Remember Mary Poppins, that lovable nanny played by Julie Andrews in the 1964 movie adaptation of P.L. Travers’ children books? Growing up I always asked myself if floating around with an umbrella was possible in real life. Now, thanks to the stunt of extreme athlete Erik Roner, I finally have an answer.
I remember wanting to climb on to the roof of my parents’ house to test out Mary Poppins’ umbrella-powered traveling technique, but as crazy as that sounds to me today, it’s nothing to the stunt pulled by Erik Roner. The famous daredevil teamed up with camera maker GoPro to conduct a “retro-tech” experiment and see if Mary Poppins was actually more than a delightful fairy tale. Using a sturdy garden umbrella instead of a parachute, he jumped out of a hot air balloon, over Southern California. “We’re gonna see if an umbrella actually slows you down, like Mary Poppins’ does…What am I thinking?” Erik says before detaching the umbrella from the supporting balloon and starting his descent. For a few moments, his umbrella flight seems quite smooth, but the pressure of the air ultimately turns it inside out and tears the fabric to shreds.
Don’t worry, like Mary Poppins’, this story has a happy ending. As the garden umbrella is reduced to a useless metal skeleton, Erik lets go and takes a free fall, landing safely with the help of a backup parachute. “That was fun. Thanks for the idea Mary Poppins,” Roner says on the ground. “You’re welcome, science. That was a big step forward. NASA is going to be able to use that one for years to come.” His silly stunt proved it is possible, at least for a short while, to use a big umbrella to slow your fall. And the video is just awesome.