Episode 69: 22,000 Foot Fall

Air Date: December 13, 2006

A 22,000 foot fall is survivable if you fall through a glass ceiling and a 1,000 pound bomb explodes below you.


In both the small scale and full scale tests, the MythBusters observed that the difference in pressure between the falling person and the shockwave from the blast are too vastly different to be equalized. Also, the glass and metal fragmentation from the explosion would most likely kill the falling person if the fall itself does not.

(This myth originates from a World War II story in which an Allied airman fell out of the underside ball turret of his B-17 at 22,000 feet and survived.)

Temporarily leaving a light on is more engery efficient than turning it off and back on.


Through numerous tests, the MythBusters calculated that the power surge from turning on a light would only consume as much power as leaving it on for a fraction of a second (except for fluorescent tube lights; the startup consumed about 23 seconds worth of power). Furthermore, the wear and tear of turning the light on and off repeatedly did not reduce the bulb’s total life expectancy enough to offset the increased electricity usage. Therefore, it is far more economical to turn a light off rather than leaving it on.


  1. DaveS says:

    I didn’t care for the 22Kfoot experiment. The dummy didn’t fall directly on top of the bomb, as the myth states, so could not be expected to be buoyed by the shock wave in direct opposition to it’s motion. I think it should have been “inconclusive”.

    Suggest a re-test, with better control.

    • Jeffrey says:

      I think they got it wrong because of what I remember he fell (no bomb)he just fell.I think they are testing the wrong story.

    • mikeC says:

      one question did anyone question any of the eyewitnesses or Dr.’s who may have treated him or their reports? surely their reports would have went w/ his testimony and the bruises would have matched up as well as the injuries. just a thought.

  2. Ray says:

    There is an article in the Guinness Book of Records of a Vesna Vulovic falling 10.16 km (6 miles 551 yd), after the plane blew up over Srbska Kamenice, Czechoslovakia, on 26 January 1972. I don’t know the other circumstances, but that is a lot of time to get your breath back after a few “AAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGHHHHH”‘s, eh.

  3. suiter says:

    the shrapnel wold kill him before he impacts on the ground

  4. PinkSuzette says:

    I think the 22,000 foot Myth should be done again…….but with MORE EXPLOSIONS!!!!!! YEAH!!!!!!

  5. Kimberly Nasworthy says:

    Buster Boys,(and Girls)
    This may be a confusing comment, I’ll do my best to clarify what I’m saying.
    On the Energy effeciency myth with swithing lights on/off, and conservation, etc. If you think about it, was not done accurately. It was calculated totally backwards ‘mathmatically’ in regards to who’s side (TURN-OFF/LEAVE ON)is responsible for the light HAVING to be turned on again anyway. The responsibility and math of shutting off and then HAVING TO TURN IT BACK ON in the first place, the culprit falls on the TURNING-OFF side… because if the light was left on-you would not have the RE-START math at all. It defaults therfore on the TURNING THE LIGHT OFF in the first place. The calculations were on the wrong side. ie: If your in a room knowing that your going right back in and leave it on, (which I do sometimes)the light would STILL BE ON after entering the room again. The START-UP math was ass backwards. (pardon wa) The damaging numbers were applied incorrectly. What do you say to do it again in the right ‘light???’ I still may be wrong. But again-it is just looking deeper in the WHY’s behind it.

    • Damon Lehr says:

      The idea isn’t to save power for me. It is to try and save money and be comfortable at the same time (a balance). What you forgot was that your savings could be a lot more if you have a tiered power bill based on usage. Some power companies charge you different rates based on your usage. If you can keep your power bill under a certain ammount with let’s say a 2% savings then it could end up saving you a whole lot more if you don’t break that usage barrier. IE: It’s kinda like a tax bracket.. but with your power bill instead.

      Also, I have a complete home automation system that shuts off all kinds of bulbs all the time. My life expectancy of my bulbs has not changed at all with the added turning on and off of the bulbs ALL the time. I also confirm that result.

      On another note: I want to know if you can build a coffee or ice machine using only the sun’s power in a small compact solution. These are both high power users and I would love an alternative answer to pluging them in the wall. Some coffee makers use as much or more electricity than your high powered floor vacuums do!!.. So next time you run your coffee maker imagine it making all that noise and shaking the rug!.. Shut it off after the brewing cycle ends or use a coffee press instead for better tasting coffee.

  6. Sean Mahaffy says:

    Thanks for the energy consumption myth in regards to light bulbs. What about the theory about leaving computers on to reduce the ‘wear and tear’ of turning them on / off / on?

    Having worked as a troubleshooting technician for a while, i’ve come across clients who left their CRT’s on 24/7 because they didn’t see anything on the screen and thought they were ‘off’. After (granted) a few years of this the screen started decaying with a discolorization effect. Pointing out to them that they need to turn off the CRT, the problem cleared up.

    Anywho, thanks again.

    • MSpears says:

      As a computer tech with almost 3 decades of experience, I can say that the ‘wear and tear’ of turning a computer on and off has almost no effect on modern computers. Even though the power surge of turning the computer on MIGHT shorten the lifespan of the computer, by the time it would burn out, you’ve probably already bought a newer model, so it’s irrelevant.

      Also, computers that are built with ATX power supplies are ‘always on’ anyway; the power supply does not connect directly to the system power button, and energy flows to the components even when the computer appears to be ‘off’, so the mythical ‘power surge’ no longer happens.

      The only possible effect might be with hard drives; it takes more effort to spin the drive up to speed, than it does to keep it spinning. But again, the effect is minimal at best, since by the time the hard drive burns out, you’ll probably have replaced it anyway. And of course, SSD’s (Solid State Drives) have no mechanical parts at all.

      The power surge used to be MUCH more significant in the late 70s/early 80s, when home computing was in its infancy. We were specifically warned, with computers that had external power bricks like the Commodore 64 or Vic-20, to unplug the power brick when the computer was off; otherwise, the power supply could overheat and develop a ‘thermal flaw’ (which basically means it would stop working after about 30 minutes, until you unplugged it long enough to cool off again).

      We were also warned to turn components on in a specific order, to minimize the effects of the power surge on the sensitive circuits inside the computer; you always turned on the printer first, then the disk drive, then the computer was turned on LAST.

      The same applies for modern CRTs (well, LCDs… CRTs are rapidly disappearing). Most monitors made during the late 90’s, and all monitors made since about 2000, go into a low-power standby mode if they do not receive a video signal from a computer, or if the computer sends a ‘standby’ signal, so as long as the computer is ‘off’, the monitor is also ‘off’ (but still receiving power).

      Coincidentally, both old-fashioned CRT monitors and LCD monitors will lose about half their brightness over time; for CRT monitors it takes about 5 years, for LCD monitors about 10 years.

      Early-model CRT monitors also had a problem with ‘burn-in’ if the same image was left on the screen long enough; for a perfect example, see if you can find an old video game, like a Pac-Man machine. You can still see a ghost image of the maze, even when the machine is turned off.

      Newer CRTs were less susceptible to burn-in, but note that even though it’s VERY rare, even LCD monitors can still develop burn-in if the same image is displayed for too long (over a course of many weeks) but this is often only temporary; as a result, major LCD manufacturers no longer include a warranty against burn-in.

  7. Chris says:

    The only way you could survive in the way the myth states would be to fall on an incredibly small target, onto the same place an enormous bomb fell, at the exact second at which the shockwave would be able to counteract your fall enough to save you, in addition you would have to miss all of the flying glass and metal and what ever else happened to be caught in the blast, finally you would have to pray that you didn’t land badly or you might die anyway. Too many variables to account for, maybe somehow it did work, but there isn’t a chance in hell of recreating it.

    • mikeC says:

      it did work they just falsified the data to show that it didn’t as well as left out key FACTS to show that it did.

  8. Elliot Deutsch says:

    Hi guys,
    We love your show but want to set you straight on the details of a myth you tested. It was about the “famous” B17 tail gunner who fell, without his chute, from [I heard 20K feet] and survived. Rather than landing in/on a greenhouse, he fell through pine branches, into a deep snow bank and survived.
    He was our neighbor but not a close friend. His name was Smith, [forget first name, and he is no longer alive. He and his family lived in the Colonial Acres development of Bel Air, MD in the 1960s and 1970s – maybe later. My son Michael, now 52, dated his daughter while in high school. We can try to research the details further if you are interested. The story,as best I can recall was that when picked up by German authorities, without a parachute, they thought he was a spy. He told then the tail number of his plane and they did indeed find his chute hanging on a bulkhead just forward of the tail section that broke off with him in it. He was interned in a stalag and given an “official certificate” by the Luftwaffe “to take home after the war for his children” attesting to his miraculous survival. We lost track of the family and my son is now a grandfather but it would be interesting to researvh the details.

  9. sprucebranch says:

    thanks for running the lightbulb; I’ve been wanting hard numbers for just years.

  10. David says:

    that big boom was cool

  11. Dave says:

    Just a minor note; energy is misspelled above. Thanks for compiling these lists.

  12. Ken says:

    Leaving lightbulbs and other devices on all the time… just using energy consumption rates to see if its more economical is flawed. if we think about a household economics then we must also factor in the cost of the lamp… whether that be incondesent or compact floresents… the cost a kilowatt hour varies and the enviroment that the lamp is in (cold or hot temperatures) also plays a part in the economics… so if your only using kwhours its more economical but is it when factoring in the cost of the device.

  13. Hornet says:

    I know this has nothing to do with the myth, but I think it would be interesting if they tested a Wee Gee Board. I know that is probably a fake, but still some trusted people in my life claim to have used a Wee Gee Board and have something happen to them (hands being moved, unexplained lights flashing, that kind of stuff) so if your reading this Mythbusters, could you please give the Wee Gee myth a go?

    Thanks, BYE!-Hornet

    • MSpears says:

      It’s spelled ‘Ouija’, not ‘Wee Gee’. And I doubt they’ll ever test it, because after the “Pyramid Power” myth, Adam specifically asked, “can we please not have any more boogedy-boogedy myths?”

      As far as whether it’s a fake or not… on the one hand, my friends and I *did* play with a Ouija board in college, and some things happened which I can’t explain.

      On the other hand… I find it hard to take anything too seriously that has the words “PARKER BROTHERS” on it. :)

  14. ned says:

    ive seen that episode today. that explosion was cool

  15. tony says:

    Hi,Love the show,it makes my evenings a learning experiance as opposed to watching the usual dribble.But what I would like to know on the light bulb test,is how long all the lights lasted for on being constantly turned off/on every 2 mins.I have been using metal halide lights for many years to grow plants,and from from experiance they take longer then 2 mins to fully light up,it’s more like 5-10 mins.so there is yet another flaw in the testing.but regardless of that,how did all the others do as this was not stated in the program as do many other tests.looking foward to a detailed reply on the longevity of the other bulbs…many thanx tony

  16. Mike Adams says:

    Having been an energy conservation technical sales engineer for a Fortune 50 company for years I quickly learned that if the owner was ONLY concerned about lights, and if they just turned them off relgiously when not needed, they had no use for a fancy control system. Of course if their were other componets like HVAC thatc hanged. There was an industry study done taht lasted 5 years in regards to the overall costs of an energy manament system controlling building lights vs stickers on the light switch that said “Turn off lights when leaving room”. In the end the stickers won. The initial cost of the stickers was so low when compared to the EMS system that even considering the longivety of the bulbs, the initial cost of the bulbs, etc… It paid to put a sticker on the light switch. Shot my sales to hell on that one!

  17. Andy Black says:

    I had a lecture at university once and the lecturer said something like, ‘turning the light on uses 30minutes of electricity’. This was a broad and crude statement yes, and with energy-saving bulbs perhaps has some truth but maybe he should watch mythbusters :p

  18. Jackie Thompson says:

    The myth surrounding a World War II story in which an Allied airman fell out of the underside ball turret of his B-17 at 22,000 feet and survived is true. His name was Alan Magee and he happened to be my great uncle. He died at age 86. I grew up hearing the tale from Uncle Alan and my family has his purple heart to prove it. You might should re-test your experiment.

  19. Olive Farmer says:

    A bomb’s shockwave just couldnt be the truth. If a person falling at 120 mph encounters a shock wave strong enough to stop them, it would be the same as hitting the ground!
    They would be torn apart.
    (This is what happens when academic postulation is applied without considering reality and it’s limitations.)

  20. anthony says:

    does any one know the exactly what the name for the led bulb was called

  21. Quinton Smith says:

    Any thoughts on where I can get the math formula that was used to bust the lightbulb myth?

  22. Ty and Susan says:

    How can the myth be busted when Ted didn’t land in the middle of the target? It seems like the experiment was flawed.

  23. AndyB says:

    Falling airman: I wonder if the mention of a shockwave is misleading… a shockwave if it were to be able to break the fall would ‘break’ the airman too as if hitting the ground. The effect of the updraught MAY be the answer… being a more gradual effect slowing the airman slightly more gradually… but again there’s the problem of all the shrapnell coming up to meet him… back to the drawing board…

  24. Gareth Leyshon says:

    Light Bulb: Oh Mythbusters! How could you?
    Publishing your results as “W/hr”! Watts per hour?
    Use Joules per hour, or Watt-hours per hour, or Watt-seconds per hour – fine! Or simply measure the Joules (or US Calories!) used in start up.
    Or divide the power in the start-up and switch-off cycles by the time taken, and express the “steady-state equivalent power” in watts.

    But to express the steady-state consumption of bulb in Watts-per-hour? Busted! Totally busted!

  25. mike shaver says:

    (on your light survey) i have a fluorescent tube that i constantly leave on. whats the breakdown on that? my dad, before he passed away, said something to the effect, that fluorescent tubes would never blow out if you never turn them off.is this true?

  26. James L. says:

    I’ve heard about that. The woman was pinned to the back of the aircraft with a food cart. It acted as a seatbelt. The aircraft broke in two. The commercial jet fell and landed at an angle on a hill covered in trees. The hill and the trees let the plane slide down while the trees slowed the aircraft. Then the airline worker was pinned to the back of the aircraft by a food tray as the only survivor suffering injuries but luck was at play there as well. If the plane did not land where it did, no one could have survived.


    There is an article in the Guinness Book of Records of a Vesna Vulovic falling 10.16 km (6 miles 551 yd), after the plane blew up over Srbska Kamenice, Czechoslovakia, on 26 January 1972. I don’t know the other circumstances, but that is a lot of time to get your breath back after a few “AAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGHHHHH”’s, eh.

  27. pat says:

    here is an article from CNN about someone surviving a plane crash after free falling for 2 miles! http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/europe/07/02/germany.aircrash.survivor/index.html

  28. Darko says:

    to James L.

    Its also stated that it might be false and she did land only 100 m. I personaly dont belive that unless she had quiness personel with her when she jumped

  29. grandpa says:

    I was trained in the us navy that if fluorescent lights would be off for less than 4 hours to just leave them on because it used more amp hours to turn them off and on again.

  30. J.V. says:

    This myth should have been confirmed for florescent bulbs. The fact that all of the bulbs were burnt out after 6 weeks of cycling supports the myth. During the 6 weeks, the bulbs would have been “on” for a total of only about 500 hours. The published lifespan of a typical CFL bulb is over 10000 hours, which means the bulb only lasted 1/20th the amount of time that it was supposed to. A study that used to be on the Department of Energy’s website got similar results and stated that cycling a CFL in 5 minute on/off intervals will shorten its lifetime by 85%.

    The Department of Energy states “…if you leave the room for only up to 15 minutes, it will generally be more cost effective to leave the [florescent] light(s) on. In areas where electric rates are high and/or during peak demand periods, this period may be as low as 5 minutes.”

  31. mytherbuster buster says:

    Big problem here. First why does mythbuster not allow a easy path to question there conclusions? Second the big question is that the bomb would blow glass up to the falling person. Wrong the bomb would knock out the glass when it was coming down so that ther would be no glass to be blown up to hurt the flling person. Afterall how did the bomb get there if it did not fall through the roof?

    • oz1 says:

      not ALL the glass would be knocked out by the bomb entering. The bomb would also have some forward momentum and would not be directly under the hole, so there would be some glass above it

  32. Viv says:

    in 1991 I moved back in with my parents after 3 years out of home.

    The number of persons residing in their home rose from 3 to 4. One would expect an increase in power usage.

    Compared to the same quarter in the previous year, the household electricity bill went *down* by A$300.

    All I did was go around turning lights off after them.

    And we didn’t experience a spike in globe/tube replacements either!

  33. Jill says:

    The story about Alan Magee is true. He was my uncle. He did indeed survive and was also a POW for three years.

    • mikeC says:

      I have seen miracles like this so I have no problem believing in them. I have been a Christian many years. I have no doubt in my mind that the story is true.

Leave a Reply