Saturday, November 18, 2006

Why the use of supplemental oxygen in spud guns is a bad idea

Remember the scene in Road Warrior where one of the freakish biker guys injects nitrous into his suped up buggy to get more power? This story reminds me of that. Some things are better left un-supercharged, un-turbocharged, and without added special ingredients. To wit. . . .

Here's an interesting account of firefighters learning on the job:

Pull quote from Fire Resuce Magazine:

It had been more than a decade since I saw my last potato cannon. I figured it died the same death as the mullet hairstyle, just kind of faded away. I was transported back to that time in my career when I heard an unsubstantiated rumor a couple of months ago. In the interest of decorum, let's just say the incident allegedly occurred somewhere in the Southwestern United States of America, and we can leave it at that. This is the story as I heard it:

A group of young firefighters was experimenting with potato cannons. One of the more inquisitive members of the tribe had an idea to get more oomph out of his launcher. After he packed a specially selected spud down the barrel, he filled the combustion chamber with 100 percent oxygen before giving it a 3-second blast of hair spray. He screwed the cap into place and prepared himself for taking the shot heard around the neighborhood.

In hindsight it was fortunate that the crew took some precautions. They knew by adding pure oxygen to the potato-launching formula it would increase the force of the blast to the highest levels. According to the legend, some type of blind was used to shield the cannon master from his weapon. A small hole in the shield allowed him access to the igniter. The remainder of the crew took refuge behind solid objects. The stage was set, the weapon primed. The crew was about to make history.

They were firing the cannon from the sanctity of the apparatus bay. The rigs were parked on the front apron, the front doors were closed. The rear bay doors were open and provided a shooting alley into the large parking lot, where potatoes met a grizzly death when they kissed a block wall after traveling at speeds in excess of 100 mph. Our hero depressed the firing mechanism, giving spark to the supercharged fuel mixture. If I had to guess, I'd say the potato came apart around the time it hit the speed of sound. Something certainly broke the sound barrier because the dozens of fluorescent lights and the window glass in the bay doors all exploded into tens of thousands of tiny shards of glass right after the doomed cannon blew into bits. When the glass settled, the only injuries were ringing in the ears and a small laceration received by our misguided potato master.

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