Viktor Vasnetsov's 1880 painting 'The Flying Carpet,' showing the Russian folk hero Ivan Tsarevitch relying on two-dimensional air transportation.
It may not be big enough to carry Ali Baba or any of his 40 thieves, but a Harvard professor thinks he's figured out how to make a flying carpet.
Professor Lakshminarayanan Mahadevan, an engineer who also holds positions in applied mathematics and biology, writes in Physical Review Letters that it would be possible to make a rippling sheet that could generate enough horizontal resistance to stay airborne.
The catch: The sheet couldn't be more than 4 inches long or a tenth of a millimeter thick. It would have to vibrate about 10 times per second, pushing itself through the air in a manner reminiscent of a manta ray moving through water.
In scientific terms: "As waves propagate along a flexible foil, they generate a fluid flow that leads to a pressure that lifts the foil, roughly balancing its weight," Mahadevan writes.
And that weight, as you can imagine, would be mighty small indeed. The forces needed to make a heavier carpet fly — heavy enough to carry an Arab street urchin — would be so enormous that "computations and scaling laws suggest it will remain in the magical, mystical and virtual realm," says Mahadevan.
What do other scientists think of the idea?
"It's cute, it's charming," University of Chicago physicist Thomas A. Witten tells Nature News, who added that's he's impressed someone took a serious look at the idea.