FWD: :-) Pumpkin projectiles

Rohit Khare (khare@w3.org)
Wed, 29 Oct 1997 18:47:05 -0500 (EST)

[If they did, it would surely rival the liquid-nitrogen-frozen
pumpkin-drop at Caltech. Which raises a good point: perhaps a
FoRKish event for Friday...? -RK]

[PS. The goal is to see if the ten-story drop off of Millikan results
in a flash of light a la peppermint candy in the dark]

[I wonder if it is within the rules to freeze the pumpkin... dee3]

>MORTON, Ill. -- Ponder this: Will a pumpkin, as it nears the speed of
>sound, turn into pie in the sky?
>In a machine shop in a sea of cornfields here in a place that calls itself
>the Pumpkin Capital of the World, this is not a theoretical question. For
>months now, a team of volunteers has worked earnestly on an effort to send
>a gourd soaring at Mach I.
>Their invention is an 18-ton, 100-foot cannon made of 10-inch-diameter
>plastic pipe, powered by compressed air and mounted on an old cement
>mixer. Dubbed the Aludium Q36 Pumpkin Modulator, it has already set a
>world distance record, flinging a pumpkin 2,710 feet -- at a velocity of
>more than 600 miles per hour, literally faster than some speeding bullets.
>At the speed of sound, minimally about 750 mph, the distance record could
>easily be shattered, assuming the pumpkin doesn't shatter first. For this
>team of self-described "high-tech rednecks," this is a matter of some
>urgency and pride, says Matt Parker, a Morton businessman and a team
>leader. For the team is, at the moment, the undisputed champion of the
>arcane sport known colloquially to its practitioners as "punkin'
>On Nov. 1, all eyes will be on the Q36 when it defends its title as World
>Champion Punkin' Chunker in Lewes, a small town on the Delaware coast.
>For the past 11 years, pumpkin tossers, dragging all manner of
>contraptions, have converged there to vie for bragging rights in a variety
>of pumpkin-tossing categories -- human powered, centrifugal, catapult and
>air cannons. Sponsored by the Roadhouse Steak Joint, a Lewes restaurant,
>the contest derives from an anvil-throwing game once played here; how the
>anvil evolved into a pumpkin seems to be lost to history.
>The modern contest's rules are clear, however: Pumpkins must weigh 8 to
>10 pounds, leave the machine intact and not be propelled by explosives.
>Like the rapid advance in, say, computer technology, pumpkin-tossing
>prowess has improved exponentially since the first contest in 1986
>produced a throw of 50 feet. By 1989, large-scale centrifugals,
>essentially giant slings, were launching pumpkins more than 600 feet, a
>mark that had doubled by 1993. In 1994, the first serious air cannon
>appeared and shot a pumpkin more than 2,500 feet. A Delaware-made air
>cannon named the "Mello Yello" beat that mark with a 2,655-foot shot in
>1995, only to be bested by the Q36 last year.
>Of course the cannons, though they have the longest range, don't attract
>all the attention. Last year, a catapult competitor rigged up two
>telephone poles planted in the ground, fitted huge rubber bands to them
>and fired a pumpkin from this Paul Bunyanesque slingshot -- pulled taut
>by a power winch -- 493 feet.
>Still, the serious pumpkin tossers gravitate to the cannons, and here in
>this small Illinois town, pumpkins are serious business. Area farms supply
>about 80% of the nation's canned pumpkin through Nestle SA's Libby's plant
>here. When the chamber of commerce director, Scott Witzig, heard about
>the Lewes contest in early 1996, he issued a call to arms at the chamber's
>annual dinner: Build a gun to bring honor to Morton's pumpkin heritage.
>The challenge was taken up by Mr. Parker, a polite, 28-year-old vice
>president at Parker Fabrication Inc., a family-owned company that builds
>industrial-exhaust systems. Soon, he and some tinkering friends were
>swapping sketches on napkins in coffee shops. "It sounded kind of dumb at
>first," he says, "but pretty soon, that's all we talked about."
>In a month's time, a group formed and built a machine largely from scrap
>parts, often working into the early morning at the shop of Rod Litwiller,
>a crew member. Friends and neighbors stopped in to help. Only when a crude
>version of the machine was unveiled at the Morton pumpkin festival in
>September last year did the builders get an idea of the machine's power.
>The first shot flew out of sight into a cornfield. "We thought, 'This has
>potential,' " says Chuck Heerde, a 32-year-old Parker employee and crew
>High Expectations
>The Q36, when erected, resembles a crane. It is hand-loaded from the rear,
>aimed using hydraulic cylinders and a turret that was once an old cement
>mixer and fired with the push of a red button that releases a charge of
>compressed air. Painted military green, the gun was named after a weapon
>used by Marvin the Martian, a pint-sized alien in a Warner Bros. cartoon.
>Ferocious as the Q36 looked, the Morton pumpkin crew still wasn't sure
>what made a pumpkin fly farthest. Too much pressure too fast, and the
>pumpkin bursts apart in the barrel. Too slow, and velocity suffers. Pat
>Parker, Matt Parker's father, contacted Max Teasdale, a friend who teaches
>engineering mechanics at Bradley University in nearby Peoria. An avid
>skeet shooter, Mr. Teasdale said he had just completed a ballistics
>analysis of shotgun pellets. "I asked him: 'Can you modify that for a
>10-pound pumpkin?'" says the elder Mr. Parker. "He was silent for
>second. Then he smiled."
>Mr. Teasdale modified the ballistics program to compensate for a pumpkin
>flying through an 80-foot barrel in hopes of plotting the best trajectory.
>The computer tabulates, among other things, the weight and number of
>sections in a pumpkin (usually 10), the pressure and temperature of the
>air in the tank, the barometric pressure, pumpkin spin and barrel
>inclination. Still, Mr. Teasdale concedes that "pumpkins are an unreliable
>Undeterred, the Morton crew packed up the Q36 and hitched it to "The
>Blackbird," a black and silver GMC bus fitted with a diesel engine and
>front end welded together by Mr. Heerde. When the Q36 rumbled into the
>fairgrounds in Lewes for last year's contest, however, more experienced
>cannon makers were prepared to blow it off. But, after its first pumpkin
>blew apart in the barrel, the Q36 blew the competition away. Its winning
>shot of 2,710 feet broke the existing record by 55 feet.
>It also narrowly missed a Ford Mustang in the parking lot. This could have
>been serious: In a demonstration earlier in the day, the Q36 had blown a
>pumpkin-size hole in a half-inch thick sheet of plywood 500 feet away.
>Giving No Ground
>Word of the Q36 has spread like pumpkin butter. On the Punkin' Chunkin'
>Web site, one reviewer called the debut of the Q36 "awe-inspiring." Harry
>"Captain Speed" Lackhove, a Delaware competitor whose Mello Yello cannon
>held the previous world record, has vowed to come out of retirement to
>challenge the Q36 at this year's contest. Mr. Lackhove, 72, says he is
>cooking up a high-tech firing device based upon the designs of a
>California race-car mechanic and predicts, "We expect to set a record that
>won't fall for years." Which is why the Q36 crew vows to send a pumpkin
>flying at Mach I soon. But Mr. Teasdale, the physics professor, tempers
>the crew's ambitions with reality. Compressed air and computer-aided
>trajectories can send the pumpkin sailing just up to the sound barrier,
>he says. But he doesn't think it can be broken without the boost of an
>explosive charge. And no one quite knows if a pumpkin can stay intact at
>the speed of sound.
>Still, practice makes perfect. On a recent fall afternoon, the Q36 crew
>took the cannon to Goshen, Ind., for a rare public demonstration at the
>grand opening of a subdivision called Clover Trails. A horn sounded across
>the cornfields as the barrel of the Q36 rose ominously and, with a loud
>"foop," fired a pumpkin. This was a low-power shot, and it sailed perhaps
>1,200 feet. Soon, cars pulled over and a crowd of about 100 materialized.
>Loud applause and laughter erupted after every shot.
>Between shots, a farmer walked up and asked, "How far can she go?" "We
>can put a hole in that silo over there," said Mr. Heerde. "Oh, don't do
>that," the farmer said. "That's my silo."