Ahoy, the Hindenberg!

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.

Huzzah! Perfect!

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…


Crap! Crap! Crap!
Hey, aren't you Mr. Basinger?

7 thoughts on “Ahoy, the Hindenberg!”

  1. Wow, and I thought my brother using mine to catch the carpet on fire was bad.

  2. Back in 1971 I worked at a regional school outside Patterson, NJ. Each year one of the chem teachers made hydrogen and used it to float a small, brown bag. Which he then lit off. One year he used a large, brown shopping bag. Fortunately, the windows were open. Only two or three kids went to the nurse – mild hysteria. And only a few windows cracked. I was one floor up and haf a floor over, and my kids really thought it funny when I came out with something like, “WHAT THE …WAS THAT?”. The next year he used a small sandwich bag. I understand he’s retired now, does a lot of fishing, and – maybe – has two hearing aids.

  3. My middle school sci teacher, back around ’65-66 or so, used baking flour to demonstrate how a wheat silo could explode. An empty, inverted pint milk carton, a birthday cake candle, a small heap of flour and a rubber hose from a bunsen burner were all that was needed. It made such a satisfactory “whomp!” that I had to try it at home…with a half-gallon milk carton and a garden hose. Luckily I did this outside and from a safe distance.

    Then there was the high school teacher who spayed potassium permanganate on the hallway floor. When it was dry, and the classes changed, it was interesting to see the unsuspecting hop, skip and jump when the popping started.

  4. I found out the hard way that when the instruction book says “lower glowing ember into oxygen in tube” they don’t mean flaming stick. *POP*

    I also once figured out that no matter how lightly you place the stopper on top it’s not wise to boil water in a closed test tube. That one knocked me over in my chair and it took a week to find all the glass 🙂

  5. Your momma should be nominated for sainthood. Between this, the “Squeaks” incident, and the Nigerian Space program, it’s a wonder she didn’t run away in the middle of the night long before you reached puberty.

  6. I laughed until I cryed. I can just envision about three years departing from the end of your parents’ lives when the word “hydrogen” was first uttered. You little heathens! How I wish I could have grown up next door to you.

  7. My uncles did something similar back in the 70’s, although they didn’t use hydrogen. They took a dry cleaning bag, a wire hanger, and a sterno and made a homemade blimp. Unfortunately for them the wind caught it and immediately whisked it away. They didn’t think much about it and began rummaging for the components to make another one with a tether this time.

    The bag settled into a slow hover above what was considered the “downtown” area of a very small town in northern Minnesota. The material of the bag was predominantly clear but had several vividly colorful graphics on it. The police were inundated with phone calls about a UFO with colored flashing lights floating over Main street.

    The best part is they would have totally gotten away with it if the police hadn’t seen them making another one in the driveway when they cruised by.

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