Episode 96: Lead Balloon

Air Date: January 23, 2008

You cannot fly a lead balloon.


Adam and Jamie constructed a cube-shaped balloon with approximately 2 meter edges using lead foil. Even without pure helium inside it (a mixture containing air was used), the balloon had enough buoyancy to lift a basket weighing several pounds.

You can surf on a wave generated by explosives.


The Build Team tried several depths and found that you get the best waves from an explosion at a depth of 12 feet. They then used a couple hundred pounds of TNT and a mechanical surfer (built by Grant) to see if you could generate a wave large enough to be surfed. Even with two hundred pounds of high explosives, the wave wasn’t large enough for surfing. A consultant they asked about the survivability of the explosion stated that an explosion of that magnitude would likely kill you (from internal bleeding) within 24 hours if you were submerged in the water at the time.


  1. kaylee mickens says:

    you guys are awesome I’m ten years old and I love the ways you explain what your doing. adam, jamie, grant, karry and tory do such a great job on this show !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Brian says:

    You should have created a shape charge on the “You can surf on a wave generated by explosives”. It seems to me that if the force was focused a larger wave could be produced with less explosives. Maybe it would be easier in rectangular body of water like a ditch where the force can’t easlly escape in all directions.

    P.S. I think that you should ditch the surfing robot and tell Gran to “suck it up” Just stay out of the water and on the board to minimize internal organ liqufication. (: Just kidding Gratn.

  3. Michael Dincau says:

    On the Lead Balloon, this proved nothing. A hot air balloon isn’t made of hot air, it is filled with hot air. If you fill your lead balloon with lead, I think you will have a different result.

    • MSpears says:

      Spare me. A helium balloon isn’t made of helium either, it’s just filled with helium. Point is, you don’t fill ANY balloon with lead.

  4. austin says:

    hi i am 12 and just wanted to say u all r Kool

  5. Brian says:

    Oops, missed again, guys! The pressure wave created by the explosive might produce a small, surf-able wave if the bottom of the pond was the correct shape. You tried to create a wave in roughly mid-ocean conditions. (Hint, there’s a reason why we don’t surf in the middle of the ocean!)

  6. Zhoen says:

    You did a great job of reproducing the surfing video, don’t let them lead you astray with “not busting” their imaginary myth.

    I’ve always heard the phrase as “Went over like a lead balloon” without reference to solid lead, or filled with lead. You did a beautiful job, but you have to admit that when it had holes, it did indeed “go over like a lead balloon” is supposed to, which is to say, down, heavily. Thanks for stretching the possible, and holding back the stupidity a little, which is all anyone can do.

  7. chey says:

    hey u guys r funny love the show ttyl buzz

  8. ERIC R says:

    For the surfing on explosives myth: the shape and depth water body would have a significant impact on the shape of the wave generated. Also, the energy dissipated in a linear wave (in a confined channel) versus a planar wave (unconstrained quarry lake) is the difference between inverse distance instead of inverse squared distance.


    My dad and I JUST LOVED the myths of: the
    JAMES BOND speacial. The one that we liked
    the most was when you jumped a speedboat.

  10. Richard says:

    Just an observation but the lead balloon episode had already been proven in 1968 by another couple of guys called Jimmy and Robert.

  11. lisa says:

    hey i am looking for an easy myth experiment to do for school, but it has to be with everyday materials and not be dangerous and i was wondering if you guys had any ideas..can you email me if you do
    lisa xx

  12. brian t says:

    Guys – of course a piece of solid lead doesn’t float. It doesn’t matter whether it’s balloon-shaped or not! This is not a myth, it’s basic physics (buoyancy, relative densities). By making a lead balloon, they showed that it’s possible to make a BALLOON – that is, something hollow with gas inside – that floats. The maths is not hard, even Adam got it right! ;)

  13. angel says:

    mythbusters is really interesting… KEep going!!

  14. Kanthalas says:

    Yea for the Explosives for surfing myth, you should see if you can find something more shallow and possibly smaller in width for a better wave.

    I think this has a good chance of working with these conditions.

  15. Paul Malley says:

    The expression is:

    ” It Flies like a lead ballon”

    “It Flies/Floats like a Brick”

    The expression is a simile,

    It’s not Busted you proved the point.

    Lead balloons are not very good at flying.

  16. Jen says:

    Okay, I didn’t get to watch this episode from the beginning, but was this a living lake with fish and turtles and other wildlife? Or was it just a dead pool in a quarry or something? If it was just a normal lake that’s totally messed

  17. PAUL NORTHRUP says:

    To answer everybodys question, yes it was a living quarry and it used to be a very good fishing spot until they blew up a lot of fish and caused rock slides that ruined their habbitat. you dont see the dead fish in their videos cause they had to go scoop them up in between each explosion. Thanks a bunch

  18. KATIE says:

    I just think the lead balloon is awesome well really all the stuff you gouys do is awesome !!
    And that brian dude is right forget the robot grant should have sucked it up and just did it that would have been awesome !!!

  19. John says:

    I can’t believe that so many people don’t get the meaning of this show. You do all realize that Mythbusters is a science teaching show that uses “mythbusting” as a hook to get you to watch, right? In the end, it means nothing whether a myth is busted or not… what matters is if thousands of kids learned about buoyancy, atomic mass, fluid dunamics, etc.

  20. Jamesy says:

    I haven’t read all the comments about the Lead Balloon episode so I don’t know if this fact has already been mentioned but I did see the episode and didn’t notice acknowledgement that Arthur D. Little, Inc. had a Lead Balloon contest in 1977 where an “origami” (their words) lead balloon flew outdoors for about 12 ft. before it was destroyed by a gust of wind. It was reported in the papers.

    If Mythbusters knew about this feat, they should have mentioned it … AND they should have known about it because I found it months ago, before I even knew about this episode.

    Also … why not use hydrogen instead of helium for 4 times the lift? Surely the fact hydrogen burns isn’t a problem for Mythbusters?

    (If this ADL revelation and hydrogen question are old news, nevermind.)

  21. Doc says:

    I am a big fan of this show, but I’m afraid that I’m here for the same reason as the previous writer.

    Arthur D. Little, Inc. had a kind of fetish for doing things that were considered impossible. The two most famous was their successful attempt to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, and the successful flight of a lead balloon.

    You will find an account of both, written by a participant, at the following blog address: http://adlittlechronicles.blogspot.com/2008/07/of-silk-purses-and-lead-balloons.html

    Sorry to burst your bubble but you guys were not the first.

  22. Brian says:

    That rig for taping lead foil pieces looked very familiar. Then it hit me. It looked very similar to the rig that Rick Moranis used to look for the kids in the yard in “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.” I wonder if Jamie worked on those movies.

  23. Brian says:

    Many water parks have wave machines that can generate a surfable wave. The don’t use explosives. They use hydraulics and the shape of the “tank” to make the waves.

  24. Derek says:

    What is the name of that origami cube called,I want to find out how to make it.

  25. Kristoffer says:

    The viral video is a clear fake. It is shot in Copenhagen at the Sortedam – close to the American embassy. The pond is only about 1 meter deep at that end. Sortedam is rather shallow everywhere and we would have heard of any such attempt.

  26. Hailey says:

    I’m eleven years old and I absolutely love this show!!!!! I have watched every single episode since season one. I love you Mythbusters!!!

  27. Gary says:

    Water balloon = balloon filled with water
    Helium balloon = balloon filled with helium
    Hot air balloon = balloon filled with hot air
    Lead balloon = balloon filled with lead

    The lead balloon episode, while cool to watch and with a great folding solution, was built on a false conclusion. The balloon was to have been filled with lead, rather than the outer covering being made from lead.

    The idiom was NOT busted. However, the idiom does not specify the environment surrounding the lead balloon, so it could be argued it’s in a mercury pool and therefore would still float. So a mercury pool with a lead balloon could bust the original idiom.

    • Alex says:

      yeah, i kinda agree with you. Although I thought that the idiom if meant literally was a balloon made of solid lead. I think that would have confirmed the idiom.

  28. Davis says:

    One other thing that bothered me about the surfing myth other then the great physics observation s noted above. This is a quarry you might have noticed that the wave dissipated at the same spot each time. It could be due to the stepped bottom of the lake acting like baffles under water.

  29. Matthew Hidde says:

    I love mythbusters!there awsome!!go busters!

  30. Matthew Hidde says:

    Man,i love all your episodes.you guys(and karie lol)are awsome show preformers,and yes of course you are all experts!woo hoo!!!!

  31. Joel says:

    This is my all time favorite show.

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