I like to think that my little brother and I had better-than-normal childhoods. Not often boring, anyways…
When my brother and I were wee pups, Mom and Dad got us matching chemistry sets.
Not the wussy ones that stores sell now, but the good, old-fashioned, “Hey, Dad! What’s potassium chlorate?” ones that would send the EPA and ATF into conniption fits.
‘Course, the first thing Chris and I did was blow the back steps off of the house, resulting in Mom removing the chlorates, and permangenates from the kits…
Anyhoo, Chris and I had found a procedure for separating water into its component hydrogen and oxygen, and immediately saw the potential for lighter-than-air craft design.
Wait for it.
Well, we whipped together a dirigible from Dads spare pipe cleaners — all of Dads pipe cleaners — and a thin plastic Leventis shopping bag, multi-gallon size.
Into our contraption, we piped the contents of the hydrogen generator, and (waste not want not) put the contents of the oxy side of the generator in for good measure.
It was not a resounding success. We had lift, but only enough to drag the bottom of the blimp across the carpet, whereupon Mom promptly banished us to the Great Outdoors.
After fruitless pondering on the lack of lift we were displaying, we went to Dad and inquired as to what he would have used to lift a balloon. Pater replied, somewhat distractedly, that he would have used hot air.
Obviously what we needed was a dual-system design, using hydrogen/oxygen for the initial lift, and hot-air for the distance.
Well, to make a long story short, shortly thereafter we had a Leventis bag floating about six feet off the floor of the garage, with a soft-ball-sized, alcohol-soaked, flaming chunk of cotton suspended below the gas bag.
Flushed with success, we hared into the house and chivvied our parents out to see the aeronautical wonder engineered by their progeny.
Mom made appropriate maternal enthusiastic noises as Dad murmured, “Nice work, boys,” around the stem of his pipe, “Hot air. Nice system.”
Jumping excitedly, we informed Dear Old Dad that we had a dual-system — hot-air/hydrogen — and we wanted to patent it…
Said dissertation being interrupted by Dad dropping his pipe, and Mom abruptly sagging against Dad.
Followed by the brightest, hottest white light from the general area of the garage.
And the whomp was simply…fantastic.
The chemistry sets disappeared shortly thereafter, but by that time we had discovered the fascinating field of medieval siege artillery and really didn’t miss the sets all that much…