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The Time We Thought Launching Planes Merry-Go-Round-Style Would Be Smart

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As a child, you may have tried launching a toy airplane by holding it in your hand and spinning in a circle as fast as you could. This method works well enough for toys, and in the early 20th century a few engineers thought this same concept could be applied to life-sized aircraft as well. 

Vox recently dug up some old patents and illustrations of a few plane-launching carousels that (thankfully) seem to have never made it off the ground. The reasoning behind the concept was that using centrifugal force to launch planes would save runway space, which would allow more airports to be built in densely populated areas. The below concept patented in 1912 shows a rather basic version of the device, and the patent below that from 1930 more closely resembles a terrifying amusement park ride than something you’d find at an airport.

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While these ideas never took off, the merry-go-round concept was something aviation engineers toyed with for decades. In their July 1941 issue, Popular Mechanics even featured illustrations of one such device with an explanation of how it would function.

Then in 1951, a University of Wisconsin physicist named J.G. Winans wrote about his own success with testing the merry-go-round method. Rather than constructing an elaborate apparatus, he anchored his plane to a central point like a tether ball. He then built up speed using the plane’s own engine and took off without incident. He concluded that the mechanism would make a suitable replacement for traditional runways, though he did admit that while experiencing the force of nearly one G he “mostly found it uncomfortable.” Despite his endorsement, runways never lost their status as an airport fixture.

[h/t: Vox]

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travel
How to Win a Year of Free Flights From JetBlue
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JetBlue has an enticing offer for anyone resolving to travel more in 2018: Customers who book a non-refundable flight before December 15 will be automatically entered to win the airline's All You Can Jet Pass, Thrillist reports. That means a full year of free unlimited flights to 100 destinations in the U.S. and beyond.

If you already have, or are planning to, purchase a flight in the first half of December, no further steps are required: You're automatically in the running to receive one of the three available passes. And if you have no upcoming flights to book but a bad case of wanderlust, you’re also invited to enter. To do so, just mail a letter with your full printed name, address, phone numbers, and email address to: All You Can Jet Sweepstakes, Centra 360, 1400 Old Country Road, Suite 417, Westbury, NY 11590.

The randomly selected winner can start flying for free as soon as February 1, 2018.

All You Can Jet Pass flyers won’t be able to book multiple flights departing from the same city on the same day, and change and cancellation fees will still apply. Other than that, they can travel without limitations. Travelers get a complimentary plus-one for each flight they book, and they’re free to change their travel companion from trip to trip. There are zero blackout dates, so even on the busiest travel days of the year, winners can fly without paying a cent.

The free year of travel ends January 31, 2019. If they’re smart with their time, it’s possible for winners to visit every one of JetBlue's 100 destinations, including Jamaica, Los Angeles, and the Dominican Republic, by the time their pass expires. The only thing they'll need to worry about is finding the energy for all that travel.

[h/t Thrillist]

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Big Questions
What Causes Turbulence?
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No matter how many times you've flown, feeling a plane rattle at 35,000 feet in the air can be an unnerving experience. But turbulence, whether it's a small bump or a stomach-flipping drop, is nothing to get shaken up about. It's a normal part of flying through the ever-shifting atmosphere.

Just like a truck traversing uneven roads or a ship navigating choppy seas, planes often encounter tumultuous, or turbulent, air currents in the skies. These currents can come from several different sources. When flying over high mountains, planes sometimes experience what’s called terrain-induced turbulence. The wind flowing over the peaks and through the valleys disrupts the air thousands of feet above it, resulting in a bumpy ride for any passing aircraft.

Even when flying over flat land, pilots can run into rough patches. Air that's been heated up by the sun at ground level expands and rises to create an updraft. As this updraft travels higher it may cool and condense into a cloud. Cloud-based or convective turbulence is the easiest kind for pilots (and passengers) to spot and prepare for, but not every updraft turns into a menacing cloud. There's also something called clear air turbulence which occurs when the rising hot air is too dry to form into a cloud. Unlike convective turbulence, these problem areas are impossible to identify with the naked eye alone.

So what happens when a plane meets up with one of these drafts in midair? The effects are usually mild: perhaps enough jostling to wake you from your in-flight nap, but not quite enough to topple your drink from its tray. Of course turbulence can become more severe, but in such cases passengers tend to think they're in more danger than they actually are.

"Even in rough turbulence, the plane is never changing altitude more than 10 or 20 feet either way," co-pilot and Cockpit Confidential author Patrick Smith told Mental Floss. "There’s this idea it's plummeting hundreds of feet. Not true."

Planes are built to be tossed and throttled by volatile weather: If you ever see a wing bending like a diving board in high winds, remember it’s supposed to do that. The biggest threat during a bout of turbulence is being knocked around the cabin, which is why most turbulence injuries are sustained by flight attendants. So the next time your pilot announces rough skies ahead, find your seat, fasten your seatbelt, and make note of where the barf bags are.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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