Tuesday, 27 June 2017

The First Flight

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Note: this article would best be read in context, i.e. after having read part-one

The First Flight - part two of 19th Century Jet-Powered Flying Machine in Weardale &
The Steam-Powered Rope-Engine; Mad Judge Glitch's Power-Gallows, an account of the first test of this capital punishment machine.

12th March 1857: South Pasture, Glitch Manor, Weardale, England.

Hodges stopped turning the Golden Trefoil's influence machine, and opened the ether taps on each of the eight jet pipes. Returning to the influence machine he gave it a few more turns, then climbed aboard. The leyden jars were charged. Ether was priming the jet pipes. Both men were seated into the weasel-skin luxury of the killer whale love seat. The craft was ready for take-off.

"When you are ready Master Glitch, the starting handle." Hodges breathlessly said.

Glitch looked at the confusion of handles and knobs in front of him, "I think you had better explain the function of the large red lever again Hodges."

"That be your tiller Master Glitch, it offers control to the resonant explosion pipes. You move it forward and more ether is fed into the pipe behind you. You move it to the left, and more ether is fed to the right. It be totally variable."

"And the stirrup for my right foot, Hodges?" Glitch asked, "That I believe controls the total amount of ether delivered to all the tubes?"

"That be so."

"And this little knob here starts the whole shoot, eh Hodges? Eh?" Glitch looked at Hodges, who nodded. Glitch moved the knob.

The charged leyden jars delivered their energy as eight hidden blue flashes within the jet tubes. The ether vapour ignited within each tube. A multiple explosion. Huge sheets of flame erupted from the pipes as excess ether was burned off. Then each of the tubes gulped air, got a shot of ether, and exploded again. And again. More civilised explosions now, each jet pipe settling into a resonance of explosion. The Golden Trefoil shook as its valve-less pulse jets idled. Glitch looked over at Hodges. His head was vibrating in an alarming manner. With reckless abandon, Glitch pushed down on the foot stirrup.

Blood began dripping from Glitch's ears. Weardale lead miners deep underground ran in panic. Every pane of glass in Glitch Mansion shattered. Hodges' guts spasmed. The Golden Trefoil thundered, its jet pipes glowed a dull red and it lurched into the air. The pain in Glitch's head, and the violent purging Hodges was suffering, prevented the men from appreciating the improbable stability the Golden Trefoil displayed.

In tandem to the control the (untouched) large red lever had over the jet pipes, Hodges had arranged control, via linkages, by a freely suspended uranium bob-weight. The Golden Trefoil lurched from side to side as it reached its maximum altitude, then the ether ran out.

Sudden loud silence.

The Golden Trefoil plummeted some four feet before crashing with a thump. Glitch was thrown to the ground. His head impacted earth. He lost consciousness, only to be thrown into a concussion induced dreamlike vision from the past. His long dead father stood in the courtyard of Glitch Mansion....

Mad Judge Glitch grew more and more excited as the pressure built up. He motioned to Hodges to hurry with tightening the shoulder straps onto the test cadaver. He had procured this latest test subject from Mr.Matthews, a Newcastle based body-snatcher with whom Hodges maintained contact.

The stiff had been a big man, over six foot and heavily muscled. Mr. Matthews had drained the body and refilled with a dilute formaldehyde solution. The pressure gauge showed 120 pounds to the square inch. The power-gallows was ready for its first test.

"An extra shovel of coal Hodges, just for luck!" Mad Judge Glitch ordered, "And get Ernest from his playroom, he should be here to witness his father's mastery of scientific execution. I'll show those bloody Frogs!"

Hodges sullenly shovelled coal into the boiler's furnace, then shambled across the courtyard and into Glitch Mansion. He had been in low spirits since The Judge had scoffed at his calculations concerning the power-gallows. Hodges knew that the imminent demonstration of neck-snapping would succeed, but possibly in a manner not suitable for a child to witness.

"Master Glitch!" he called out, "Where be thou?" There was no answer. The playroom appeared empty. Hodges looked about at Ernest's toys. Crossbows. A modified punt gun. An Austrian army air rifle by Giradoni of Vienna. Several stuffed extinct animals. A bronze half-pound cannon, they all nestled incongruously with the bottles and phials, retorts and burners which packed the benching, and lent an alchemical feel to the playroom.

"I'm here Hodges Senior!" Ernest shouted from behind a crudely constructed barricade. "Quick! Get behind here! It'll blow at any moment!"

Hodges asked the barricade, "What will blow, young Master Glitch?" As he asked, his eyes roved over the playroom and spotted the open window, with the bench under it cleared. A heap of dark brown powder on the bench appeared to be surrounded with dollops of red jam. Wasps buzzed excitedly through the open window. As the significance of this arrangement dawned upon Hodges, but before he could dive behind the barricade, an intrepid wasp landed on the brown powder. The moment of touch-down was the last for the wasp. As its first leg touched the heap, sufficient energy was transmitted to the nitrogen tri-iodide for it to detonate. An ear-splitting bang, with the evolution of copious clouds of purple vapour, sent Hodges reeling back from the benching. Ernest gleefully emerged from behind his barricade, "Got it Hodges Senior! Did you see that? Blown to smithereens!"

Hodges, badly shaken, wiped the splattered jam and wasp chitin from his face and said, "Very good Young Master Glitch. Your Pater requests your presence in the courtyard. He be ready with his infernal rope-engine."

They left Ernest's room and Hodges steered them well clear of his own quarters, for fear his own son would get embroiled in what he knew would be horrific. Young Glitch ran into the courtyard and was brought to an abrupt halt by the bizarre scene in front of him. A naked blue-grey man was immobile, strapped into a huge machine. A furnace heated a hissing boiler. A large cylinder with a huge piston rod. A rope collar attached to a lever. The lever actuated by the rod. A Power-Gallows.

"Ah-Hah! Ernest, just in time! Hodges! More coal! We need more pressure, the damn safety valve keeps leaking off a good head of steam. Eh? Hah!" Mad Judge Glitch was becoming very excited. "Eh? Woof! Hah!... Ernest?"

"Yes Pater?" young Glitch answered.

"Pull that lever young fellow me lad, and make history!" Glitch indicated the actuation valve, "Woof! Go on son, there'll be a big hiss and a snapping sound, that's all!"

Ernest looked around the courtyard. Hodges was cowering behind the boiler, shielding his eyes. His father's eyes were bulging with enthusiasm, and spittle drooled from his mouth. The blue man in the machine still hadn't moved a muscle, and his eyes were closed. Ernest Glitch, at a tender age, pulled the lever....

Glitch woke with a start. Hodges was shaking him. He looked round for any sign of rolling heads. The stench of ejected bodily waste was almost visibly emanating from his assistant. He could barely hear what Hodges was saying.

Glitch demanded, "Speak up man! What happened Hodges? How high did we fly?"

"Well Master Glitch," Hodges shouted, "I reckon if we remove that there love-seat and..."

Glitch interrupted, "How high Hodges?"

"Well Master, my estimation may be a little inaccurate, I had a projectile vomiting problem at lift-off and...." hesitating, Hodges saw the fury in Glitch, "Four feet."

"Another failure of yours Hodges. Good grief man, my ears are bleeding, I've got a lump the size of a pangolin egg on my forehead, I've relived a particularly disturbing episode of my childhood, I spend three hundred guineas on this noise machine and we attain an altitude of four feet?" Glitch stared at his assistant, willing him to make an excuse credible enough to prevent a thrashing.

"I'll get some hog-fat for your ears, Master Glitch."

Copyright © 2002 Roger Curry
All Rights Reserved

More on-line articles concerning Ernest Glitch can be found here

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"Hodges emitted a scream the like of which
I hadn't heard since his scrotum was burned off
during my experiment with fluorine gas last year."

The Exotic Experimentation of Ernest Glitch,
Victorian Science with a Smile

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Unrelated to this post, below is an example of
eclectic science esoterica 

Chemical flower reaction, by Maxim Bilovitskiy.
Sodium metal reacts with isopropanol in presence of universal indicator.

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