Ready.. Set.. Zoom!
(c) Arthur L. Lortie, December 17, 2015
(a version originally was printed in 2008)
112 ears ago today, the adventurous Wright Brothers lifted off from the sands of a beach in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in a heavier-than-air aircraft, the first time such a feat had been accomplished. Though by no means the first time it was tried.

This was a pretty important moment in the history of Darwinism, as now a whole bunch of really stupid people now had a workable blueprint and wouldn't have to overcome their boredom by finding other lethal ways to amuse themselves and justify their low IQs, probably taking a few innocent bystanders along for their quick trip to the Pearly Gates.

I have filed away many stories of wanna-be aviators whose adventures could fill a book. But none beats the chutzpah of the patron saint of Flying Fools, an ancient Chinese prince named Wan Hoo.

Ready.. Set.. Zoom! is an appropriate title for his story because its also the name of a Road Runner cartoon and I'm pretty sure this guy is a direct inspiration for Wile E Coyote. He is definitely Exhibit A in the case for Darwinism.

Rockets had co-existed with man in China for centuries, usually with only planned mayhem as Page One hot topics. They are known, for instance, to have been used in defending the city of Kai-Feng Fu from attackers as far back as 1232 AD.

So far so good.

But our deep thinker Wan Hoo [sometimes translated as Wan Hu to protect the innocent], lived -- and died -- during the Ming dynasty. One bright sunny afternoon, perhaps spurred on by too many Mai Tais or seeking refuge from his nagging wives, thought he came up with a better mousetrap.

This was about 150 years before Isaac Newton got plunked by an apple, and wrote down the equations that might have helped Hoo's plan to succeed. No matter; Hoo had more than enough imagination to overcome his ignorance of math and physics!

So he opened his Acme Supply catalog [Hong Kong division], gazed longingly up at the moon, and meticulously calculated that exactly 47 skyrockets were needed for him to reach escape velocity and deposit him in the same zip code as the Arthur C Clarke monolith from the movie 2001. 46 would drop him into the Pacific and 48 would send him to Mars, apparently.

Excited, Hoo got to work! He built a sturdy wooden framework around his favorite comfortable chair, poured himself a cool one and confidently attached those 47 skyrockets to the back of the seat. Atop it he fastened two large kites to ease his reentry to earth's atmosphere.

He then strapped himself to the chair, raised his hand, shouted out a confident "One of these days, Aliki! Wham! Bam! To the moon!" and 47 underpaid servants with blazing torches ignited the skyrockets. A moment later there was a mighty blast, followed by an impressive cloud of black smoke.

Predictably, Wan Hoo vanished, leaving behind nothing but a legend. Rather than a lifetime supply of the San Francisco treat, Wan Hoo must now be content with having a crater named for him on the moon, in honor of being the first Chinese taikonaut. Just FYI, the crater is located at 9.8S latitude, 138.8W longitude, and has a diameter of 52.0 km. You know, just in case you want to toast his creativity later.

Personally, I hope that the legends are true, and this was, in fact, his final resting place. I would hate to think and he was simply Road Runner-ed to smithereens and all that creative thinking and rice wine went for naught.

To preserve his legacy, there's this ancient drawing currently in the possession of the United States Civil Air Patrol. Why the Civil Patrol, you might ask? Sorry, no clue!:

external image wanhoo.jpg

The upraised hand gesture has many meanings. But I prefer that rather than simply waving goodby, Wan Hoo had a brief moment of sanity and was madly waving "whoa!" but the 47 underpaid servants were too busy laughing to comply.

Hoo's feat has echoed through pop culture. But I always think of Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon, though he clearly wasn't a willing disciple of the Wan Hoo Tao.

As a counterexample, just so you don't think all aviation daredevils are stupid, Burt Rutan, one of my personal heroes, won the Antari X-Prize back in 2004. The X Prize was a $10 million cash purse awarded to the first team that successfully launched three people to an altitude of 62.5 miles, returns them safely to Earth and then repeats that feat with the same vehicle within two weeks. 24 teams from 7 nations fought for the big bucks using a wide variety of techniques. But all these "think outside the box" research teams were clearly kindred spirits to Wan Hoo, if only because they achieved their high ambitions by bravely strapping high explosives to their butts.

As for me, I'm still seeking safer roots to fame, fortune and immortality. And I have plans for a Man-Cave of Solitude, too -- just in case.