This Fearsome *Titan Games* Event Reveals the Value of Torque

I’m oddly attracted to The Titan Games. I think we can all agree that this is the newest incarnation of the popular ’90s show American Gladiators. It’s not the theatrics that I enjoy, it’s the crazy competitions. As you can imagine, there’s a bunch of cool physics to talk about for some of these events. Actually, if you use a little bit of physics you might be able to get an advantage over your opponent.

In this case, the event is the Herculean Pull. The main idea is to pull some horizontal poles out of a giant wedge. The two contestants are trying to pull the poles out from different sides. There’s a chance you could reach a pole before the other person and win the easy way. But if you’re both pulling on the same pole, you need to use some physics. Here, check out this clip from the show.

The physics trick is to not just pull out on the pole—but also UP! Yes, pull out and up. This is especially true if you are on the losing end as you can see in the example above. She makes the mistake of pulling out and down (because that seems more natural), but it leads to her loss.

Why do you want to pull UP? Let me draw a simple force diagram showing the pole along with the forces acting on this pole.

Rhett Allain

There’s a lot going on in that diagram. Let me break it down for you (that’s what I do). The most obvious forces are the two pulls from the contestants. I have labeled these “A” and “B” to be as generic as possible. In this diagram, both of them are pulling down a little bit. The next set of forces are the “normal forces”—labeled with the “N” for normal. These forces are a result of the pole pushing against the edges of the wedge hole. Since the pole doesn’t go into the wedge material, we know the wedge pushes back on the pole. This is essentially the same force that pushes up on a book sitting on a table. Without this force, the book would just move right through the table—and that would be super weird.

The last pair of forces are the frictional forces (I have labeled them as Ff1 and Ff2). The frictional force can be pretty tricky, but we can still make a fairly simple model for the magnitude of a frictional force. In the case where two objects are sliding against each other, the frictional force depends on the two types of materials interacting and the magnitude of the normal force. As an equation, it would look like this.

Rhett Allain

In this expression the μk is just a coefficient that changes for different interacting materials. Let’s say we have wood rubbing against plastic. The coefficient of friction could be around 0.2 (that’s just an estimate). But it’s not just the coefficient. The frictional force also depends on the normal force. The harder those two surfaces are pushed together, the greater the frictional force.

But where is the physics trick to win this competition? I’m getting there. We need one more physics idea to understand the trick: torque. The idea of torque can get quite complicated, but in some cases it’s not too bad. Take the example of a door. If you want to open the door, you need to exert a torque on it. So, where should you push on the door? On the side with the hinge or on the side opposite the hinge? Yes, you know the answer. If you push on the side with the hinge, the door will not open not matter how hard you push. This is because torque is a product of force and distance from the rotation point.

Maybe this diagram will help.

Rhett Allain

The two forces push with the same magnitude, but the one farther from the hinge has a greater distance and thus a greater torque. There. That is your quick introduction to torque. Now back to that giant pole. Let’s assume for a moment that the pole is at rest and in equilibrium (not moving, not rotating). In this case, two conditions must be true. The total vector force must be equal to zero Newtons (otherwise it would accelerate) and the total torque must be zero (otherwise it would have an angular acceleration). And there have to be both positive and negative torques in order for them to add up to zero. Let’s say that a torque that would make something rotate in the clockwise direction is negative. That will work.

Since the force is really in two dimensions, I get the following three equations for equilibrium.

Rhett Allain

Finally—we are ready to answer the question. Let’s look at the forces on the pole again. In the x-direction, there are four forces. There are the two forces from the humans (or at least a component of the force) and then there are the two frictional forces. Let’s say these all add up to zero. In that case, one person would have to pull much harder than the other person to overcome both the other pull AND the frictional force.

If you can increase the frictional force, you can make it harder for the other person to pull out the pole. This is where the torque on the pole matters. Imagine that both humans are pulling down as you can see in the diagram above. Also, let’s add up the torques as calculated from the right end of the pole (you can pick any point though). The right-pulling person pulls down on the pole and this produces a negative (clockwise) torque. The other two forces that contribute to the total torque are the two normal forces. The normal force on the left pushes up and creates a positive torque and the normal force on the right pushes down with a negative torque. Oh, the left-pulling person produces no torque since the torque distance for that person is zero.

What if there was a way to increase the normal force on the right (labeled N1) in the diagram? With a greater normal force you would also get a greater frictional force. This would make it harder for the left-sided person to pull out the pole. Here, maybe this updated force diagram will help.

Rhett Allain

By pulling UP on the right side, the normal force on that side also has to increase in order to get the total torque to zero. This increase in normal force increases the friction. That’s extra help in preventing the pole from sliding to the right. It might seem natural to pull down, but pulling down just makes it easier to lose. If you have Herculean strength it probably doesn’t matter—but for normal people, it can make the difference between winning and losing.


More Great WIRED Stories

This Fearsome *Titan Games* Event Reveals the worthiness of Torque

i am oddly attracted to The Titan Games. I do believe we can all agree that this is actually the latest incarnation regarding the popular ’90s show United states Gladiators. It isn’t the theatrics that I enjoy, oahu is the crazy competitions. Understandably, there’s a couple of cool physics to generally share for some among these events. Really, if you are using some physics you may be able to get an benefit over your opponent.

In this case, the function could be the Herculean Pull. The primary idea should pull some horizontal poles from a huge wedge. Both contestants are trying to pull the poles out of different sides. There is a possibility you could reach a pole ahead of the other person and win the straightforward method. But if you’re both pulling on the same pole, you should utilize some physics. Right here, discover this clip from show.

The physics trick is always to not only pull out on the pole—but additionally UP! Yes, grab or more. This is especially valid if you are regarding losing end as you can see in instance above. She makes the blunder of taking out and down (because that appears more natural), however it results in the woman loss.

How come you need to pull UP? i want to draw an easy force diagram showing the pole combined with forces performing on this pole.

Rhett Allain

There’s a lot happening in that diagram. I’d like to break it down available (that’s the things I do). The obvious forces will be the two pulls through the contestants. I’ve labeled these “A” and “B” to be since generic as you are able to. Within diagram, both of those are pulling straight down a little bit. The next group of forces are the “normal forces”—labeled using the “N” for normal. These forces are a outcome of the pole pressing against the edges regarding the wedge opening. Since the pole doesn’t go in to the wedge product, we all know the wedge pushes back regarding pole. This might be simply the exact same force that pushes through to a book sitting for a dining table. Without this force, the book would simply go through the table—and that might be super strange.

The final set of forces will be the frictional forces (I have labeled them as Ff1 and Ff2). The frictional force are pretty tricky, but we can still produce a fairly simple model for the magnitude of the frictional force. In case in which two objects are sliding against one another, the frictional force depends upon the two types of materials interacting and magnitude regarding the normal force. Being an equation, it could seem like this.

Rhett Allain

Within expression the μk is really a coefficient that changes for various interacting materials. Let’s say we’ve lumber rubbing against synthetic. The coefficient of friction could possibly be around 0.2 (that’s simply an estimate). But it is not just the coefficient. The frictional force also depends on the normal force. The harder those two areas are pushed together, the more the frictional force.

But in which may be the physics trick to win this competition? I am getting there. We are in need of another physics concept to know the secret: torque. The idea of torque will get quite complicated, however in some situations it is not too bad. Just take the example of a door. Should you want to open the doorway, you need to exert a torque on it. So, where in the event you push in the home? On the side with the hinge or on the side opposite the hinge? Yes, you realize the answer. In the event that you push on the side utilizing the hinge, the entranceway will not open maybe not matter just how hard you push. This is because torque is really a product of force and distance from the rotation point.

Maybe this diagram will help.

Rhett Allain

The two forces push with the exact same magnitude, but the one further from the hinge includes a greater distance and therefore a larger torque. There. Which your quick introduction to torque. Now back again to that giant pole. Let’s hypothetically say for a minute that the pole reaches remainder plus in equilibrium (not going, maybe not rotating). In cases like this, two conditions should be true. The total vector force must certanly be equal to zero Newtons (otherwise it would speed up) and the total torque must be zero (otherwise it might have an angular acceleration). And there have to be both negative and positive torques to allow them to total up to zero. Let’s imagine that a torque that will make something turn into the clockwise way is negative. That may work.

Since the force is actually in 2 dimensions, we obtain the after three equations for balance.

Rhett Allain

Finally—we are ready to answer the question. Let’s look at the forces regarding the pole once again. In the x-direction, you will find four forces. You will find both forces from the humans (or about an element regarding the force) and you can find the 2 frictional forces. Let’s say all of these soon add up to zero. If that’s the case, one individual would have to pull a great deal harder than the other individual to overcome the other pull AND the frictional force.

When you can raise the frictional force, you may make it harder for the other person to pull out the pole. That’s where the torque in the pole issues. Imagine that both humans are pulling down as you care able to see in the diagram above. Additionally, let’s mount up the torques as determined from right end regarding the pole (you can pick any point though). The right-pulling individual brings down regarding the pole which creates a bad (clockwise) torque. Another two forces that contribute to the sum total torque will be the two normal forces. The standard force in the left pushes up and produces a positive torque additionally the normal force regarding the right pushes down by having a negative torque. Oh, the left-pulling person creates no torque since the torque distance for see your face is zero.

Let’s say there clearly was ways to increase the normal force in the right (labeled N1) inside diagram? Having a greater normal force you would additionally obtain a greater frictional force. This will ensure it is harder for the left-sided person to grab the pole. Right here, possibly this updated force diagram may help.

Rhett Allain

By pulling through to the right part, the standard force on that part even offers to increase in order to get the sum total torque to zero. This increase in normal force escalates the friction. That’s additional assist in avoiding the pole from sliding towards the right. It may seem normal to pull down, but pulling down simply helps it be more straightforward to lose. If you have Herculean strength it most likely does not matter—but for normal people, it can make the distinction between winning and losing.


More Great WIRED Stories

Watching the Super Blood Wolf Moon? What to Know About This Lunar Phenomenon

Our in-house Know-It-Alls answer questions about your interactions with technology and science. Today, we weigh in on the January 20, 2019, total lunar eclipse and the wild nomenclature surrounding it.

Q: What does it mean to be a super blood wolf moon?

A: Like presidential elections and celebrity drama, the beauty and intrigue of lunar events lies in their regularity. Supermoon! Blood moon! Harvest moon! Wolf harvest sturgeon blue blood pink worm supermoon!

Alright, maybe that last one isn’t a thing (a pink moon being the full moon in April, a sturgeon being the one in August). There are literally dozens of nicknames for the moons at various times of the year—January’s full moon is known as wolf but also the ice moon or old moon, and, hell, you may as well make up your own at this point.

But here’s the thing: It’s the damn moon. It turns reddish in a blood moon because we’re dealing with a total lunar eclipse: The sun sends light through our atmosphere, scattering short wavelengths like blue while longer wavelengths like red continue to the moon. Our trusty satellite waxes and wanes, moves slightly closer and farther from Earth due to its elliptical orbit, and gives us lunar and solar eclipses with predictable regularity. The moon is kinda clingy, and we love it for that.

Say you have a super blood wolf moon, which is super because it’s closer to Earth in its elliptical orbit and a wolf because it’s a January full moon. Now, I’m not going to sit here and put on a clinic about the origin of every moon nickname, but they drive astronomers crazy. “When I see all these headlines about the wolf blood super moon, I go nuts,” says Fred Espenak, scientist emeritus at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “Because it’s a total eclipse of the moon—that’s what’s not in the headline. It’s all these other terms to try to engage the public and get them to click stuff, but it kind of hides what the message is: It’s a total eclipse of the moon, which is a great term right there.” That, though, just isn’t good enough for some folks.

Another honorific that particularly irks astronomers: the supermoon. It’s a moon that appears bigger to us, because again, the moon follows an elliptical orbit. But really, it’s only 14 percent bigger, which is imperceptible to the human eye.

“I think the use of that term baits the public into thinking something great is going to go on outside,” says Espenak, “and they run out to see it and they’re disappointed because it just looks like a full moon. You can’t see the several percent that it’s larger or smaller.”

Oh, also. It wasn’t an astronomer who thought up the term supermoon, but an astrologer, who claimed the event is linked to seismic events and the weather. And astrology is about as far from science as a wolf on Earth is from a wolf moon. “Supermoon is a brand new term,” Espenak says. “It wasn’t anything that astronomers paid any attention to. Yeah, it was a closer moon, but it was sort of like, ‘Yeah, so what?’”

So OK, meh on supermoon. But that’s not to say that the human obsession with the moon—and naming full moons in particular—is altogether unreasonable, historically speaking. “If anyone has taken a walk under a full moon, it’s very bright,” says research scientist Noah Petro, also of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “You can understand why hunters might want to hunt by a full moon. It makes sense that it would mean something.”

Indeed, other nicknames for the moon are grounded in genuine utility. The full moon closest to the autumn equinox is known as the harvest moon, because before electricity, the glow afforded farmers the opportunity to work at night. Having a good grasp of the moon’s behavior would also help seagoing peoples divine changes in tides. A solid understanding of the moon’s phases has been pivotal for warmongering too, if that’s what you’re into: It’d be less than wise to launch a surprise night attack with a full moon over your head.

The utility of moon nicknames, though, has largely disappeared in this modern world. Except, that is, for using the moon as a grand educational platform. “It’s marketing,” says Petro. “Because everyone can go out and with their own naked eyes look at them and see the light and dark areas and make the most basic of observations. It’s unifying in that regard.”

The caveat being: If you build up a supermoon as something that’s actually super, you’ll sow disappointment. But the moon does offer a uniquely accessible platform for getting nerdy about science—you don’t need a lab full of equipment or even a telescope to enjoy it.

“One of the biggest practical values of total lunar eclipses in this day and age is simply to spark the interest of kids and students to go out and look at something,” says Espenak. “Especially when 90 or 95 percent of people live in metropolitan areas and you can’t see the Milky Way. A total lunar eclipse is something you can see from downtown in any big city.”

So yes, do go look at the moon, the fickle moon, the inconstant moon, that monthly changes in her circle orb. It’s a poetical, astronomical object; no need to gussy it up with fish and blood.


Matt Simon is a science writer at WIRED who, to be clear, loves the moon. But he also gets picky with semantics, as you might have noticed.

What can we tell you? No, really, what do you want one of our in-house experts to tell you? Post your question in the comments or email the Know-It-Alls.


More Great WIRED Stories

Viewing the Super Blood Wolf Moon? What to find out about This Lunar Phenomenon

Our in-house Know-It-Alls answer questions regarding the interactions with technology and science. Today, we weigh in regarding January 20, 2019, total lunar eclipse as well as the crazy nomenclature surrounding it.

Q: What does it mean to be a super bloodstream wolf moon?

A: Like presidential elections and celebrity drama, the wonder and intrigue of lunar occasions lies in their regularity. Supermoon! Bloodstream moon! Harvest moon! Wolf harvest sturgeon blue blood pink worm supermoon!

Alright, possibly that final one isn’t a thing (a pink moon being the entire moon in April, a sturgeon being the one in August). You will find literally lots of nicknames for the moons at various times of the year—January’s full moon is recognized as wolf but also the ice moon or old moon, and, hell, you may possibly as well make up your now.

But here’s the thing: It’s the damn moon. It turns reddish in a bloodstream moon because we’re dealing with a complete lunar eclipse: sunlight delivers light through our atmosphere, scattering quick wavelengths like blue while longer wavelengths like red continue steadily to the moon. Our trusty satellite waxes and wanes, moves somewhat closer and farther from world because elliptical orbit, and provides us lunar and solar eclipses with predictable regularity. The moon is kinda clingy, so we think it’s great for that.

Say there is a super blood wolf moon, that will be super as it’s nearer to world in its elliptical orbit plus wolf as it’s a January full moon. Now, I’m maybe not gonna stay here and place for a hospital concerning the beginning of every moon nickname, however they drive astronomers crazy. “once I see every one of these headlines towards wolf bloodstream super moon, I go nuts,” states Fred Espenak, scientist emeritus at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “Because it’s a total eclipse associated with moon—that’s what’s perhaps not into the headline. It Is all these other terms to try and engage the public and get them to click material, nonetheless it form of hides exactly what the message is: It Is A total eclipse associated with the moon, which is a great term there.” That, however, just isn’t adequate for many people.

Another honorific that especially irks astronomers: the supermoon. It’s a moon that appears bigger to us, because once more, the moon follows an elliptical orbit. But really, it’s only 14 per cent bigger, that will be imperceptible towards human eye.

“I think making use of that term baits people into thinking something great is going to carry on outside,” states Espenak, “and they go out to view it and they’re disappointed since it just looks like a complete moon. You can’t see the several per cent that it is larger or smaller.”

Oh, additionally. It had beenn’t an astronomer whom thought up the expression supermoon, but an astrologer, who stated the big event is linked to seismic activities and also the weather. And astrology is approximately as not even close to science as being a wolf in the world is from the wolf moon. “Supermoon is a completely new term,” Espenak states. “It was not anything that astronomers paid any awareness of. Yeah, it was a closer moon, but it ended up being kind of like, ‘Yeah, so what?’”

Therefore okay, meh on supermoon. But that’s not saying that the individual obsession using the moon—and naming full moons in particular—is entirely unreasonable, historically talking. “If anybody has taken a walk under a full moon, it’s very bright,” claims research scientist Noah Petro, additionally of NASA’s Goddard area Flight Center. “You can realize why hunters might want to hunt with a complete moon. It’s Wise it will mean one thing.”

Indeed, other nicknames for the moon are grounded in genuine energy. The total moon closest to your autumn equinox is recognized as the harvest moon, because before electricity, the radiance afforded farmers the chance to work at night. Having an excellent grasp for the moon’s behavior would also help seagoing individuals divine changes in tides. A great comprehension of the moon’s phases is crucial for warmongering too, if that’s just what you’re into: It’d be significantly less than smart to launch a surprise night assault having complete moon over your head.

The utility of moon nicknames, however, has mostly disappeared within contemporary globe. Except, that is, for making use of the moon as being a grand academic platform. “It’s advertising,” claims Petro. “Because everybody else can venture out sufficient reason for unique naked eyes examine them to discover the light and dark areas and work out the standard of observations. It Is unifying because regard.”

The caveat being: If you build-up a supermoon as something which’s actually super, you’ll sow frustration. Nevertheless the moon possesses a uniquely available platform for getting nerdy about science—you don’t require a lab high in gear or possibly a telescope to enjoy it.

“One of biggest practical values of total lunar eclipses inside day and age is actually to spark the attention of kids and students to go out and appear at one thing,” states Espenak. “Especially whenever 90 or 95 percent of men and women live in urban centers and you can not start to see the Milky Way. A total lunar eclipse is something you can observe from downtown in every big city.”

Therefore yes, do get look at the moon, the fickle moon, the inconstant moon, that month-to-month changes in the woman circle orb. It’s a poetical, astronomical object; you don’t need to gussy it up with seafood and bloodstream.


Matt Simon actually technology author at WIRED who, become clear, loves the moon. But he also gets particular with semantics, while you could have noticed.

Exactly what can we inform you? No, actually, exactly what do you want among our in-house professionals to inform you? Post your concern inside remarks or e-mail the Know-It-Alls.


More Great WIRED Stories

Beta’s Ava Is the Edward Scissorhands of Flying Cars

Plattsburgh, New York, is a tough place to be outside in early January. The small city sits on the western shore of Lake Champlain, 20 miles south of the Canadian border. I’ve just arrived with Kyle Clark and a few of his colleagues, after a quick flight in a 40-year-old Cessna from Burlington, Vermont, on the other side of the lake. It’s snowing, and as we shuffle across the mostly abandoned former Air Force base toward a secluded hangar, I ask Clark if the weather might ice today’s flight plans.

He looks at me and laughs, opening the hangar door. “Not a chance.”

It’s no surprise that Clark—tall, athletic, copiously tattooed, and a former pro hockey player—doesn’t mind the winter weather. But these seem like conditions that would threaten the test flight of a rather complex, entirely new, fully electric aircraft. One whose eight motors and rotors must work in computerized synchrony to keep the ship aloft and true, whether going up, down, or forward.

Clark will have none of such worries. He bounds into the cavernous building that once housed B-52 bombers and introduces me to the Ava XC. The gleaming white contraption, with stilt-like landing gear and eight propellers jutting out in every direction, looks like what Tony Stark would build if he had an Edward Scissorhands phase. It is, in fact, the prototype that Clark’s company, Beta Technologies, has built to not only probe the challenges of electric aviation, but also prove it has the aerospace knowhow itself to compete in the crowded, yet-to-be-realized market for battery-powered vertical takeoff and landing aircraft—what you might call flying cars.

Clark’s version, though, appears to be further along than most. It’s one of the few designs relying heavily on a conventional wing to boost efficiency in horizontal flight, and it’s the largest known eVTOL aircraft to fly yet. More importantly, it’s the only one with a confirmed launch customer providing funding. The mostly carbon fiber, 4,000-pound aircraft holds two battery packs totaling 124 kWh. The 34-foot wing sits between outriggers supporting the octet of 143-horsepower permanent-magnet motors and propellers, which pivot from horizontal to 90-degrees straight up. The two layers of counter-rotating props operate independently, so if one layer loses power, the other will keep the Ava in the air—one of many redundancies and safety measures in the aircraft. The funky flyer has a 172 mph top speed and a range of 150 miles.

In the hangar, Clark’s team gets to work preparing the craft for the morning’s test flight. Beta, until now working in secret, has executed 175 of these so far. The plan for the 176th is to position the rotors 70 degrees up from horizontal, to gauge Ava’s stability during the transition from vertical to horizontal flight and back.

The Harvard-educated Clark created Beta in 2017, on the heels of multiple electronics and software startups. (The company name comes from his nickname in college—he was the nerdiest jock of the bunch, apparently.) Beta isn’t overly invested in the much-hyped air taxi market, though. “The goal of this aircraft was to elicit critical thinking about electric aviation,” says Clark, who paid for his pilot’s license with his hockey signing bonus. “The best way to do that was to build something. So we partnered with the company that became our launch customer to create this aircraft, and attempt to fly it across the country.” No better way, he figured, to expose the technical, logistical, and regulatory problems that populate a field now home to more than 130 companies, including Larry Page-funded Kitty Hawk, Airbus, Joby, and Bell.

On the Ava’s planned cross-country flight, the Beta team will follow along in their mobile charging vehicle, a converted tour bus outfitted with generators, solar panels, and an expanding landing pad on the roof.

Eric Adams

That launch customer is United Therapeutics, a Washington, DC-based biotech outfit developing manufactured organs for human transplant. Its founder, Martine Rothblatt (creator of SiriusXM Satellite Radio), has put an undisclosed but substantial sum into Beta, and wants to use its final product to get those organs from factory to hospital. “This technology has the potential for having the lowest carbon footprint and being the most adaptable to the organ delivery needs that we have,” says Rothblatt, who’s also a pilot and recently led the conversion of a Robinson R44 to the world’s first full-sized electric helicopter. “I need to work free of existing constraints, while still being practical in creating things that work,” she says. “Beta has that kind of freethinking culture, but it’s also a disciplined maker culture.”

Beta is stocked with similarly well-credentialed innovators. Its advisory panel includes Segway inventor Dean Kamen and John Abele, founder of medical device manufacturer Boston Scientific. Its battery specialist, Herman Wiegman, was the lead energy storage researcher at GE Global Research. Wireless sensor engineer Chris Townsend also developed that technology for Bell Helicopters and the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet. David Churchill invented the calibration system for accelerometers in the iPhone. Sensor expert Steve Arms founded LORD Microstrain; and software engineer Artur Adib came from Twitter and Magic Leap. The simulation and modeling technology comes from Austin Meyer, creator of the high-fidelity flight simulator X-Plane.

Beta intends to attempt that cross-country flight, going from Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, to Santa Monica, California, this spring or summer. Clark—the team’s only test pilot—will likely fly three 60 to 100-mile legs a day, stopping for an hour of charging between them. The team will follow along in Beta’s mobile charging vehicle, a converted tour bus outfitted with generators, solar panels, and an expanding landing pad on the roof. In the same timeframe, Clark will reveal the final configuration of Beta’s production aircraft. The flight controls and most of the tech will be based on that developed for the Ava, he says, but the size, shape, and precise propulsion strategy will change.

Before that cross-country flight can take off, Beta plans to run another 50 test flights or so. The exam set for today, however, looks to be stymied by a severed screw in one of the motor assemblies. The crew fixes it, then finds another. Clark, crawling over the aircraft alongside his team, decides to replace all the fasteners with higher-strength versions. Eventually, about two hours behind schedule, the crew rolls Ava out of the hangar into the snow. They climb aboard two SUVs and tow it out to the flight line, with Clark at the controls.

In between runs of the snow plows clearing the 12,000-foot runway (long enough to serve as an emergency landing spot for the Space Shuttle), Clark spins up the motors. He accelerates down the centerline. Beta’s chase vehicles race alongside, loaded up with engineers tracking telemetry on their laptops. After about 10 seconds, the aircraft lifts off and glides in a steady, straight line, far from the wobbly, hesitant hovering many eVTOL companies have demonstrated so far. Even more remarkably, it actually sounds like Edward Scissorhands in action, but it’s not nearly as loud as a helicopter, good news for those worried that air taxis will be aural menaces. (A straight vertical jump will likely make more noise.) Clark sets it back down, turns around at the end of the strip, and makes another pass.

About halfway down in the other direction, the engineers lose their telemetry signal from the aircraft. A few passes later, a roll sensor in the fly-by-wire control system signals a failure. Clark calls an end to the day’s testing, saying they’ve got the data they needed. He also notes that one of Beta’s current challenges is tuning the code to better decipher between noise and an actual bad sensor.

To date, Ava has achieved flight times of roughly 18 minutes in a hover and more than an hour while tethered, a top speed of 72 knots, and a maximum altitude of 100 feet—and is regularly improving on each. It’s hard to compare that progress against other, largely secretive, eVTOL programs. If this market proves out, though, it will make room for plenty of manufacturers, and thousands of aircraft.

Watching Ava float across the airport, I forget about the falling snow, and about the skeptics dismissing the air taxi industry as cash-burning vaporware. Even with today’s testing hiccups, Beta’s aircraft looks a fine ride for a human organ—or even an entire person—trying to get where they’re going.


More Great WIRED Stories