Experimenting like Benjamin Franklin, only with a drone

There are two things most people know about 18th-century scientist/politician Ben Franklin: He’s prominent on the U.S. $100 bill, and he didn’t get killed flying a kite in a thunderstorm. Would things have turned out differently if Ben Franklin had flown a drone? Amateur scientist and drone pilot Jay Bowles finds out.

There is some controversy about whether Franklin actually did his famous experiment at all. But if we take him at his word, Franklin was interested in extracting electricity from the atmosphere and testing how metal rods and grounding might save buildings from lightning strikes.

While discarding both the house key and the kite, Jay Bowles followed Franklin’s ideas and attached a long thin wire to his DJI Mini2. He then sent the aircraft 100 meters high. Bowles had the good sense not to fly in an electrical storm but still generated electricity. In fact, he got a real nice shock (at 3:47).

What would happen if Ben Franklin tried flying a drone?

Bowles managed to charge a Leyden jar and power two different types of motors (8:14 and 8:31) with the electricity he pulled from the apparently empty atmosphere. The details on how this is possible are at 9:27.

Other earlier attempts at duplicating Franklin’s efforts went badly.

Before “dont try this at home” became a cliche, Georg Wilhelm Reichmann died replicating Franklin’s ideas.

Bowles’ very entertaining video suggests he knows what he’s doing – Which is to say, if you don’t know what you’re doing, please don’t try this. Drone photographers have been deft at photographing electrical storms, but it still seems a bad idea. The world needs more drone pilots than it does dead experimenters, and stringing a long wire into the sky and hoping for interesting results can easily put you in the second group.

And we need you to keep earning and spending those Franklins.

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