Laughter Remedies & Stress Relief
Should Engineers Be Parents?
About 2 weeks ago, I was looking around the Web for the BIGGEST sky rocket
that I could get shipped to me via common freight carrier. I located a
fireworks importer in Wisconsin who had this mondo sky rocket-biggest thing
I had ever seen-called a SkyDragon. These things are 48 inches tall and
are mounted on a 1/2-inch wooden dowel. Pure aerospace engineering.
I plopped down a bunch of money and had him send me two cases of these
things. They arrived at the freight dock a few days ago and I had to drive
the van over to pick them up. Two boxes each 2 feet by 2 feet by 4 feet in
size containing 80 rockets each. The 'Class 4 Explosives' sticker on the
side of each box was a real bonus. I am gonna have to save them for the
That night, me and the kiddos had a gen-u-ine rocket launch ceremony. I
placed one of these beauties in a liter-size glass bottle and the bottle
fell over. Hmmmm- this thing was waaay to big. I looked around the shop
for a pipe to set it in, but realized that the only dirt I could drive the
pipe into was in plain sight of my neighbor's house.
I knew he was a cool
guy, but I didn't want him to call the cops. You see- 'projectile-type'
fireworks are totally illegal in this county. I was surprised that the
Buncombe County Sheriff Department wasn't waiting for me at the loading
dock when I picked these things up. Anyhow, I finally rigged a launch pad
by prying up one of the driveway drain grates with a crowbar and sitting
the stick into the deep pit. Looked sorta like an ICBM silo with its
hardened lid slid aside.
I asked which of my three kids wanted to light the fuse, but all took a few
steps back and politely declined. Kids just aren't made the same nowadays.
They fulfill their danger quotient by shooting bad guys in video games.
About as far from real danger as you can get, if you ask me. I told the
little weenies to stand back as I bent to light the device with a Bic
The lady at the fireworks importer promised me that these things would NOT
make any noise. I told her that they HAD to be relatively quiet so I could
shoot them off in my neighborhood without causing 'undue alarm'. She said I
wouldn't have any problem. I emphasized the particular legal problems I
would have if there were any type of loud report at apogee. I emphasized
the fact that I lived right next to a National Park and that any type of
firework that was discharged or assumed to be discharged on that property
would get me sent before a FEDERAL judge right before I got sent to the
COUNTY judge. She again assured me I would have no problem.
That lying weasel!
That rocket engine had a burn time about as long as any I had EVER seen,
and the ascent echoed off the surrounding trees. Diamond shock pattern
extended from the back end. It kept going and going and going. When it hit
apogee at about 1000 feet, the rocket disintegrated into a huge shower of
red sparks. Pretty cool, I thought......until the shower of sparks burned
out and suddenly transformed into a cloud of extremely bright and loud
The kids scrambled into the back door 'Three Stooges' style (i.e., where
all three try to get through the same closed door at once) and left me
standing in the smoking haze waiting for the cops to arrive. The dogs that
live along our street were all barking their heads off at the apparition
they had just witnessed in the night sky. That ended the fireworks test
for the night.
The next day, my oldest son Doug and I decided we were gonna 'neuter' one
of the rockets so it wouldn't make any noise. I took him into the closet
where I store the gardening tools and he saw these two huge cases of
fireworks standing there. The kid went nuts. He wanted to open BOTH boxes
so he could see what all 159 rockets looked like lined up next to each
other. This kid has promise.
I told him: "Since mom only thinks I have a few of these things lying
around, maybe that wasn't such a good idea." He mulled that over for a few
seconds, then gave me a real big smile in agreement. We pulled one of the
rockets out of the box and re-locked the closet door. He and I both sat
down on the driveway and proceeded to take it apart.
It was a standard issue big-ass Chinese sky rocket. I bet they used these
to kill people 500 years ago. As I sat there taking layer after layer of
paper off, his brain was filling with the details of construction. Tissue,
cardboard, plastic, fuses...etc. Realizing that he was mentally storing
the design for some future project sorta made me shudder.
All I was
thinking was the fact that this thing was probably put together by a
political prisoner in a hellhole somewhere who is probably gonna get
'executed' so they can sell his internal organs on the transplant market.
Probably not too far from the facts, but I managed to do a bit of
explaining to him from the standpoint of aerospace engineering regarding
how the thing worked. Doug is probably the only 4th grader in the U.S. who
can now describe the principle of thrust using a control volume model.
The rocket was pretty simple. It had a very large booster engine topped
with a warhead that contained the red sparkly things that exploded.
Removing the warhead was as simple as giving a quick twist, and I assumed
the neutered rocket would fly higher without the payload. I was correct.
Doug and I did a daylight 'stealth' test and were able to add about 50% to
the altitude attained the previous night. We decided to modify four more
rockets and put them aside in the closet for easy access. When this was
done, Doug had a jar full of stuff that came out of the warheads including:
12 fuses about 3-inches long each, some paper, 4 plastic nosecones and a
big handful of these little black balls about the size of 12-gauge buckshot
that turned out to be the 'red sparkly popper things'.
It appeared that the outer layer was a simple gunpowder coating designed to
quickly burn off as red shower of sparks. I surmised that the inner core
had some kind of magnesium thermite that gave off an intense white light
and a loud bang. Pretty cool if you ask me. Lots of energy packed into
one teeny little ball.
I didn't want to see the popper thingies go to waste, so I told Doug we
were gonna put them in a hole in the ground and set them off. He gave me
another big smile. It's amazing how kids think alike...even when separated
by 30 years. As I was digging a shallow hole with my hand, Doug asked if
it would be alright to put an army man next to these things so that "When
they go off, it would look like he was getting shot with a machine gun".
Dang....exactly what I was thinking. I agreed and he ran off to his room
to dig something out of the mess.
He returned in about 3 seconds, out of breath and holding a cheap plastic
imitation of Robert E. Lee on horseback and a Civil War cannon. I pointed
out that they didn't have true machine guns in the Civil War, but we would
overlook this for the purpose of the demonstration. He handed me the
action figure and I placed it and the cannon next to a rather large pile of
black beads from which a few of the fuses extended.
I figured that three inches of fuse would take 2 seconds to burn, so I had
at least that amount of time to stand up and take a few steps back. I
neglected to recount the night before.....when the warhead ignited
IMMEDIATELY upon reaching apogee. Tricky Chinese. They had installed
extremely fast-burning fuse in these things and that fact totally escaped
I squatted next to Robert Lee and gave a short eulogy. Doug laughed.
I took the trusty Bic lighter and placed it next to the fuse. One flick
got the lighter going and THIS IMAGE IS ONE I WILL REMEMBER FOR A LONG
TIME. My hand holding a lighter next to a pile of explosives. There is
usually a short but noticeable mental pause that occurs immediately before
something bad or really stupid happens. It is where that little voice in
your head says: "You dumbass." The fuse burn time was in the 1/1000ths of
a second range. The pile of little popper thingies immediately ignited
into a tremendously brilliant ball of fire. All I could think was
Unfortunately, when they are viewed at ground level, these little popper
thingies become REALLY BIG POPPER THINGIES and have a tendency to jump up
to 15-feet in every direction from their point of ignition. I
instantaneously became engulfed in a ball of fire that sounded a lot like
being in a half-done bag of Orville Redenbacher's popcorn. It was all over
about as fast as I could can snap my finger. After the smoke cleared, Doug
started laughing his butt off. That meant I was still in one piece. Doug
does not laugh at dismembered limbs.
He said I jumped about 10-feet, an
action that I do not remember. I checked my clothes for burn marks, and
found none. He checked my back to make sure it was not on fire. No
combustion there. The driveway was peppered with black holes where the
concrete had been scarred from these things. A close one. Another REAL
close one. My mind ran the tapes again to re-hash what it had seen. All I
remembered was being inside something akin to a 30-foot diameter
.......flaming dandelion. Whew.
We examined Ol' Robert E. at
ground-zero. Instead of a machine-gun peppering, he got nuked. He and the
horse he rode in on.......and his cannon too. One side was untouched, but
the other side was arc-welded. Real warfare. Doug examined it real
quiet-like and then started laughing again. I assume he will remember the
finer points of the lesson as he grows older. When I now speak of 'almost
being burned beyond recognition' he will have a slightly better
understanding of what I mean. I hope that this vivid image tempers the
knowledge he now has regarding rocket construction.
Oh well. After all, if your dad isn't gonna teach you how to get your ass
blown off, who will?
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