Title text: Please do not try any of this and die or get arrested.
Cueball explains to Megan that on Saturn's moon Titan, the combination of lower gravity and a denser atmosphere make the act of flying simpler. Wings on earth that are only capable of generating 9% of the necessary lift would allow one to fly on Titan.
Cueball has already put together the apparatus necessary to test this: by using a pulley system to offset 91% of his weight, he can recreate the environment for flight on Titan. His wings are a success, and he uses them to fly around in a delighted fashion. Megan points out a fatal flaw: his wings use hot glue, which will soften and melt at high temperatures and Black Hat is waiting nearby with a powerful heat source. Naturally, Cueball falls.
Icarus was a character in Greek mythology who is known his own self-powered flight, which ended when the wax holding his wings together melted and he fell to his death. This supposedly occurred because he ignored instructions not to fly too close to the Sun, a tragic example of hubris — extreme arrogance. Here, Black Hat is bringing an artificial "sun" to "Icarus" to recreate the tragedy.
Note that the calculated figure of 9% is only correct if the temperature on Titan has been raised to be the same as Earth — which, for human-powered flight, would probably be necessary anyway. At Titan's normal temperature, you would only have to generate about 3% of your Earth body weight in lift, as the atmosphere is much denser.
In the title text, Randall asks that xkcd readers do not attempt to reproduce this. The reason for this is explained here 254: Comic Fragment.
- Cueball: Titan's gravity is 14% of Earth's, and its atmosphere 50% denser.
- Cueball: So if you can generate 9% of your body weight in lift, you can fly on Titan.
- Cueball: With wings, a stage harness, a cable, and 91% of my weight in bricks, I want to test this.
- [There is a heap of materials on the ground. Cueball is holding a stage harness.]
- [Large diagram of a bridge. A rope leads through pulleys tied to the bridge. One end goes to Cueball, one end to a pile of bricks.]
- [Cueball is standing with wings attached to his arms.]
- [Cueball flaps the wings, and appears to be floating.]
- [Cueball glides.]
- Cueball: It works!
- Megan: Except you have two problems.
- Cueball: What?
- Megan: You used hot glue on your wing joints and you have friends into Greek mythology.
- Cueball: Huh?
- [Black Hat is standing on the bridge, with a large lamp labeled "heat lamp" attached to a battery.]
- [The wing segments fall off Cueball and he tumbles downward.]
- Incidentally, 1566 Icarus got an asteroid named for him. It regularly flies very close to the sun.
- NASA did use a comparable device in the sixties and seventies of the last century, propelled by some rocket engines and called the flying bedstead, aimed to simulate the lunar gravity on Earth conditions.