate the experiment. He actually undertook the experiment of a rope hanging down a flying helicopter, which he rented .

Youtuber Rents a Helicopter to Solve Physics Exam Question
Youtuber Rents a Helicopter

Outcome of the Experiment

As he hung down the rope and the helicopter started moving, the rope took a straight shape towards left. So the final answer to the question is option (B), until someone else disputes it. But when he attached a load at the bottom of the rope, inverted J shape was formed , which is option (D). Then he attached a small parachute at the end of the rope , and the shape would come to be option (C) . The following explanation was given by Derek Muller , regarding the correct answer.

If we break the rope into small segments, each segment would have same weight and air resistance. Now the tention at any point should balance the sum of weight and air resistance at the point. Therefore tention increases linearly as weight increases linearly from from bottom to top, creating a linear shape .

The experiment was partially funded by SimplySafe which allowed them to rent the helicopter. The pilot and aerial coordinator of the rented helicopter, who helped him in the experiment was Craig Hosking. Its delightful to see the enthusiasm for physics experiment by the youtuber.

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