A man with helium-filled tires drove onto the Ohio River last week. But – will tires filled with helium let you drive on water?
Helium-filled tires = viral story
A few days ago, social media went crazy over Ollie Page from Evansville, Indiana. He parked his truck on an island in the middle of the Ohio River, leaving people bewildered as to how it got there.
Here’s the story if you missed it:
As you’ll hear in the video, Page told 14 News that he filled his truck tires with helium (110 lbs in the front tires, 90 lbs in the rear), which allowed him to drive across the river to reach the sandbar. By the way, we don’t sell helium in truck tires, but we do sell it for retail store balloon programs. Get a free quote here!
The question nobody so far has asked is, will helium-filled tires actually let you drive on water?
Why helium balloons float
The common belief is helium is lighter than air. That’s why balloons filled with helium float, right? Well, not quite.
The reason helium balloons “float” and air-filled balloons drop is all about buoyancy. Let’s get a bit sciency here…
Helium molecules are less dense than the molecules that make of the air. So when a balloon is filled with helium, the denser air around the balloon actually pushes the helium balloon upward. So the balloon appears to be floating, but in actuality it’s being pushed.
Think of it like this — if you took an empty plastic pop bottle (capped, of course), and submerged it in a bathtub, what would happen? That bottle would “float” up to the surface. What’s happening is that dense water around the empty bottle is pushing it out of itself, because the plastic of the bottle and the air inside are lighter than the surrounding water. The water sinks, the pop bottle rises.
So about that water…
Why helium-filled tires are not helium-filled balloons
If you put helium in truck tires instead of air, will your truck float on the water?
When you replace air in the tires of a vehicle with helium, you’re not actually changing the weight of the vehicle more than maybe a few ounces to a pound or so, depending on the volume of the tires. You can’t pack enough helium into any tire to make it less dense than water.
Helium balloons “float” because the thin shells (whether latex or mylar) that hold the helium are light enough that they don’t disrupt the buoyancy of helium. Tires on the other hand, are crazy heavy.
Oh, and so is the truck by the way. Even if you filled a single tire with helium, the tire alone would sink — it’s still far heavier than the water around it.
So, why no one has brought up the fact that the helium Ollie Page put in his tires would have no effect on his truck being able to float on the river is beyond us. You heard it at Zephyr first!
Hey Zephyr, are you saying he didn’t drive the truck on water?
Not at all! Page obviously drove the truck across the section of river to reach the sand bank. We’re just saying the helium had nothing to do with it.
Despite cars being as heavy as they are, they don’t sink right away. Maybe it has something to do with water displacement, hydroplaning, or the air inside the cab of the vehicle, but we’re only helium experts so ask your local physics professor.
You can see in the clip at the top of this post that the distance from where the bank is to the island, it’s not that far of a distance.
You can do your own YouTube searches, but there are videos are out there with trucks and Jeeps with large tires (filled with regular air) like Page’s truck that can actually cross rivers with enough momentum and the gas pedal to the floor. The catch is that they will sink once their momentum stops, but for short distances, a vehicle can make it across the water in the right conditions.
The lesson here kiddos is, don’t mimic what you see on TV. Helium-filled tires DO NOT allow you to drive on water.
Now, how’s he going to get that truck back???
Source: 14 News