What Is the Airspeed Velocity of an Unladen Swallow?

What Is the Airspeed Velocity of an Unladen Swallow?

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Updated Aug 09, 2020 at 08:06AM EDT by shevyrolet.

Added Dec 09, 2015 at 01:48PM EST by Ari Spool.

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What Is the Airspeed Velocity of an Unladen Swallow? is a quote from the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The question is often referred to online as a way of calling a topic or question overly trivial or technical.


In the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the discussion of the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow takes place twice in the film.[1] In the first scene, King Arthur asks a castle guard if he may be let in, since he has been riding all day to get there. The guard points out that he has not been riding, as his horse consists purely of the sound of two coconuts being clicked together, and a discussion of where the coconuts could have been obtained follows. During this discussion, King Arthur suggests that they could have been brought to England via a migrating swallow, and the castle guards continue to discuss the probability of this suggestion at length, becoming more and more technical in their debate. King Arthur becomes annoyed and rides away. Later in the film, Arthur is trying to bypass a troll who asks him "What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?" Arthur, informed by the earlier debate, asks "What do you mean? African or European swallow?" Since the troll cannot answer this question, he is defeated.


The quote has long been an inside joke for fans of Monty Python and also those interested in computing. It's possible to find discussions on Usenet dating back to at least 1991 where the quote, along with Arthur's response, are quoted both in Monty Python-specific contexts and elsewhere.[2]

In 2003, a writer named Jonathan Corum created a site devoted to answering the question scientifically, with the use of "alternate graphic presentations for kinematic ratios in winged flight."[3] He found the following conclusion:

Although a definitive answer would of course require further measurements, published species-wide averages of wing length and body mass, initial Strouhal estimates based on those averages and cross-species comparisons, the Lund wind tunnel study of birds flying at a range of speeds, and revised Strouhal numbers based on that study all lead me to estimate that the average cruising airspeed velocity of an unladen European Swallow is roughly 11 meters per second, or 24 miles an hour.

Several systems have the question, or answers to the question, as in-jokes. Upon being asked, Siri has responded "Assuming a spherical swallow in a vacuum… ah… forget it,"[4] but also responds in other ways in more modern versions of iOS.

Wolfram Alpha uses Corum's answer, rounded up to roughly 25 miles per hour.[5] The More Awesome Than You message board uses the question as a registration question.[6] The question has been asked more than 883 times on Yahoo Answers, and the top-voted reply is usually either the dialogue from the original film, or the answer generated by Corum.[7]

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