Posted by Dan, Student on team #10, BSM, from Benilde-St. Margaret’s and Banner Engineering.
Posted on 5/17/99 5:29 PM MST
In Reply to: Sometimes it DOES take a rocket scientist posted by Frank Toussaint on 5/17/99 11:27 AM MST:
A few months ago I did a paper on urban legends so I’ve grown pretty skeptical of these wild stories. These things get interesting when you start to analyze why they are so popular. Anyways, here’s what I found at www.scopes.com :
Depending on who you hear the story from, the FAA, NASA, the Air Force, or ‘an American aircraft company’ lends its chicken gun to engineers in another country.
The most common telling says those engineers were British, but other versions of the story say they were French or American. Likewise, what’s being tested varies, with train windows, jet engines, and cockpit canopies mentioned.
In my favorite version, a cat sneaks into the barrel of the gun and is helping itself to a cold chicken dinner when the contraption is fired. (Then again, I just like saying ‘catapoultry.’)
Origins: There is at least one shred of truth in this tale – the story did run in the November 1995 issue of Feathers, the California Poultry Industry Federation’s newsletter. That doesn’t mean the CPIF vetted it though. They had picked it up – the same way everyone else had – from a friend of a friend. Further adding to the confusion over the validity of this tale, army Lt. Gen. Wes Clark has claimed the story is real on a number of occasions and is fond of using the anecdote in speeches.
Much as we hate to disagree with anyone with an army behind him, we just have to. The basic story (frozen bird fired by nincompoops) has been around for years, with the details always in flux. One researcher spotted a 1990 version of this story, except in it those foolish British train engineers were said to be American jet engine designers, thus the frozen chicken was fired not at a train window but at a jet engine.
The chicken gun (also known as the chicken cannon, turkey gun, or rooster booster) has been around since 1972. It’s used for the ‘chicken ingestion test,’ one of a series of stress tests required by the Federal Aviation Administration before a new jet engine design can be certified. The tests take place in a concrete building large enough to enclose an entire jet engine. With the engine operating at full speed, the cannon uses compressed air to shoot chicken carcasses into the turbine at 180 mph. (The Air Force is known to launch its poultry projectiles at 400 mph into F-16 canopies.)
Bird strikes can cause extensive damage to aircraft and serious injuries to their crews. At worst, they can be deadly confrontations. The Air Force estimates that planes hit about 3,000 birds every year, causing damages of $50 million and sometimes loss of human life. In a bird-strike accident in September 1995, 24 AWACS crew members were killed after takeoff from Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska.
Some engineers prefer to go for realism in these tests and thus buy still-feathered firing fowl from game farms. (Er, at this point I should mention the birds are dead when cannonized.) Others, however, buy their catapulting poultry at the supermarket. Those who favor using thawed birds keep the carcasses frozen until just before test time, when a session in the microwave restores the avian missile to a more natural condition. Not everyone fires thawed birds: before switching to fake birds, the U.S. Air Force traditionally launched frozen ones. (Sensitive to the concerns of animal-rights activists, they now fling birds made of clay and plastic at canopies and engines.) The way the Air Force had it figured, if a canopy could survive an impact with a frozen bird, it would certainly live through a chance introduction to one that could still fly under its own power. They further believed cold chickens provided a better simulation of a bird that had become tense to prepare for the impact.
That at least one high profile group of chicken flingers has used frozen poultry in its cannonizations puts this legend’s punch line – and thus the legend itself – into the realm of lore, not that of reality. Clearly, it’s not all that intuitive to use thawed poultry in these tests. Just as clearly, firing a frosted pullet bullet at something to be impact tested isn’t at all unreasonable an action to take.
Analysis: The legend’s appeal lies in its aura of smug superiority that ‘we’ are smarter than ‘them.’ We, says the legend, would have known to use thawed birds. Moreover, when the other country screwed up, its engineers couldn’t figure out the error on their own. We thus earned even more of a mental pat on the back in that it was our engineers who had to explain the ‘obvious’ to these brainless foreigners.
Last updated: 12 May 1999
: Can someone at NASA tell me if there is any truth to this story:
: Scientists at NASA built a gun specifically to launch dead chickens at
: the windshields of airliners, military jets and the space shuttle, all
: traveling at maximum velocity. The idea was to simulate the frequent
: incidents of collisions with airborne fowl to test the strength of the
: British engineers heard about the gun and were eager to
: test it on the windshields of their new high speed trains. Arrangements were
: made, and a gun was sent to the British engineers.
: When the gun was fired, the engineers stood shocked as the
: chicken hurtled out of the barrel, crashed into the shatterproof
: shield, smashed it to smithereens, blasted through the control
: console, snapped the engineer’s backrest in two and embedded
: itself in the back wall of the cabin, like an arrow shot from a
: bow. The horrified Brits sent NASA the disastrous results of the
: experiment, along with the designs of the windshield, and begged the
: U.S. scientists for suggestions.
: NASA responded with a one-line memo:
: ‘Thaw the chicken.’