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Terminal velocity of a person

  1. Apr 20, 2014 #1
    I want to estimate how long it will take a person (I could specify their dimensions and density :P but maybe just take it as 170 cm tall, 80 kg, etc.) to fall a certain height in the gravitational field of the Earth, not neglecting air resistance.

    I'm looking at heights anywhere from say 30 m to 10,000 m although I appreciate at both extremes the model I'm expecting wouldn't be that accurate (presumably g may begin to differ with height once you get to 10,000m changes?).
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 20, 2014 #2


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    The terminal velocity will depend very much on how this person falls, how much of his body is exposed to the air resistance. Think of someone falling foot down making a straight vertical line, this person would experience much less air resistance than someone falling face flat towards the ground, sprawled out. The terminal velocity will depend on this orientation (as well as other factors like the clothes this person is wearing, etc.) So, it's hard to give you any concrete answers. But I have heard that roughly the terminal velocity of a human in a flat position is ~100mph, but don't quote me on this.
  4. Apr 20, 2014 #3
    I did some digging around and came up with an estimate of around 120 mph for a human "in random positions". How about we assume this for terminal velocity?

    Clearly once the human is "at" or "very near" terminal velocity, we can model speed/distance/time very easily by taking the speed as nearly constant. But it's not nearly so obvious how the approach to terminal velocity can be modelled in terms of time and distance (or for that matter speed)?
  5. Apr 20, 2014 #4
    You need to formulate Newton's second law for the falling object, and you need a relationship for the drag force acting on the object as a function of the velocity. The constants in the relationship for the drag force must be such that, if you set the acceleration equal to zero, you predict a velocity of 100-120 mph. You can then solve the resulting differential equation for the velocity as a function of time, starting with zero velocity downward at time zero.

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