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How do you shoot a man out of a cannon?

  1. Nov 23, 2005 #1


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    On one episode of mythbusters, they tried shooting bullets made of ice, and they found that the heat firing the gun was enough to melt the ice, heat it to boiling, and evaporate all of the water.

    Given that a huge amount of heat is released when firing the projectile, how can a man be shot from a cannon without burning him to death?
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 23, 2005 #2


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    I'm pretty sure that circus cannons use a compressed air blast. In any event, there are no explosives involved in the launching. An explosive flash-pot can accompany the launch to make it look like a gunpowder propellant.

    edit: Clarification of the above. An explosive can be used for firing, but it will be separated from the 'cannonball' by a piston of some kind.
  4. Nov 23, 2005 #3


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    Awesome, thanks. I should have guessed that.
  5. Nov 23, 2005 #4


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    Since you're still posting, I assume that you haven't tried it at home yet.
  6. Nov 23, 2005 #5


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    :rofl: :rofl: :rofl: :rofl:
  7. Nov 23, 2005 #6
    I think it may just be spring loaded with the added effects. Anything actually explosive is going to be unreliable most likely.
  8. Nov 23, 2005 #7


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    I did a quick Google to double-check this. The following is a quote from goodbyemag or some such site.

    Most circus historians credit the Englishman George Farini with the invention of the human cannonball. In 1877 he presented the exotic and beautiful Zazel as a human cannonball at the Royal Aquarium in Westminster. Zazel subsequently toured with P.T. Barnum’s circus in America. But Farini’s patented, spring-loaded cannon was unreliable and lacked sufficient blasting power.

    Human cannoneering fell into desuetude until 1922, when Idelbrando Zacchini, an Italian circus acrobat who had witnessed Farini’s act as a child, revived it. With his sons he created a revolutionary new human cannon that was powered by air. Smoke clouds and a loud charge were merely added for effect. Idelbrando’s sons took turns being blasted out of the cannon. The act was an immediate sensation, and the Zacchini family Circus Olympia toured Europe before huge crowds.

    John Ringling, the American circus impresario, spotted the Zacchini family cannonballs at Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen. He brought the act – and the entire Zachinni family – back to America for the 1929 season. The family settled in Florida. Advances in cannon technology were continuous. Idelbrando’s sons Mario and Emanuel perfected the double human cannon in the early 30s. Altogether, five of Idelbrando’s seven sons were performing projectiles. Mario, the last surviving Zacchini cannonball from that first generation, has died at age 87.

    The Zacchini brothers toured with the Ringling circus for several years, then opened their own travelling carnival in 1939. In the carnival they ratcheted up the act, shooting each other at speeds of up to 90 mph, 140 feet in the air, sometimes over two Ferris wheels.

    “The net is very small up in the air,” Mario said. “Flying isn’t the hard part; landing in the net is.”

    Mario retired after an accident at the World’s Fair in New York in 1940, in which the net collapsed and he broke some ribs and a shoulder.

    “I healed pretty fast in those days,” Mario recalled. “I was like a cat, with nine lives. The eighth is gone. This is the ninth. After this one I’m gone.” How right he was.

    Mario was also famed as one of the world’s greatest rope twirlers. He could turn a back flip through a lasso. After his retirement he toured the country for many years with his own carnival. The gaucho act was a big draw.

    Constantly searching for new thrills for an easily-jaded audience, the Zacchini family developed the X-15 double canon in 1961. They rejoined the Ringling circus in 1966. In some years as many as five Zacchini cannonball acts were touring the states simultaneously. Edmondo Zacchini, one of Mario’s nephews, was the last human projectile in the family. His final flight was on Aug. 29, 1991.

    The Zacchini family has bade farewell to the human cannoneering, yet new acts keep coming. Today’s human cannonball is more likely to be propelled by a bungee cord than by a burst of compressed air. But thanks to the visionary Zacchinis the world can still watch a hapless sack of bones sail over a Ferris wheel.

  9. Nov 23, 2005 #8

    Ivan Seeking

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    Another answer to the title question is, head first.
  10. Nov 23, 2005 #9
    That's interesting. I'd have thought the spring board would be more reliable.
  11. Nov 23, 2005 #10
    I love this.:rofl: :rofl: :rofl:

    Wow. 140 feet into the air, I guess hitting the net to land would be the tough part.
  12. Nov 24, 2005 #11


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    There's certainly a lot of science that goes into getting the guy on target safely. One of the sites that I checked said that something like half of all human cannonballs have been killed on the job.
    Stats, I think that the spring approach just doesn't provide enough impetus to send someone the kind of distance that is needed to keep people entertained. I'm quite curious about how they can accomplish it with the bungee cord mentioned in the last paragraph of my quote.
  13. Nov 25, 2005 #12
    I actually saw a brief clip of a human cannonball with a bungee earlier today. It appears as though the person is still "shot" out of the cannon somehow but they have a bungee attached to their back which may be used to keep them aloft longer and probably most importantly to keep them from going splat on the ground in case of a miss fire or something.
    I had the picture in my mind originally of someone being pulled out or being on some sort of zip line. In the clip I saw he just had a line attached to his back that looked like it was probably part of a safety harness of some sort.
    Now here's a human cannon ball I'd like to see. No bungees for her.
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