While you may get some movement, the short answer is no.
Actor, athlete, and, self-proclaimed Florida janitor Brian Kahrs made a handful of headlines around the world because of his viral video showing the “part-time” janitor using a mop-bucket on wheels, a leaf blower, and, an umbrella as a “quirky” alternative method of transportation. But is this mode of transportation possible with a cheapo leaf blower, a skateboard, and an umbrella from Walgreens? While technically possible, the short answer is no, you can’t actually use a gas-powered leaf-blower and a mop-bucket to get to work.
Let me explain.
The Janitor in the viral video switches from a mop bucket to an electric skateboard on top of a modified mop bucket to make this possible. You can see the obvious transition from here to here.
First, here’s the viral video below, a fit, disheveled, and quirky janitor gets into a mop bucket, pops open a flimsy umbrella, and uses a $49 leaf blower to push himself all around town. Well, shiver-me-timbers, this man’s created an efficient form of transportation that allows him to travel several miles around town, all using just .1 gallons of gas, the amount a gas-powered leaf blower can hold. All our nation’s fuel issues are solved! Why doesn’t everyone ride around in mob-buckets with umbrellas?
Enter Newton’s third law
Newton’s third law says for every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction. Say, for example, you removed the umbrella and pointed the leaf blower in the opposite direction of travel. With the leaf blower blowing in the opposite direction, according to Newton’s third law, you’d be constantly be pushing against air and would move forward.
That experiment’s been replicated on Youtube many times. This basic physics explains thrust and is what accelerates jets, fast enough to create lift.
Even in the absence of air, like in space, thrust still works, however, you need a lot of energy and fuel to get going anywhere fast enough. It’s why come space flights slingshot around planets to get a speed boost.
Notice that, without an umbrella, you’re still moving far too slow to be an efficient form of transportation.
Add an umbrella
With an umbrella, Newton’s third law still applies. Let’s think this through.
All an umbrella does is, rather poorly, deflect air exerted against it, making it “reverse” direction, losing thrust energy as it’s pushed against the umbrellas fabrics, bounced back, and deflected in a direction that’s not as linear as the viral janitor’s video would make us believe it does.
This argument has been explained and re-hashed many times thanks to an old vine video that brought up this same argument.
Here’s an explanation by Twitter user @Solar_Huskie copied from this Complex.com article.
And, as you would expect, this janitor’s viral video’s been replicated for Youtube, too. Here’s a simple video, followed by a close copy of the mop bucket janitor.
Notice in the above video’s experiment, the 225 MPH leaf blower is much more powerful than the janitor’s, overcomes the cheap umbrella, and barely gets the skateboarder moving.
As the ultimate proof that a leaf blower pointed at an umbrella is a poor method of movement, myth busters did something similar years ago, using a fan boat’s blower pointed at a sail as a means of transportation. With the fanboats powerful engine, they were only able to get to 3 MPH.
Twitter user @PeteFlintMurray sums this janitor’s video up quite nicely.
“It’s a man in a yellow bucket on an electric skateboard, the blower and umbrella are just theatrics.”