Aviation experts worry about Lego man copycats

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The Toronto Star
Liam Casey
Staff Reporter

Copycats looking to send their own Lego men into space be warned: your experiment could bring down an airplane.

Two Toronto teenagers recently sent a helium-filled weather balloon into near space, 24 kilometres above the earth. Its cargo included a Lego man with cameras mounted to a Styrofoam box that captured the breathtaking journey.

Their story caused a media sensation, which has experts worried about a slew of copycats launching balloons into the air.

Most weather balloons are launched from known sites, according to Capt. Barry Wiszniowski, chairman of Air Canada Pilots Association’s safety division. If other balloons are being sent up, it could pose a concern to aviation.

“I think in the 25 years that I’ve been flying I’ve seen two weather balloons that passed on one side of the aircraft or the other,” he said.

A pilot might not have enough reaction time if such a balloon popped up unexpectedly, he said. With the speed of a plane, the impact could be similar to a bird strike and could cause damage, especially if something was sucked into an engine, he said.

Unmanned balloon flights are not governed by the Canadian Aviation Regulations, but Transport Canada should be informed ahead of any such launch to ensure aviation safety is not threatened, said spokesperson Kelly James.

Mathew Ho and Asad Muhammad searched online to make sure they were informed about the proper use of weather balloons and weren’t doing anything dangerous or illegal.

“We got very lucky that nothing happened because there is always the possibility that something could go wrong,” Ho said.

For those contemplating recreating Lego man’s voyage, Ho had a suggestion.

“Try not to copy us,” Ho said. “Pursue other creative interests and do your own thing and follow the rules.”

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