May 18, 2024

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Here's how this iPhone survived a 16,000-foot drop from an Alaska Airlines plane

Here's how this iPhone survived a 16,000-foot drop from an Alaska Airlines plane

Last January, a completely intact iPhone was discovered on the side of the road after falling 16,000 feet when the door of an Alaska Airlines plane exploded. At the time, we pointed out that it was unbelievable that the iPhone 14 Pro Max survived such a dramatic fall.

Joanna Stern of The Wall Street JournalHowever, he was determined to get more answers.

As a refresher, the iPhone 14 Pro Max that fell at 16,000 feet from an Alaska Airlines flight had a case on and landed in the grass.

Joanna conducted a series of drop tests using an iPhone 14 and a Samsung Galaxy S23. Results varied between different tests, but the main test was dropping both phones from 300 feet, without any cover, onto a grassy area.

As a result of Joanna falling on the grass from a height of 300 feet? Both phones “didn't suffer any real damage” other than some dirt and grass grime.

Joanna set out to get an explanation, speaking to several experts to get a science lesson. Why can an iPhone survive a drop from an airplane, but not from a bathroom counter?

“It doesn't matter if you drop the phone from 300 feet or from space,” said Mark Robert, a former NASA mechanical engineer turned YouTuber. “The same result would be due to something called terminal velocity.”

I contacted Brett Allen, an associate professor of physics at Southeastern Louisiana University. He explained that because of the mass, size and shape of the smartphone, its speed will increase until it reaches about 60 miles per hour. At this point, air resistance prevents it from becoming faster.

He assured me that 300 feet in the air was enough for all of these devices, with or without boxes, to reach their terminal speeds.

There's another physics concept to consider: deceleration, which is often called “collision with something.” Robert and Allen explained that grass cushions the impact of a falling object, allowing for a slower deceleration. Harder surfaces like asphalt — or bathroom tile — cause much more sudden deceleration.

You can watch Joanna's full video below. It's a good one! Check out her full post on Wall Street Journal website.

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