Monday, 19 June 2017

Victorian Liquid-Fuel Rocket Engine

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Note: this article would best be read in context, i.e. after having perused the letters and accounts of Ernest Glitch, Experimentalist, in the order they appear in The Chronicles

An account of the use of hypergolic propellants and deLaval nozzles in 1856.

Glitch Mansion, Weardale, England. 21st September 1856

Glitch awoke from his afternoon nap to an ear-splitting roar, then the sound of shouting and general confusion outside his window. Barking out for the maid, he hurried to the window just in time to spot Hodges disappearing out of the courtyard, trailing a cloud of yellow fumes.

At the instant of awakening, he'd known the commotion would be due to his assistant. Another secret experiment of his, gone wrong. Hodges was taking liberties. Just because Faraday had intervened on his behalf, and had persuaded Glitch to reinstate him - even though the man was scrotum-less due to the fluorine mishap, half blind with electrical effluvations and suffering hair loss because of the present pitchblende concentration efforts.

The maid arrived and Glitch demanded, "What the bloody hell is that idiot doing, Maud?"

Maud nervously responded, "Oy think 'odges 'ave been expery-menting, Marster."

Glitch flew into a rage, the only outward appearance of which was a slight draining of an already pallid face. Controlled, he slowly asked Maud the maid, "An experiment. Yes Maud. But what in creation with? And why the hell are you talking like a south country yokel again? You're from Newcastle for pity's sake!" Not waiting for a reply, he left his big-game lounge in search of Hodges.

Shattered by recent events around this unusual household, Maud busied herself, polishing the narwhal tusk candle sticks and dusting the orca head love seat.

At this moment Hodges was ecstatic. His flying pressure converter had flown! He ran from the mansion, across the pasture to where the smoking remains of his pressure converter had crashed. It wasn't too badly damaged, and Hodges felt that he was ready to ask Glitch for some money to build the mark 2.

The mark two. Hodges' dream. A flying ferret carrying fancy. Eddie would be carried aloft toward the stars. Eddie, completely unaware of his potential orbital status, was busy investigating his cage for anything remotely rabbit-like. He and Hodges had an uneasy relationship, ever since Eddie, during trouser exploration, had mistaken Hodges' fluorine scars for a badgers arse.

"What the devil do you think you're playing at Hodges?"

Hodges jumped from his contemplation of the melted platinum flame chamber nozzle at the sound of his Master's voice. "Master Glitch! It worked! It flew!" Hodges flourished a hand towards the mangled tubes and spheres that lay embedded in a cow pat, and which still belched brown nitrogen dioxide fumes.

Glitch took in the scene before him, his rage exponentiating into an almost visible twitch. Hodges stood, his ragged clothes stained and burned, a cage at his feet with some sort of animal ferreting around in it. The indicated object, which apparently had flown into a turd, appeared to have been made using Glitch's stock of platinum and iridium.

"Hodges, do you realise the years you'll have to display your crotch on the town moor to pay for this?" Glitch spluttered. His anger was being slowly replaced by curiosity about his rearranged precious metals, especially now the cow muck had started hissing in an alarming way. "Er.. Hodges? What in creation is this contraption? Is that aniline I smell Hodges?"

"Quick master! I think we should run, it looks like it's building pressure again!" Hodges grabbed Eddies cage and legged it.

Glitch was intrigued with what was happening in front of him. A loud pop from the apparatus startled him, and a brown smoke-ring rose above the pasture. The smell of aniline and oxides of nitrogen was almost overpowering. Glitch was about to step back, when Hodges' pressure converter sprang into life.

The crash had dented and bent the iridium tubes, and the previous flight had melted the platinum nozzle so that the whole assembly was unstable. The pressure converter leapt out from its excremental resting place with an ear-splitting roar. Glitch was engulfed in brown clouds of hot noxious gases. An explosion of cow shit covered Glitch from head to toe and prevented his being burned from the flames erupting from Hodges' creation.

It flew again, in a series of explosive fits and starts, zig-zagging crazily over the pasture. Glitch wiped his eyes free of dung, just in time to see it fly some fifty foot above the south pasture volcano. Incandescent diamond shaped flames danced behind it. It coughed, faltered, then with a huge detonation, exploded into precious fragments and a brown mushroom cloud.

Hodges and Eddie were aghast. Hodges with his Master's predicament and the loss of the mark 1, Eddie with indignation about the commotion and general lack of rabbity things.

The air cleared overhead, and Glitch's eyes stared out from his smelly covering, drilling Hodges with promise of hard labour in the pitchblende boiling shed. Glitch was, however, far too excited with what he had witnessed to keep up the appearance of rage. His mind was full of questions, and he calmed himself down by booting Hodges right in his display area.

"Hodges, do you have a drawing of that, er... thing which just exploded?" Glitch asked, looking down at his writhing assistant.

"Umph, y-yes Master Glitch, a drawing of, oohh..., the flying pressure converter, aarrgh... Maud knows where it is." Hodges rolled into the feotal position, trying to comfort his aching sack-less bollocks.

"Good Hodges. I'll get the horse doctor out. Find every scrap of platinum on the pasture when he's through. Some of that iridium isn't even ours, Hodges. George Gore lent me the metal. Not a man you want to cross, eh lad?" With that, Glitch strode off, cakes of cow dung falling from him and leaving a trail up to the mansion.

Hodges was left with a measure of unease by the mention of Gore. On Gore's last visit, Hodges had been the victim of a sustained series of practical jokes, all of which involved either nitrogen tri-iodide, charged leyden jars or prussic acid.

Glitch, after a steaming bath followed by a light tea of smoked salmon and a rich truffle sauce, questioned Maud about Hodges' drawings. A brief flurry of confusion and blushing from Maud suggested to Glitch that his assistant's drawing skills were not limited to the technical.

She returned with his drawings and calculations. Glitch pored over them for several hours. The calculations used the calculus of Newton, and Glitch was lost with these. They dealt, as far as he could fathom, with such arcanery as the angle of divergence of the exit nozzle. The diagrams were more to Glitches liking however. He understood Hodges' pressure converter on a practical level. When the dross of a velvet lined ferret acceleration couch was removed from consideration, Hodges could see the elegant simplicity of the pressure converter.

Two spherical platinum vessels. One containing fuming aqua- fortis, the other containing aniline. A third sphere contained a small charge of gunpowder which could be set off by a spark from an external leyden jar. Being interconnected and air-tight, the main vessels were pressurised by the gunpowder gases. Thin Iridium tubing led the liquids down, under pressure, to the flame chamber. The liquids mixed and a violent flaming reaction ensued. The pressure from the conflagration built up, and the hot gases were thrown out of the small platinum nozzle at high speed. The pressure converter then was accelerated upwards, to fly because of the laws of Newton.

Glitch was, as always, very uneasy about his assistant's intellect. Hodges was entirely self taught; even without the superb education Glitch had received, he consistently demonstrated a greater understanding of the sciences than Glitch. This superiority was of course never acknowledged by Glitch.

The same imbalance of intellect and social status had been apparent between Glitches father, Mad Judge Glitch (inventor of the steam power gibbet), and his assistant Hodges, who was Hodges pater. Upon analysis of the Glitch family history, the minds and practical skills of the Hodges line of assistants had always been essential to Glitch scientific and engineering excellence. Even Glitch's grandfather`s work on dephlogisticated air, in 1771, which was of such use to Priestly and Lavoisier, would not have been well received, had not he forced his Hodges to breathe, for several hours, the gaseous emanation from heated mercurius calcinatus per se.

Glitch pondered the flying pressure converter problem for some time, then called for Hodges.

"So Hodges, what have you got to say for yourself?" he demanded.

Hodges, the crotch of whose trousers sported a large wet patch of horse liniment, was still extremely enthused about the success of the mark one. "Master Glitch! You've seen my calculus? The pressure converter can be scaled up now, but of course using the same fifteen degree exit nozzle, don't you think?"

"Well, perhaps, Hodges"

"And now,.. now we could let Eddie fly in the mark two.... so fast that he could travel around the globe again and again, never falling to earth!" Hodges was breathless with pain and excitement.

"Eddie? Eddie? Who the hell is Eddie?"

Hodges shook a leg, trousers tied with string at the ankle bottom. Glitch was taken aback when something moved and shot up Hodges leg. Hodges screamed as Eddie gave the wet badger's arse a nip, before emerging from a trouser pocket.

Looking around Glitch's big game room, Eddie was transported to ferret heaven. He leapt out of Hodges pocket and attacked a motionless tasmanian tiger. Glitch was aghast as his prize kill was, within moments, reduced to bits of fur, stuffing and a couple of glass eyes rolling on the floor. The motionless fierce rabbit having been dispatched, Eddie was about to tear into a transfixed albino snow leopard, but Hodges collected him and thrust him deep down his trousers.

Rage once again filled Glitch. A slight pursing of his thin lips, seen through Hodges watering eyes, caused the assistant to step back, out of booting range from his master.

"Get rid of the polecat. Get Maud to clear away the remains of my antipodian trophy. You realise Hodges, I'll not be able to bag another? The blighters have died out! Experimentation with pressure conversion will cease. You will reduce a further hundred-weight of pitchblende forthwith. I don't expect to see you until I see more of the glowing barium salts.. Good-day Hodges." Glitch watched his assistant limp, dejected, from the big game lounge.

He reflected upon the days events. Hodges' pressure converter was obviously of some merit - perhaps even as a low flying grouse beater. The contraption, however, held none of the promise of his discovery of glowing barium. Glitch could see wonderful applications for the substance, not least of which was for theatrical make-up. Glitch filled his Persian hookah with Indian hemp, and procured a light using Hodges' calculations and diagrams from the fire. He lay back on his polar bear divan, pondering. When Maud the maid arrived, he would ask about Hodges' artistic talents, without a shadow of doubt.

Copyright © 2002 Roger Curry
All Rights Reserved

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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 

 A silicon crystal being grown by the Czochralski process 1956

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WARNING - Many subjects outlined within this site are extremely dangerous and are provided here for information only. Please don`t experiment with high voltages or chemicals unless you are fully conversant with safe laboratory practices. No liability will be accepted for death, injury or damage arising from experimentation using any information or materials supplied.