By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: “How low do you want to go,” asked the young pilot as I climbed in the Cessna 150 at sunset, basketball-sized pumpkin in hand, preparing to take the final shot in the Tennessee Valley Punkin’ Chunkin’ contest. My goal: to be the one to hit the target, a port-a-potty set way out on the grass between two runways. We were far enough from persons and property to not be a hazard, so I replied, “as low as you want.” Holding the brakes, the pilot pushed the throttle full forward. Reaching the engine’s highest RPMs, he released the brakes for a short-field take-off. We lifted quickly, but stayed just barely above the ground. Veering slightly left to line up for the shot, we were nearly mowing the grass. Would I win the contest? I’d have the best shot, no doubt. Everyone else chunked from a few hundred feet up. Then again, I didn’t have a fancy pumpkin-launching contraption like Tom Martin did. The Canadian farmer and EVO F1 Rocket racer had plenty of time in the seat of a tractor to contemplate inventions.
Tom Martin: When I heard there would be a pumpkin-dropping contest this year I wanted to participate. The way it was set up you could go for a ride in a Cessna 150 and launch the orange fruit out the passenger window. This would be fun but I really wanted to do it from my own aircraft, an F1 Rocket. The problem is that the canopy cannot be opened in flight. I thought about this problem for many hours while harvesting this year’s crop of soybeans and corn and came up with an idea for a wing-mounted pumpkin launcher. The EVO wing on this aircraft has a flat metal wing tip–a perfect place to mount my pumpkin spear. I fabricated an 18” spear with a pivot point at the wing tip. The spear was large enough to accommodate a pumpkin about the size of a volleyball. Aft of the pivot point I used an electric solenoid for the release mechanism. The solenoid had started its work life as the release mechanism for the rear hatchback on a ‘90s era Jeep. It was with some trepidation that I took off with a pumpkin sticking out from the far leading edge of my left wing tip.
Limiting my speed to 120 knots I could feel no associated drag. This surprised me; perhaps it acts like that large bump that you see on the forward edge of the hull of ocean tankers. I think all the other racers in my class should install pumpkins on their leading edges. I made two drops; the first one was an abysmal failure. I let the missile go way too early and observers wondered if it even hit the airport. Armed with the shame of my premature pumpqulation I managed a much better drop the next time, salvaging my dignity. I look forward to next year’s competition.Linda: Tom still didn’t hit the can, giving me a chance to win. The pilot got me so close that had my arms been long enough I could have pushed that port-a-potty over. Through the open window I hurled the big orange bomb–Whoosh!
Mike: Having had the best shot possible, she couldn’t believe she missed. Maybe over the winter Linda and Tom should both practice.