Everyone will have their own choice for the most ridiculous and/or spectacular car stunt in Furious 7. But the one that intrigued us most was the one where Dom (Vin Diesel) and Brian (Paul Walker) jump a very rare and expensive sports car from one Abu Dhabi skyscraper into another — and then, after discovering that their brakes don’t work, proceed to jump from that skyscraper into yet another one. (See it in this trailer.) Obviously, the scene itself in the movie is aided immeasurably by CGI and all types of Hollywood trickery; this is not anything anyone should try at home — or, for that matter, anywhere, let alone Abu Dhabi. (You can find out a little about how they actually created the effect here.) Nevertheless, we were curious: Is such a jump even possible, and how fast would the car have to be going to be able to make it? To answer these and some other questions, we turned to Lee Loveridge, a professor of physics at Pierce College.
The verdict? “To be honest,” says Professor Loveridge, “that is probably the most plausible stunt in the whole movie.”
First, some information: The towers in question are an immense five-tower skyscraper complex in Abu Dhabi called Etihad Towers; the tallest is 1,002 feet high, and the shortest is 714 feet high. The car is a Lykan HyperSport, a $3.4 million supercar with custom rubies and diamonds in its headlights and a gold-plated roof. It’s the only supercar produced in the Middle East, and there are only seven in existence. (Maybe six after this scene.)
From the looks of it, Dom and Brian start off in Etihad Tower 2, the tallest, about 40 or 50 stories high. When the fancy party they’re crashing turns into a melee, the two of them find they have no way out of the building. Luckily, a Lykan HyperSport is right there in the apartment, because rich people. They get in the car and spin around a little while Jason Statham tries to blow them away. Then, much to Brian’s protestations (“Cars don’t fly!”), Dom guns the Lykan and blasts through the windows, and in glorious slo-mo, the car jumps across to the next tower — which, to our eyes, looks to be Etihad Tower 3. (Though it’s never entirely clear which towers they’re flying into, given the way the wide shots of the jump are composed.)
They land on a floor that appears to be under construction. But then they discover that their car’s brakes aren’t working. So, Dom guns the car again, and they fly out of that skyscraper and into the next one — which looks to be Etihad 4 or 5, the shortest of the five Etihad Towers. There, they land in the middle of an art gallery, destroy some priceless terra-cotta warriors, then bail out just before the car flies out the windows one more time. (This time, sans drivers, it plummets to the ground.)
The Lykan HyperSport weighs a little over 3,000 pounds. (With the two actors in it, it would probably weigh around 3,400 pounds.) Using Google Earth, we estimate the distance between the towers to be anywhere between 140 and 170 feet — so we’re going to approximate the distance they need to jump to be about 150 feet. (The third tower they jump to seems like it might be a bit farther, but we’ll assume a uniform distance for the sake of this calculation. We’re also assuming zero wind resistance, because there’s no way to ascertain what the wind resistance on a fictional day in a fictional movie might be. Also, at these distances, wind resistance probably wouldn’t make much difference.)
“There is no one shot showing the entire flight, so exactly how far the car falls is hard to determine,” says Loveridge. “It is certainly at least two stories, or about 20 feet, but I don't think it could be more than four stories.”
“For a four-story fall, the car should be moving at an angle of about 35 degrees when it hits the building, but in the film, it seems to be tilted at only 12 degrees. If this were the case, you would clearly see the back end drop below the landing floor before reaching it, which is not how it is portrayed. If the car dropped only two stories, the expected landing angle is about 18 degrees, which is much closer to the 12-degree angle they show and could be within the expected errors of such a calculation.
“Falling four stories takes about 1.6 seconds, while falling two takes only about 1.1 seconds. To cover the necessary 150 feet in this time, the car would have to be traveling about 70 miles per hour if it falls four stories, or about 100 miles per hour to only fall two stories. Both of these speeds are clearly achievable by this car.”
There is, however, a question of how much distance the car would need to reach these speeds, Loveridge says. “They say that the car can go from 0 to 60 in under three seconds. What isn't clear is how to treat the acceleration. If the acceleration is constant, you would need more than 300 feet to reach a speed of 100 mph from a dead spot. That would require that the building itself be 300 feet wide, just to build up the speed.
“If we do the constant power acceleration with a 150-foot gap, then they need about 750 feet to get to the speed of 100 mph, to drop two stories. That would suggest that you would need a building that’s 750 feet wide, and I don’t think those buildings are that wide. Now, to get to the speed needed to drop four stories, at constant power, you would need 275 feet — big, but a bit more believable. Plus, he wasn’t starting from a standstill.”
What about the grenade launcher that Jason Statham fires at the car as it’s halfway through its jump? In the film, it seems as if the explosion from the grenade gives the car an extra push. “I doubt it would give them a lot of momentum,” Loveridge says. “You can’t have any more forward momentum than what you push backward. It’s a lot of energy, but explosions tend to have relatively little as far as momentum until they have something to push against.”
Surprisingly, Loveridge notes, the turns the car makes inside the building are perhaps more implausible than the jump it makes between them. “If he made a circle that filled the entire building (a radius of 175 feet) at 100 mph, then his inward acceleration would be four times the maximum rate at which he can speed up and nearly 4 g’s.” (That’s four times the force of gravity.) At that speed, the car would probably skid, and the passengers would be thrown from it.
Loveridge points out that the reason we generally don't notice how implausible such turns are is that “we don't realize just how smooth and sweeping the turns we take at high speeds are. For example, most people think the white lines on the freeway are about two feet long. In reality, they are ten feet long, with 30 feet between them. As a result, the distances and our speed are about five times larger than they feel. What we think are fairly tight turns are actually quite large. If you've ever driven the Big Sur, the tightest turns there are probably twice as big as that building, and few people drive them faster than about 35 mph.”
Loveridge also notes that for the car to make any of these landings, “the shocks would have to be extremely stiff to avoid bottoming out. Assuming they can compress about one foot on impact (probably a bit too much, since those tires don't look to be 24 inches across), they would have to be stiff enough that under normal driving conditions they only compressed about half an inch just to make the two-story drop. For the four-story drop, they would have to be twice that stiff. If the shocks are not this stiff, then the car will bottom out, doing severe damage to the undercarriage and exerting even stronger (though briefer) forces on the people inside. Clearly, this part is also implausible.”
There you have it, folks. Doable, perhaps. But very, very ill-advised.