Jet Assisted Take-Of 
1995 Darwin Awards Winner
Confirmed Bogus by Darwin

The Arizona Highway Patrol were mystified when they came upon a pile of smoldering wreckage embedded in the side of a cliff rising above the road at the apex of a curve. The metal debris resembled the site of an airplane crash, but it turned out to be the vaporized remains of an automobile. The make of the vehicle was unidentifiable at the scene.

The folks in the lab finally figured out what it was, and pieced together the events that led up to its demise.

It seems that a former Air Force sergeant had somehow got hold of a JATO (Jet Assisted Take-Off) unit. JATO units are solid fuel rockets used to give heavy military transport airplanes an extra push for take-off from short airfields.

Dried desert lakebeds are the location of choice for breaking the world ground vehicle speed record. The sergeant took the JATO unit into the Arizona desert and found a long, straight stretch of road. He attached the JATO unit to his car, jumped in, accelerated to a high speed, and fired off the rocket.

The facts, as best as could be determined, are as follows:

The operator was driving a 1967 Chevy Impala. He ignited the JATO unit approximately 3.9 miles from the crash site. This was established by the location of a prominently scorched and melted strip of asphalt. The vehicle quickly reached a speed of between 250 and 300 mph and continued at that speed, under full power, for an additional 20-25 seconds. The soon-to-be pilot experienced G-forces usually reserved for dog-fighting F-14 jocks under full afterburners.

The Chevy remained on the straight highway for approximately 2.6 miles (15-20 seconds) before the driver applied the brakes, completely melting them, blowing the tires, and leaving thick rubber marks on the road surface. The vehicle then became airborne for an additional 1.3 miles, impacted the cliff face at a height of 125 feet, and left a blackened crater 3 feet deep in the rock.

Most of the driver's remains were not recovered; however, small fragments of bone, teeth, and hair were extracted from the crater, and fingernail and bone shards were removed from a piece of debris believed to be a portion of the steering wheel.

Ironically a still-legible bumper sticker was found, reading
"How do you like my driving? Dial 1-800-EAT-SHIT."

This is a very old spoof from the early 1970's at the latest.




The recent discovery of coal (black, fossilized plant remains) in a number of places offers an interesting alternative to the production of power from fission. Some of the places where coal has been found show indeed signs of previous exploitation by prehistoric men who, however, probably used it for jewels and to blacken their faces at religious ceremonies. The power potentials depend on the fact that coal can be readily oxidized, with the production of a high temperature and an energy of about 0.0000001 megawatt days per gram. That is, of course, very little, but large amounts of coal (perhaps millions of tons) appear to be available. The chief advantage is that the critical amount is very much smaller for coal than for any fissile material. Fission plants become, as is well known, uneconomical below 50 megawatts, and a coal driven plant may be competitive for small communities (such as small islands) with small power requirements.


The main problem is to achieve free, yet controlled, access of oxygen to the fuel elements. The kinetics of the coal-oxygen reaction are much more complicated than fission kinetics, and not yet completely understood. A differential equation, which approximates the behaviour of the reaction, has been set up, but its solution is possible only in the simplest cases. It is therefore proposed to make the reaction vessel in the form of a cylinder with perforated walls to allow the combustion gases to escape. A concentric inner cylinder, also perforated, serves to introduce the oxygen while the fuel elements are placed between the two cylinders. The necessary presence of end plates poses a difficult but not insoluble mathematical problem.


It is likely that these will be easier to manufacture than in the case of fission reactors. Canning is unnecessary and indeed undesirable since it would make it impossible for the oxygen to gain access to the fuel. Various lattices have been calculated, and it appears that the simples of all - a close packing of equal spheres - is likely to be satisfactory. Computations are in progress to determine the optimum size of the spheres and the required tolerances. Coal is soft and easy to machine; so the manufacture of the spheres should present no major problem.


Pure oxygen is of course ideal but costly; it is therefore proposed to use air in the first place. However, it must be remembered that air contains 78% nitrogen. If even a fraction of that combined with the carbon of the coal to form the highly toxic gas cyanogen this would constitute a grave health hazard (see below).


To start the reaction one requires a fairly high temperature of about 988°F; this is most conveniently achieved by passing an electrical current between the inner and outer cylinder (the end plates being made of insulating ceramic.) A current of several thousand amps; is needed, at some thirty volts, and the required large storage battery will add substantially to the cost of the installation. There is the possibility of starting the reaction by some auxiliary self - starting reaction, such as that between phosphine and hydrogen peroxide; this is being looked into. Once the reaction is started its rate can be controlled by adjusting the rate at which oxygen is admitted; this is almost as simple as the use of control rods in a conventional fission reactor.


The walls of the reactor must withstand a temperature of well over 1000°F in the presence of oxygen, nitrogen, carbon monoxide and dioxide as well as small amounts of sulphur dioxide and other impurities, some still unknown. Few metals and ceramics can withstand such gruelling conditions. Niobium with a thin lining of nickel might be an attractive possibility, but probably solid nickel will have to be used. For the ceramic, fused thoria appears to the best bet


The main health hazard is attached to the gaseous waste products. They contain not only carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide (both highly toxic) but also a number of carcinogenic compounds such as phenanthrene and others To discharge these into the air is impossible, it could cause the tolerance level to be exceeded for several miles around the reactor. It is therefore necessary to collect the gaseous waste in suitable containers, pending chemical detoxification. Alternatively, the waste might be mixed with hydrogen and filled into large balloons, which are subsequently released. The solid waste products will have to be removed at frequent intervals (perhaps as often as daily) hut the health hazards involved in that operation can easily be minimized by the use of conventional remote-handling equipment The waste could then be taken out to sea and dumped. There is a possibility - though it may seem remote - that the oxygen supply may get out of control; this would lead to melting of the entire reactor and the liberation of vast amounts of toxic gases. Here is a grave argument against the use of coal in favour of fission reactors, which have proved their complete safety over a period of several thousand years. It will probably take decades before a control system of sufficient reliability can be evolved to allay the fears of those to whom, the safety of our people is entrusted.


This really happened in July 1988.

Holiday Thoughts on Iceland

Liz and I went on holiday to Iceland for two weeks in the summer of 1988. While there we climbed volcanoes, forded glacial rivers in bare feet, bathed in a hot spring fed river with mountains all around as well as quite a lot of tramping around.

Near the end of our tour we were able to climb up to overlook one of the snouts of the Vatnajökull glacier in the Skaftafell National Park. There was some sort of small visitor centre built like a cabin with a porch and with a sofa under the porch. We were returning from our hike kitted out with walking boots, waterproofs and rucksacks when I noticed two very fat men sitting on the sofa. As we passed I heard one fat American say to the other:
"That's the trouble with these holidays. All you do is sit and eat."

This was a story that I came across when my wife did a psychology course. It sums up what it is like to have small children very well.

Does Winnicot Overidealize Babies?

A practical guide for the undecided

Preparation for parenthood is not just a matter of reading books and decorating the nursery. Here are 12 simple tests for expectant parents to take to prepare themselves for the real-life experience of being a mother or father.

  1. Women: to prepare for maternity, put on a dressing gown and stick a beanbag down the front. Leave it there for 9 months. After 9 months, take out 10% of the beans. Men: to prepare for paternity, go to the local chemist, tip the contents of your wallet on the counter, and tell the pharmacist to help himself. Then go to the supermarket. Arrange to have your salary paid directly to their head office. Go home. Pick up the paper. Read it for the last time.
  2. Before you finally go ahead and have children, find a couple who are already parents and berate them about their methods of discipline, lack of patience, appallingly low tolerance levels, and how they have allowed their children to run riot. Suggest ways in which they might improve their child's sleeping habits, toilet training, table manners and overall behavior. Enjoy it --- it'll be the last time in your life that you will have all the answers.
  3. To discover how the nights will feel, walk around the living room from 5pm to 10pm carrying a wet bag weighing approximately 8-12 lbs. At 10pm put the bag down, set the alarm for midnight, and go to sleep. Get up at 12 and walk around the living room again, with the bag, till 1am. Put the alarm on for 3am. As you can't get back to sleep get up at 2am and make a drink. Go to bed at 2.45am. Get up again at 3am when the alarm goes off. Sing songs in the dark until 4am. Put the alarm on for 5am. Get up. Make breakfast. Keep this up for 5 years. Look cheerful.
  4. Can you stand the mess children make? To find out, smear peanut butter onto the sofa and jam onto the curtains. Hide a fish finger behind the stereo and leave it there all summer. Stick your fingers in the flowerbeds then rub them on the clean walls. Cover the stains with crayons. How does that look?
  5. Dressing small children is not as easy as it seems: first buy an octopus and a string bag. Attempt to put the octopus into the string bag so that none of the arms hang out. Time allowed for this - all morning.
  6. Take an egg carton. Using a pair of scissors and a pot of paint turn it into an alligator. Now take a toilet tube. Using only scotch tape and a piece of foil, turn it into a Christmas cracker. Last, take a milk container, a ping pong ball, and an empty packet of Coco Pops and make an exact replica of the Eiffel Tower. Congratulations. You have just qualified for a place on the playgroup committee.
  7. Forget the Miata and buy a Taurus. And don't think you can leave it out in the driveway spotless and shining. Family cars don't look like that. Buy a chocolate ice cream bar and put it in the glove compartment. Leave it there. Get a quarter. Stick it in the cassette player. Take a family-size packet of chocolate cookies. Mash them down the back seats. Run a garden rake along both sides of the car. There. Perfect.
  8. Get ready to go out. Wait outside the toilet for half an hour. Go out the front door. Come in again. Go out. Come back in. Go out again. Walk down the front path. Walk back up it. Walk down it again. Walk very slowly down the road for 5 minutes. Stop to inspect minutely every cigarette end, piece of used chewing gum, dirty tissue and dead insect along the way. Retrace your steps. Scream that you've had as much as you can stand, until the neighbors come out and stare at you. Give up and go back into the house. You are now just about ready to try taking a small child for a walk.
  9. Always repeat everything you say at least five times.
  10. Go to your local supermarket. Take with you the nearest thing you can find to a pre-school child - a fully grown goat is excellent. If you intend to have more than one child, take more than one goat. Buy your week's groceries without letting the goats out of your sight. Pay for everything the goats eat or destroy. Until you can easily accomplish this do not even contemplate having children.
  11. Hollow out a melon. Make a small hole in the side. Suspend it from the ceiling and swing it from side to side. Now get a bowl of soggy Weetabix and attempt to spoon it into the swaying melon by pretending to be an aeroplane. Continue until half the Weetabix is gone. Tip the rest into your lap, making sure that a lot of it falls on the floor. You are now ready to feed a 12-month old baby.
  12. Learn the names of every character from Postman Pat, Fireman Sam and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. When you find yourself singing "Postman Pat" at work, you finally qualify as a parent.