Physics teachers take flight on ‘Vomit Comet’ modified aircraft, experience weightlessness

Sophie Kupiec-Weglinski

Physics teachers Karen Hutchison and Jesse Reiner experienced weightlessness aboard a Boeing 727 aircraft, which was modified to have reduced gravity.

Hutchison and Reiner flew to San Jose Sept. 28 where the specialized aircraft, owned by ZERO-G Corporation, was set to take off.

“We talk a lot about weightlessness in physics class, and we came across this opportunity to experience it,” Hutchison said. “I thought it would be a good addition to our teaching.”

Reiner and Hutchison worked together in organizing the trip and getting financial assistance from Harvard-Westlake.

“It was an amazing experience and I’m extremely grateful for having been granted the opportunity,” Reiner said.

Reiner and Hutchison had been talking about taking the flight and decided on doing it last spring. To prepare for the one and a half hour flight, Hutchison and Reiner ate a special breakfast that was low in acid and protein so it would be easy to digest. Since nausea is common when experiencing weightlessness, these aircrafts are nicknamed “Vomit Comets.”

Once aboard, the plane reaches normal cruising altitude, then dives and completes 15 parabolas, each one giving passengers about 30 seconds of complete weightlessness. In addition, Hutchison and Reiner were able to experience the gravity levels similar to those on Mars and on the moon. Along with Hutchison and Reiner there were many foreign tourists and a research group from Motorola aboard.

On the aircraft, Hutchison and Reiner were able to play with water droplets, see how objects slowly drop to the floor in lunar and Martian gravity and fly though the air.

“I wanted to experience for myself what it feels like and to observe the physical behavior of bodies and other objects in a weightless environment,”