Fail of the Week: Leaf Blowers Can’t Fly

Leaf blowers, the main instrument of the suburban Saturday symphony, are one of the most useful nuisances. It doesn’t take much work with a rake to convince even the most noise-averse homeowner to head to the Big Box Store to pick one up to speed lawn chores. Once you do buy one, and feel the thrust produced by these handheld banshees, you might wonder, If I let go of this thing, would it fly? 

[Peter Sripol] had that very thought and set about building a couple of leaf blower powered planes to answer the question. It’s probably not a spoiler alert to report that the answer is no, but the video below is a fun watch anyway. The surprising thing is just how close both planes came to succeeding. The first plane was a stripped-down Ryobi two-stroke leaf blower suspended from a giant wing and tail section that very nearly got off the ground. Version 1.1 gained a retractable electric boost propeller – strictly for take-offs – and lost a lot of excess weight. That plane practically leaped into the air, but alas, servo problems prevented [Peter] from shutting down the electric and flying on Ryobi alone. Even a servo fix couldn’t save the next flight, which cratered right after takeoff. A version 2.0, this time using a brutally modified electric leaf blower, was slightly more airworthy but augured in several times before becoming unflyable.

What can we learn from all this? Not much other than it would take a lot of effort to make a leaf blower fly. We appreciate all of [Peter]’s hard work here, but we think he’s better off concentrating on his beautiful homebrew ultralight instead.

[baldpower] tipped us off to this one.

30 thoughts on “Fail of the Week: Leaf Blowers Can’t Fly

  1. “Once you do buy one, and feel the thrust produced by these handheld banshees, you might wonder, If I let go of this thing, would it fly? ”

    Not really. In fact I wish the thrust was adjustable, for the simple reason leaf blowers are for more than leaves.

  2. Hmm. Has anybody rigged an afterburner on a leaf blower? I’ve been itching to try, but I’m certain it will end badly. As in one of those YouTube “hold my beer” moments.

    The reason? Not for my bicycle. I want to blast/melt/blow/vaporize the snow off my driveway. A neighbor has about 20 kilowatts of electric heater in their driveway. I’m jealous. I figure a megawatt of octane or decane would do the trick handily (about 2 liters/minute in case you have not done the calculation yet).

    1. just get an asphalt heater. it’s a propane burner that’s designed to roll around on a driveway, for reworking asphalt. It’ll put out 300,000 BTU, or something like 90 kilowatts. It’ll melt a foot of snow on a 40 foot driveway in half an hour, and you stay warm while you’re doing it.

      1. Yeah, asphalt heater would be more sensible. Not quite the pizzazz of using a jet engine to make it rain a half block down the street at -10 degrees, but more sensible. Bonus: probably won’t get me in the obit column either.

      2. Or run piping in the concrete in-floor-heating style. I worked on a house (in MN) that had this – relatively small residential driveway, hooked up to a trio of 300,000+BTU boilers. Seemed a bit excessive, but i’d like to see it in action. Biggest diameter copper and gas lines I’ve ever seen in a residential mechanical room.

          1. Ground source heat pump, using a Shallow Heat Rejector installation. Heats and cools your house/other structure, gives you mostly free hot water, super efficient – and if the loops are installed under the driveway, keeps the snow and ice off. I’m unclear on how it does that while still *extracting* heat from the ground to warm the interior air, but I can attest that it does indeed work.

          2. Seems you need some relatively serious equipment to DIY this though. Burying several hundred feet of pex well below frost line doesn’t sound like a picnic to experiment with (assuming not a $$$$$ pro installed geothermal system). I have been curious about it though, ground source seems like a slick setup if you can get past the ‘ground source’ install part of it… Heck, I’ve been almost curious enough to see what would happen to take a little mini-split setup, and put the outdoor coil in a sealed pool with a recirculating pumped ground source loop Would water/coolant mix corrode the coil? Would it be even remotely efficient? – Seems if you monitored the loop temp to make sure you didn’t freeze it up trying to pull more heat than your loop can provide, it might fly…

          3. “…some relatively serious equipment to DIY this though”; The last ground-source heat pump installation I saw cost $100k. Granted it is a relatively large 4-well setup, but still: at current gas prices it will *never* pay off. Smaller ones are even less money-efficient.

            When I was young and (more)naive and thought a pool in the back yard was a good idea, I looked at using our largish (100,000 liter, 3 meter deep) pool as a heat source in winter. Did the math, looked at the plumbing involved. Determined it’s a really dumb idea (so is a pool in the yard, but that’s another story). Installed a wood-fired furnace instead. (and no leaf blowers involved. airborne or otherwise. so I’ll shut up now)

        1. Unfortunately, besides the expense, pipes in concrete, ground-source heat pump or not, won’t work: under my (concrete) driveway is a city water main, 150 mm gas main, and a sewer line. It’s been dug up and replaced twice now. They pour me a new driveway when they do it, but no way they will replace piping (or sprinkler lines either).

          Besides, the problem isn’t the driveway itself: it’s the alpine glacier left behind at the foot of the driveway when the plow goes by. Can’t put piping out there at the curb line and on the road itself. That’s why I’m looking for a tame rocket exhaust to blast the ice away, because explosives are frowned upon around here.

          1. Yep, I hear ya, jet-engine snow removal would be a blast. If you had the driveway melted, it probably wouldn’t be hard to hit escape velocity before encountering the alpine glacier :-)

    2. Ice will form after the burn, but worse the runoff will create an ice dam and skating rink. If it runs off into public space you are liable. Truckers in cold conditions turn off the defrost so snow blows off instead of melting. Heated driveways seem like they belong in that postwar future along with electricity too cheap to meter. Solar hydronic able to be used to heat the pool later in the year would make more sense.

      1. You would think… except that November and December in many places I’m familiar with north of Latitude 42 degrees changing to winter is totally overcast, making any sort of solar… hydronic or PV… unreliable. Off-grid sites run on generator November through January. February is sunny, but so cold snow can accumulate on the panels, freeze up overnight, and create icy layers that don’t melt off until March. People with hot tubs are dependent on electric heat.

  3. A big problem he had with the gas powered one was wobble. It had control problems because he didn’t put on a couple of struts or even a string to keep the blower from wobbling sideways beneath the wing. A simple piece of strong string tied from a point midway on each wing down and secured to the bottom of the blower would have been enough.

  4. I’m not going to say “leaf blowers can’t fly” until the Flite Test crew attempts it. It seemed like a lot of the problems were due more to poorly designed airplanes than the performance of the leaf blowers.

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