Saturday, December 31, 2022

Review: Doritos Dip Spicy Nacho

We've seen the Doritos brand name on well over 100 flavors of tortilla chips and even a handful of other crunchy snacks, but seeing the famous triangle logo on a can of dip is a new thing for us. ...

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by December 31, 2022 at 05:51PM

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Review: Hostess Bouncers Cinnamon Donettes

These snacks had the same format as the Ding Dongs and Twinkies, with three small, creme-filled, glazed, dome-shaped cakes per pack and five packs in the box. ...

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by December 25, 2022 at 07:40AM

Friday, December 23, 2022

Review: Old El Paso Fiesta Twists Zesty Ranch

This snack looked mostly like the Queso flavor from the same brand, with shortish, triple helix pieces, but in this case, the light beige surfaces had a light smattering of green bits too. ...

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by December 23, 2022 at 05:48AM

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Review: Old El Paso Fiesta Twists Queso

This corn-based snack had twisty shapes much like several churro-flavored snacks (indeed the back of the bag said that there is also a churro flavor, but we only just two non-churro flavors). ...

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by December 20, 2022 at 08:10AM

Saturday, December 17, 2022

The Most Disastrous Space Mission Ever

On July 20, 1969, American astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon and uttered the immortal words “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind,” bringing to a close the decade-long Space Race between the US and USSR. While the Americans beating the Soviets to the moon might seem inevitable in hindsight, this was not always the case. Indeed, the early days of the Space Race were marked by a seemingly endless string of spectacular Soviet achievements, including the first earth-orbiting satellite, the first animal in space, the first spacecraft to reach the moon, the first spacecraft to photograph the far side of the moon, the first man in space, the first woman in space, and the first “space walk.” Meanwhile, the American space program struggled to keep pace, resulting in a series of embarrassing, high-profile failures – and for more on that, please check out our previous video ‘Kaputnik’: America’s Largely Forgotten Disastrous First Attempt to Launch a Satellite. But this seemingly unstoppable Soviet success hid a dark reality. While NASA operated in the full light of public scrutiny, the Soviet space program was cloaked in military secrecy, concealing a deeply flawed system rife with corruption, incompetence, and government officials more than willing to place political and ideological goals above the safety of cosmonauts. And never did these fatal flaws become more apparent than on April 24, 1967 when cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov became the first person to die on a space mission. This is the story of the ill-fated flight of Soyuz 1.

Following the final mission of Project Mercury in May 1963, NASA announced it would be moving on to the more sophisticated 2-man Gemini and 3-man Apollo programs. In an attempt to one-up the Americans and score another propaganda victory, the Soviets hastily modified the Vostok spacecraft which had carried Yuri Gagarin and five other cosmonauts into orbit, deleting the ejection seat and other equipment to allow three cosmonauts to squeeze inside. The resulting spacecraft, named Voskhod, or “sunrise”, first flew on October 12, 1964 with cosmonauts Vladimir Komarov, Konstantin Feokistov, and Boris Yegorov aboard. This was the first spaceflight in history with a multi-person crew. Five months later, Voskhod 2 achieved another milestone when cosmonaut Alexei Leonov performed the world’s first “space walk”, floating outside the spacecraft for a brief 12 minutes. Yet despite these accomplishments, both missions were plagued with problems. The crew of Voskhod 1 had to diet in order to fit into their spacecraft, and without ejection seats, spacesuits, or other safety equipment, had no way of surviving a major emergency. Meanwhile, Leonov’s space suit ballooned in the vacuum of space, nearly preventing him from fitting back through the airlock. The spacecraft also tumbled violently on reentry and landed 400 kilometres off-target in the Ural Mountains, forcing Leonov and crewmate Pavel Belayev to spend a long, cold night in the capsule surrounded by hungry wolves before being rescued. In light of these difficulties, Soviet designers decided they had pushed the Vostok capsule technology as far as it could go and switched their focus to a far more sophisticated spacecraft design called Soyuz, or “union.”

Soyuz was the Soviet answer to the American Apollo spacecraft. A significant improvement over the crude Vostok and Voskhod capsules, Soyuz featured engines, thrusters, and automated guidance systems that allowed it to change its orbit and altitude, rendezvous and dock with other spacecraft, and perform a variety of other sophisticated maneuvers. Launched atop the massive N-1 rocket – the Soviet equivalent of the American Saturn V – the Soyuz was designed carry two cosmonauts on a lunar orbit rendezvous mission broadly similar to that used by Apollo. However, as with most Russian hardware, the design philosophy of Soyuz – and indeed the Soviet Lunar Program as a whole – was considerably different from its American counterpart. As the N-1 rocket was less powerful and efficient than the Saturn V, the LK Lander – the Soviet equivalent of the Apollo Lunar Module – had to be significantly smaller, and could only carry a single cosmonaut to the lunar surface. And since the Soyuz and LK lacked an Apollo-style docking hatch, said cosmonaut was forced to transfer from one spacecraft to another by performing a brief spacewalk. But the Soyuz did have certain advantages over Apollo. While Apollo had only a single crew compartment, Soyuz had two: a bell-shaped descent module in which the crew launched and returned to earth, and a spherical orbital module for use in space, giving the crew significantly more leg room. Also, unlike Apollo, which was powered by hydrogen-oxygen fuel cells, Soyuz featured a pair of solar panels, giving it much greater endurance.

However, these enhanced capabilities came at the cost of greater complexity and a longer development cycle, and the Soviet space program soon entered something of a lull, with no manned missions being flown for a full two years. Meanwhile, the first three unmanned tests of Soyuz ended in disaster, with Soyuz 7K-OK No.1 blowing up shortly after launch and Kosmos 133 and 140 suffering catastrophic guidance system failures and tumbling violently to earth. These setbacks made it unlikely that a manned mission could be flown before 1968. At least, that would have been the case had it not been for that great bugbear of Soviet technological development: politics. In the two years since Voskhod 2, the Americans had flown no fewer than 10 Project Gemini missions, accomplishing many important firsts including the first American spacewalk, the first two-week-long space flight, the first controlled rendezvous of two spacecraft, and the first docking of two spacecraft. In the process NASA had mastered all the skills it needed for a trip to the moon and was ready to move forward with Project Apollo, the first flight of which was scheduled for later February 1967. The government of Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev and Premier Alexei Kosygin was thus anxious to launch a new manned mission and regain some of the momentum lost over the past two years. There were also other, more ideological factors. 1967 marked not only the 50th anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution but also the 97th anniversary of Vladimir Lenin’s birth. Furthermore, Brezhnev was scheduled to attend a summit of Soviet Bloc leaders in Karlovy Vary, Czechoslovakia in May of that year. A successful manned mission, it was argued, would not only commemorate the revolution and demonstrate what the Soviet system was capable of, but would also give Brezhnev something to boast about at the summit. Not content with a mere shakedown cruise, the Politburo instead planned a spectacular demonstration whereby two Soyuz spacecraft – one carrying a single cosmonaut and the other three – would be launched within a day of one another and dock in orbit. Two cosmonauts would then don spacesuits and spacewalk from one spacecraft to another. With this ambitious plan in hand, Defense Minister Dmitry Ustinov ordered Space Program chief Vasily Mishin to prepare the Soyuz for launch no later than May 1 – International Workers’ Day.

Mishin was horrified by the order. Not only had the spectacular failures of Kosmos 133 and 140 clearly demonstrated that the Soyuz design was nowhere ready for manned flight, but inspectors at the OKB-1 design bureau had uncovered no fewer than 203 potentially fatal flaws in the spacecraft. Nonetheless, under intense political pressure from Ustinov and the Politburo Mishin began preparing the prototype vehicles for flight and a crew was duly selected for the historic mission. Vladimir Komarov, veteran of Voskhod 1, would pilot Soyuz 1, while Alexsei Yeliseyev, Tevgeni Khrunov, and Valeri Bykovsky would crew Soyuz 2, with Yeliseyev and Khrunov being chosen to spacewalk over to Komarov’s ship. Komarov’s backup pilot would be none other than his close friend Yuri Gagarin, national hero and the first man in space. Like Mishin, Komarov and Gagarin were apprehensive about the safety of the new spacecraft. However, their concerns were met with great hostility from the Politburo, with Ustinov even threatening to strip Komorov of his military honours if he refused to fly the mission. In a desperate bid to save his friend from what he believed to be a suicide mission, Gagarin wrote a 10-page memo and gave it to his friend Venyamin Russayev in the KGB to pass up the chain of command. Unfortunately, the Soviet Union was a society that tended to punish the bearers of bad news, and everyone who came into contact with the memo was either demoted, fired, or reassigned – including Russayev himself, who was banned from ever associating with the Soviet space program. Meanwhile, Gagarin’s memo disappeared into the vast Soviet bureaucracy and never reached the higher authorities.

According to author Piers Bizony, shortly before the scheduled launch date Komarov met with Russayev, who asked him why he didn’t simply refuse the assignment. According to this account, Komarov burst into tears and explained:

“If I don’t make this flight, they’ll send the backup pilot instead. That’s Yura, and he’ll die instead of me. We’ve got to take care of him.”

In reality, it was highly unlikely that Gagarin would ever be called to fly, being too much of a national asset and propaganda symbol to risk on such a dangerous mission. There was thus nothing more either man could do; one way or another, Komarov would fly the mission.

On the morning of May 23, 1967, Komarov arrived at Launch Complex 1 at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and climbed aboard his spacecraft. According to a widely-circulated account by Russian journalist Yaroslav Golavanov, Yuri Gagarin made one last effort to save his friend, storming onto the launch pad and demanding to be put in a spacesuit. Whether Gagarin was attempting to replace Komarov on the flight or simply disrupt the launch process and force the mission to be scrubbed is unknown, but no corroborating accounts have ever been found and the whole incident is believed to be nothing more than an urban legend. Whatever the case, Soyuz 1 lifted off successfully at 3:35 AM Moscow time with Komarov aboard and soon attained its planned orbit.

Almost immediately, however, the mission ran into trouble as one of the spacecraft’s two solar panels failed to deploy. This not only starved onboard systems of vital electrical power, but the stuck panel blocked the vital solar and ion-flow sensors used by the guidance system to maintain the spacecraft’s orientation. This in turn caused the spacecraft to tumble, preventing the one good solar panel from being aimed at the sun and causing further power shortages.The lopsided panels also unbalanced the spacecraft, making it difficult for Komarov to control his attitude manually. Komorov tried desperately to correct these issues, even kicking on the wall of the spacecraft in an attempt to free the stuck panel, but these efforts proved fruitless. Komarov’s problems were made even worse by an unfortunate quirk of the Soviet space program. Whereas NASA was able to establish a global network of tracking stations based in friendly nations or on picket ships in the ocean, allowing continuous communication with orbiting spacecraft, Soviet stations could only be placed within the Soviet Union and certain regions of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, meaning that for nearly half of every orbit, Komarov was on his own.

For nearly 20 hours Komarov and the mission control team lead by Boris Chertok tried valiantly to correct the spacecraft’s problems and save the mission. However, the attitude control problems soon caused Komarov’s maneuvering thruster fuel and batteries to become depleted, and on the 13th orbit the decision was made to bring Komarov home. This in turn led to the cancellation of Soyuz 2, which was scheduled to launch early the next morning. With Soyuz 1 down to only its backup battery, Mission Control planned to bring Komarov down on his 17th, 18th, or 19th orbits, when it would be daytime over the Soviet Union. With the automatic attitude control systems still out of commission, Komorov would have to align the spacecraft manually for retrofire and maintain his attitude throughout the burn. However, as the burn would have to be performed on the night side of the planet, Komarov was unable to use the special vzor optical sight designed for precisely this purpose. Instead, a technique was developed whereby Komarov would sight the moon through the spacecraft’s periscope, echoing the dramatic manual reentry of American astronaut Gordo Cooper during the Mercury-Atlas 9 mission on May 15, 1963 – and for more on that, please check out our video  “I’ll Do it Myself”: The Greatest Feat of Piloting in Space on our sister channel Highlight History.

At 6:20 AM Moscow time on April 24, Komarov fired his engine to begin his reentry burn. However, Komarov was unable to maintain his attitude and the onboard computer shut off the engine prematurely. Komarov had not slowed down sufficiently to reenter the atmosphere, so another attempt was scheduled for his 19th orbit. With his backup battery running dangerously low, it would be his last chance to return home. While the computer again shut off the engine ahead of schedule, the burn was nonetheless successful and Komarov jettisoned the spacecraft’s instrument and orbital modules. Due to the asymmetry of the spacecraft and the imperfect burn the reentry was rougher than usual, the spacecraft spinning wildly and subjecting Komarov to intense G-forces. But the spacecraft held together, and as the atmosphere thickened and the capsule began to slow down it appeared as though Komarov might actually survive the harrowing mission. But when, at an altitude of 10 kilometres, the capsule deployed its drogue parachute, the main chute failed to deploy. Komarov immediately deployed his reserve chute, but this became tangled around the first drogue, preventing it, too, from deploying. In that moment, Vladimir Komarov’s fate was sealed. With nothing to slow it down, the capsule plunged to earth like a meteorite at a speed of 140 km/hr, slamming into the ground in Orenburg Oblast, south Russia, around 7AM. The tremendous impact flattened the 2-metre-tall spacecraft down to 70 centimetres and ignited the landing rockets designed to further slow Komarov’s fall, causing the spacecraft to explode into flames. A recovery team circling in a helicopter landed and rushed into action, attacking the inferno with fire extinguishers and shovelfuls of dirt. But it was already too late; by the time the crew extinguished the blaze and opened the crumpled hatch, all that remained of Vladimir Komarov was a charred lump 30 cm wide and 80 cm long, the only recognizable feature being a single heel bone. Bizarrely, an official autopsy report authoritatively listed the cause of death as severe injuries to the skull, spinal cord, and bones.

Despite a thorough investigation by the Soviet authorities, the cause of the fatal parachute failure has never been definitively established. Some sources state that the parachute design was changed at the last minute, such that they could no longer fit in the original containers. With no time to change the design before the launch deadline, the parachutes were instead packed into the undersized containers with wooden mallets, preventing them from deploying properly. Other sources ascribe the failure to faulty pressure sensors, while still others, including mission controller Boris Chertok, blame a glue-like thermal protective coating applied to the surface of the spacecraft. This coating was cured by placing the spacecraft in a large oven called an autoclave. When Soyuz 1 was treated, the covers for the parachute containers were not yet available, meaning that the coating could easily have seeped into the containers, gluing the parachutes in place. Test versions of the spacecraft were not subjected to the autoclave treatment, preventing the problem from being spotted earlier. If this theory is correct, then the same flaw would also have affected Soyuz 2, meaning that Komarov’s death inadvertently saved the lives of his three comrades.

Vladimir Komarov received a state funeral in Moscow’s Red Square on April 26, 1967, his charred remains lying in state before being interred in the Kremlin walls. It was the second fatal space accident that year after the Apollo 1 fire of January 27, prompting a group of American astronauts to send a message of sympathy to the Soviet National Academy of Sciences:

 We are very saddened by the loss of Col. Komarov. We feel comradeship for this test pilot because we have met several of his fellow cosmonauts and we know that we are all involved in a pioneering flight effort that is not without hazard. We particularly want to express our deep sense of sympathy to Mrs. Komarov, their children and his fellow cosmonauts.”

The secretive and mysterious nature of the Soviet space program has long provided fertile ground for speculation and conspiracy theories, and the tragic flight of Soyuz 1 is no exception. Over the years a number of myths have grown up around the ill-fated mission, including that Premier Kosygin and Komarovs wife called the doomed cosmonaut via video phone to tell him he was a hero, and that American listening stations in Turkey picked up radio transmissions of Komarov angrily cursing the Soviet government as he plummeted to his death. Both these claims are easily disproven, however, as Soyuz 1 did not have videophone equipment installed and mission transcripts reveal that Komarov was calm, collected, and professional until the very end, his actual last words being recorded as:

“I feel excellent, everything is in order. Thank you to everyone. The separation- ”

The tragedy of Soyuz 1 had a profound effect on the Soviet space program comparable to that of the Apollo 1 fire on NASA. The Soyuz spacecraft would not fly again until October 26, 1968, piloted by cosmonaut Georgi Beregovo, while the docking and crew transfer planned for Soyuz 1 and 2 would not be accomplished until the dual flights of Soyuz 4 and 5 on January 14, 1969. By this time, however, the Americans had pulled far ahead in the Space Race, with Apollo 8 successfully orbiting the moon and Apollo 9 successfully testing the Lunar Module in orbit. Meanwhile, all four test launches of the N-1 rocket ended in massive explosions, dashing any hopes of the Soviets reaching the moon. The successful July 20 landing of Apollo 11 was merely the final nail in the coffin.

Yet in spite of its early teething problems, the Soyuz spacecraft would go on to become the indispensable workhorse of the Soviet and later Russian space programs. With only 4 fatalities over 54 years and 150 crewed launches, it is the most successful and reliable manned spacecraft in history, and for a 9-year period between the last Space Shuttle launch in 2011 and the first crewed SpaceX Dragon spacecraft mission in 2020, the only means of getting astronauts to and from the International Space Station. With the basic design being continuously upgraded, the rugged Soyuz will likely continue to serve Russia and the world’s space transport needs for many decades to come. Thus, while the tragedy of Vladimir Komarov and Soyuz 1 serves as a tragic reminder of the failings of the Soviet system, it is also a perfect encapsulation of that great motto of space exploration: Per Ardua Ad Astra – “through adversity to the stars”.

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy our new popular podcast, The BrainFood Show (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Feed), as well as:

Expand for References

Krulwich, Robert, Cosmonaut Crashed to Earth ‘Crying in Rage,’ NPR, March 18, 2011,


Soyuz 1, Space Safety Magazine,


Newitz, Annalee, What Really Happened to Cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov, Who Died Crashing to Earth in 1967? Gizmodo, December 4, 2011,


Soyuz 1, Encyclopedia Astronautica,

The Hero of Soyuz 1, Between Myth and Reality, BBVA OpenMind, April 24, 2019,


Teitel, Amy, How Vladimir Komarov Died on Soyuz 1, The Vintage Space, October 21, 2020,


Soyuz 1 Flight Planning, Russian Space Web,



The post The Most Disastrous Space Mission Ever appeared first on Today I Found Out.

from Today I Found Out
by Gilles Messier - December 17, 2022 at 02:49PM
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Friday, December 16, 2022

The Real Q from James Bond and the Ingenious Inventions

The first James Bond novel, Casino Royale, appeared on bookstore shelves on April 13, 1953. Its author, Ian Fleming, had served in British Naval Intelligence during WWII, and based much of his famous super-spy’s world on his own personal experiences. For example, Bond himself was inspired by Fleming’s own personality and tastes as well as numerous wartime intelligence operatives including Canadian spymaster William Stephenson and Serbian triple agent Dusko Popov; while “M,” Bond’s boss and head of MI6, was based on Rear Admiral John Godfrey, Fleming’s superior in Naval Intelligence – as well as Sir Mansfield Smith-Cumming, the first director of the Secret Intelligence Service or SIS, who signed his name on official documents as “C.” But one character whose inspiration has never been firmly established is “Q”, Bond’s long-suffering purveyor of spy gadgets. Short for “Quartermaster,” a naval officer responsible for provisioning ships, the character as portrayed in the Bond films never appears in Fleming’s novels, though “Q Branch” and its inventions are referred to throughout. Nonetheless, two men are believed to be the inspiration for the fictional department, both of whom helped create some of the Second World War’s most offbeat and unusual clandestine equipment.

The first possible candidate is Christopher Clayton Hutton, known to his friends as “Clutty.” Born in 1893 in Birmingham, during the First World War, Hutton fought as an infantryman on the Western front before joining the Royal Flying Corps, completing his flight training in 1918 but serving barely a year before being demobilized. In the 1920s and 30s Hutton worked as a journalist and film publicist, but when war broke out again in 1939 he volunteered to re-join the RAF only to be rejected on account of his age. Not a man to give up easily, he began pestering various Government departments with telegrams urging them to make use of his talents in any way they deemed fit.

To Hutton’s surprise, he was soon approached by Colonel Norman Crockatt, head of the newly-formed organization MI9. During his interview Hutton revealed his lifelong obsession with illusionists and escapologists, revealing that in 1912 he had challenged the great Harry Houdini that he could not escape from a crate built by the workers from his uncle’s factory. Houdini simply bribed the workmen to build the crate with dummy nails, and easily won the bet. This was apparently enough to convince Crockatt of Hutton’s usefulness, for as he later stated:

“This officer is eccentric. He cannot be expected to comply with ordinary service discipline, but he is far too valuable for his services to be lost to this Department.”

Hutton was duly placed in charge of developing equipment to help Allied airmen shot down over occupied Europe evade capture. Though the RAF impressed upon every man that it was his duty to escape and re-join the war effort, this was easier said than done. With most of Western Europe under Nazi control, a downed airman’s only option was to make his way to a neutral country like Spain or Switzerland or make contact with local resistance networks who could hopefully spirit him back to England. This involved walking hundreds of kilometres across territory patrolled by German troops and the Gestapo, and risking betrayal by civilians and militia groups sympathetic to the Nazi regime.

In order to determine the bare minimum an airman needed to make a successful escape, Hutton met with MI9 technical officer Lieutenant Johnnie Evans, one of the few POWs to escape German captivity during the First World War. Evans revealed to Hutton that there were three things an escaping pilot needed: a map to find his way across the country, a compass, and – most importantly – food. Hunger, Evans explained, was an escapee’s worst enemy, as it made him take risks like as trying to steal or beg food from civilians, making him likelier to be captured. Hutton thus developed an emergency food pack housed in a small metal box like a cigarette case, which contained high-energy foods like chocolate powder and condensed milk, stimulant tablets, and a rubber water-bag. While better than nothing, pilots downed over the North Sea soon reported that the box was insufficiently waterproof and that seawater quickly leaked inside and ruined the food. Hutton thus designed a new ration pack in the form of a cylindrical clear-plastic bottle with a wide mouth and waterproof cap.

To provide pilots with a robust and easily-concealable map, Hutton hit upon the idea printing the image onto silk handkerchiefs, which required the development of special printing techniques to prevent the ink from smudging. Hutton also printed escape maps on Japanese mulberry paper, which could be soaked in water, rolled into a small, easily concealable ball, then unfolded and spread smooth without wrinkling. More ingenious still was a map printed on a set of playing cards, which had to be soaked in water, peeled apart, and taped together to reveal the whole design.

Completing Evans’ trio of essentials was a miniature compass hidden inside an airman’s tunic button. In a testament to Hutton’s attention to detail, the button compasses were manufactured with a left-hand thread, such that if a German tried to unscrew it the regular way, it would not open. Hutton also produced a variety of regular-looking objects which could be used as compasses, including magnetized pencil clips which could be balanced on a pencil-point, magnetized razor blades which could be floated on water or suspended from a string, and fountain pens with magnetized nibs and filling levers.

Such was Hutton’s genius that many of his creations solved problems few of his colleagues had ever considered. For example, while the heavy fleece-lined boots worn by airmen protected them from the freezing temperatures at high altitudes, on the ground they quickly became a liability, becoming hot and sweaty, inflicting blisters, and making the airman extremely conspicuous to passers-by. Hutton thus designed “escape boots” in which the upper and lower portions were connected by a thin strip of webbing. Using a folding knife stored in a special pocket, an airman could cut away the upper portion of the boot, leaving a pair of more comfortable and ordinary-looking civilian shoes. Another footwear-related innovation was the Gigli saw, a wire-like device used by surgeons for delicate bone-cutting operations. Hutton covered the saw in felt to disguise it as an ordinary shoelace, thus providing downed airmen with a handy means of cutting through bars, fences, and other obstacles.

Hutton’s department also produced equipment designed to be smuggled into Prisoner-of-War camps via care packages, sent by various fictitious charitable organizations set up by MI9. This included maps, foreign currency, and identity documents pressed into phonograph records and even Monopoly boards, specially prepared by the game’s British license-holder. But especially vital to a successful escape was convincing-looking civilian clothing or military uniforms, and in providing these Hutton came up with some of his most ingenious ideas. One provision of the Geneva Convention entitled prisoners to receive new uniforms as they became available, so Hutton created a new, fictitious pattern designed to resemble German uniforms as closely as possible. To allow the prisoners to recreate the distinctive gold and silver braid particular to German uniforms, the packages were wrapped in fine metal wire. Upon learning that POWs had become skilled at creating their own false Iron Crosses, Hutton began sending packages wrapped in the same red, white and red-striped ribbons used with the actual medals. Hutton even created blankets bearing sewing patterns for coats, trousers, and other items of clothing, printed in a special invisible ink that was only revealed once the blankets were washed. These could then be turned into suitable escape clothing by the camp tailor. And in a final stroke of genius, Hutton invented a fountain pen with a secret compartment containing ink packs which could be used to dye the cloth various colours.

Hutton’s escape devices were highly valued by Allied airmen, many of whom admitted they would not have gotten far without them. By the end of the war 35,000 Allied personnel managed to evade capture or break out from POW camps, with around 1,500 succeeding in making the “home run” back to England. But the efforts of the rest were not in vain, for guarding and hunting down escaping prisoners tied up massive amounts of German manpower and resources more urgently needed elsewhere, helping to hasten the end of the war.

As for Clutty Hutton, however, his creations would bring him nothing but trouble. After the war, Hutton attempted to recount his wartime exploits in a memoir titled “A Journey Has Been Arranged.” But while he was careful to include only those facts which had already been revealed in other public sources and would be of no strategic value in the Cold War, the British Government nonetheless blocked the book’s publication on the grounds that it violated the Official Secrets Act. What followed was a nearly decade-long legal struggle in which Hutton was subjected to a number of indignities, including the unauthorized publication of his book in heavily-redacted form under a different author. Adding insult to injury, the publisher redacted Hutton’s name in the text and added copious statements disparaging his work and judgement throughout the war. But Hutton prevailed in the end, and his memoir, now titled Official Secret, was finally published in 1960.

But while Hutton certainly fits the profile of James Bond’s “Q,” an even better match is Charles Fraser-Smith, who at one point even worked with Ian Fleming. Born in 1904 in Hertfordshire, Fraser-Smith worked a variety of odd jobs throughout his early adulthood, eventually ending up as a Christian missionary in Morocco. An inveterate tinkerer, in 1939 he gave a sermon at a church in Leeds about the art and virtues of  scrounging, which happened to be attended by two officials from the Ministry of Supply. Soon after, Fraser-Smith was approached and offered a job in the Ministry’s Clothing and Textiles Department.

This was, of course, a cover story, with Fraser-Smith’s real job being to design equipment for the Special Operations Executive, or SOE. Created soon after the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk, SOE’s mission was, in the words of Winston Churchill, to “set Europe ablaze” and take the fight to the Germans by carrying out espionage, sabotage, and subversion operations behind enemy lines. Among Fraser-Smith’s first assignments was to create forged Spanish Army uniforms for an SOE plan to infiltrate Spain and prevent the then-neutral country from entering the war on the Axis side. Demonstrating his talent for logistics, Fraser-Smith managed to contract some 300 firms around the country to produce the uniforms without any of them discovering just what they were producing or why. In the end, however, the planned operation was never carried out.

Fraser-Smith’s penchant for gadgetry soon led him to develop a variety of exotic devices for both SOE agents and downed Allied airmen. Independently of Clutty Hutton he invented the reverse-threaded button compass and the Gigli saw disguised as a shoelace, as well as a variety of ordinary objects such as pens, flasks, shaving-brushes, and pipes with hidden compartments for concealing camera film, secret messages, and escape maps. Even more James Bond-esque were a pen that fired a tear-gas cartridge and a miniature camera hidden in a cigarette lighter. Further making the case that he was the true inspiration for Q, Fraser-Smith called his creations “Q devices,” after the “Q” ships of WWI – civilian vessels with hidden guns used to ambush German U-boats.

At one point in 1943, Fraser-Smith was instructed to construct an aluminium canister large enough to contain a human body and a load of dry ice with which to keep it preserves. After the war this was revealed to be part of Operation Mincemeat, a plot to dump a body carrying secret documents off the coast of Spain to fool the Germans into thinking the Allies would invade Greece instead of Sicily. And for more on this, please see our video The Bizarre World War II Plan to Score a Major Victory for the Allies. 

Closely fitting the mould of Q branch itself was Station IX in The Frythe, Hertfordshire, which produced various pieces of exotic weaponry and equipment for SOE. Station IX was also known as the Welwyn Experimental Laboratory, and thus many of its creations bore a “wel-” prefix. This included the Welrod, a 9mm silenced pistol; the Welman, a one-man submarine for attacking ships in harbour; the Welfreighter, another miniature submarine for sneaking agents and equipment into enemy territory; the Welbike, a folding motorcycle designed to be dropped by parachute; and the Welpen, Welpipe, and Welfag, single-shot .22-calibre pistols concealed in a pen, smoking-pipe, and cigarette, respectively. The station also produced a variety of other clandestine weapons such as the “footshooter” – which as the name suggests was a booby trap that shot its victim in the foot when stepped on –  as well as a dizzying assortment of explosives, fuzes, and detonators for blowing up ships, railroad tracks, electrical substations, and nearly everything else under the sun. A more subtle sabotage weapon was “Caccolube,” a small rubber bag filled with abrasive carbide powder designed to be slipped into a vehicle’s oil tank. When the oil got hot enough the bag would dissolve, causing the engine to seize within 20 minutes. Slightly more overt was the “Firefly”, a small explosive charge designed to be dropped into the fuel tank; after a certain amount of time immersion in gasoline would cause a pair of rubber washers to swell, triggering the detonator and blowing up the vehicle.

However, for various reasons including supply chain issues, the changing strategic situation on the ground, and fear of German reprisals against civilians, the vast majority of these exotic gadgets never reached the field, with most sabotage operations being carried out using regular weapons and explosives. But the legacy of Station IX and the real ‘Q’s of SOE and MI9 lives on in the iconic spy gadgets of the James Bond movies and the many classic scenes of an exasperated Desmond Llewelyn exclaiming “oh, grow up, 007!”

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy our new popular podcast, The BrainFood Show (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Feed), as well as:

Bonus Facts:

On several occasions in the James Bond films, Q is referred to by his real name, Major Boothroyd. This, too, is based on a real person: Geoffrey Boothroyd, a British firearms expert who in May 1956 sent Ian Fleming a letter criticizing his super-spy’s choice of weaponry:

I have, by now, got rather fond of Mr. James Bond. I like most of the things about him, with the exception of his rather deplorable taste in firearms. In particular, I dislike a man who comes into contact with all sorts of formidable people using a .25 Beretta. This sort of gun is really a lady’s gun, and not a really nice lady at that. If Mr. Bond has to use a light gun he would be better off with a .22 rim fire; the lead billet would cause more shocking effect than the jacketed type of the .25.

 May I suggest that Mr. Bond be armed with a revolver?

 While enthusiastic about Boothroyd’s suggestions, Fleming preferred automatic pistols, so the two settled on a compromise: the .32 calibre Walther PPK, a gun which has become synonymous with James Bond. In recognition of this contribution, in his 1958 novel Dr. No, Fleming named the armorer who presents Bond with his new pistol after Boothroyd. While this was not intended to be the “Q” of Q branch, the two were merged for the film series, with the character being played by Peter Burton in the 1962 adaptation of Dr. No and by Desmond Llewelyn in 17 of the 18 official James Bond films produced between 1963 and 1999.

Expand for References

Dear, Ian, Escape and Evasion: POW Breakouts in World War II, Rigel Publications, 1997

Dear, Ian, Sabotage and Subversion: The SOE and OSS at War, Cassell Military Paperbacks, 1996

Charles Fraser-Smith, Croxley Green History Project,


Charles Fraser-Smith, The Legend of Q,


The Secret War of Charles Fraser-Smith, Tangmere Military Aviation Museum,


May I Suggest that Mr. Bond be Armed with a Revolver? Letters of Note, June 1, 2011,

The post The Real Q from James Bond and the Ingenious Inventions appeared first on Today I Found Out.

from Today I Found Out
by Gilles Messier - December 16, 2022 at 09:12AM
Article provided by the producers of one of our Favorite YouTube Channels!

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Pulling Teeth and Cutting Colons: the Weird Early 20th Century Obsession With Surgically Removing Perfectly Healthy Body Parts

In today’s world of high-tech medicine, it is easy to take for granted the ease, regularity, and relative safety with which modern surgery is performed. For most of human history surgery was a bloody, painful, and dangerous affair. Without the benefit of antiseptic techniques or anaesthesia, surgeons had to work fast, racing against the clock to amputate a limb or excise a tumour before their patient bled out on the operating table. And even if a patient survived the procedure this was no guarantee of success, with the vast majority succumbing within days to infection or other postoperative complications. But with advances in medical science surgery became progressively safer and more effective, and today procedures that would have seemed unthinkable just a few decades before – like heart transplants and major brain surgeries – are performed by the thousands every year. But as with most scientific advances, this revolution in surgery came with its fair share of quackery and abuses, and in the early 20th Century the medical profession was swept by a bizarre and disturbing fad as surgeons, drunk on their newfound operating abilities, began relieving patients of all manner of perfectly healthy organs – from teeth to tonsils to their entire colons – in a fanatical quest to rid humanity of disease once and for all.

This fad for preventatively excising healthy organs had its origins in one of humanity’s oldest medical obsessions: constipation. In 1914, Russian biologist Ilya Metchnikoff, winner of the 1908 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his pioneering work in immunology, developed a theory of chronic disease which he dubbed “auto-intoxication.” According to Metchnikoff, the colon – the 4.5-foot length of large intestine connecting the small intestine to the rectum – was little more than a festering cesspool where bodily wastes accumulated, stagnated, and putrefied. Based on the observation that injecting faeces into rats and mice inevitably resulted in death, Metchnikoff concluded that the same process was taking place in the colon, and that the longer waste stagnated and putrefied in the gut, the more toxins leached through the intestinal wall into the body. Metchnikoff attributed a whole host of chronic ailments to these toxins, including ulcers, bladder cancer, hypertension, rheumatoid arthritis, and even psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and depression. He further theorized that old waste adhered to the intestinal wall and hardened, preventing the absorption of vital nutrients. In short, almost every disease under the sun could in some way be linked to chronic constipation.

While Metchnikoff was among the first to frame this theory in modern scientific terms, the idea that waste piling up in the intestines is the root of chronic disease is actually a very old one, first appearing in the Sushruta Samhita, an ancient Sanskrit medical text written around 1000 B.C.E. In addition to listing the various afflictions allegedly caused by chronic constipation, the text also prescribes a variety of purgatives and cleansing enemas for treating the underlying condition. The use of purgatives and enemas to treat disease gained further popularity in ancient Greece with the development of the Four Humours theory of medicine, which held that the human body was governed by four fundamental fluids or “humours”: blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile. An imbalance of these humours was thought to be at the root of all diseases, which could be cured by restoring said balance. For example, an excess of blood could be relieved by bloodletting – and for more on this, please check out our previous video What’s Up With the Increasingly Popular Practice of Modern Medical Leeches? Constipation was thought to cause a buildup of Black Bile, leading to melancholy or depression, and once again the prescribed treatments were mainly oral purgatives and enemas, also known as clysters after an ancient Greek word meaning “to wash out.”

Clysters remained a popular cure-all for nearly two millennia, reaching the peak of popularity during the reign of the French “Sun King” Louis XIV. To the fashionable 17th Century French nobleman, keeping a clean colon was as vital to a healthy lifestyle as regular exercise, good diet, and vitamin supplements are to us today. Enemas – up to four a day – were administered by specialized doctors known as limonadiers des postérieurs [“Lee-moh-nahd-ee-ay Deh Pohst-ee-ree-uhr”]  – literally “backside lemonade applicators” – either at home or in special facilities known as restaurants, from the French meaning “to restore” or “to rejuvenate.” Only later did this term come to refer to establishments which serve food. Depending on the size of his pocketbook, the discerning nobleman could choose from a bewildering variety of enema options, from nozzles made of tortoiseshell, mother of pearl, and even gold, to cleansing mixtures containing ingredients such as orange blossom, angelica, thyme, rosemary, bergamot, and damask rose – each of which was claimed to have its own specific therapeutic properties. Certain popular concoctions even contained coffee and tobacco, producing an immediate rejuvenating rush and, in certain cases, long term addiction. At first tobacco was infused and administered in liquid form, but the development of the rectal smoking pipe allowed tobacco smoke to be blown directly into the rectum. Tobacco enemas were later developed into a method for resuscitating drowning victims, and in 18th Century special kits were installed along the river Thames for this purpose – and for more on this, please check out our previous video When Doctors Literally Blew Smoke Up Your Arse.

 So indispensable were enemas to 17th Century French society that not even criminals in prisons were denied their daily cleansing. And when it came to maintaining the health of the King, there was no such thing as too many enemas. When the Sun King’s father, Louis XIII, fell gravely ill in 1643, over the course of six months his doctors administered no less than 47 bloodlettings, 215 oral purgatives, and 312 enemas – 2 per day except on holidays. Louis XIV was equally indulgent, subjecting himself to 38 bloodlettings, hundreds of enemas, and thousands or oral purgatives in order to sustain his legendary gluttony. This mania for enemas attracted the mockery of contemporary commentators such as English writer Jonathan Swift and French playwright Molière, who parodied the practice in his 1673 production Le Malade Imaginaire [Luh Mah-lad Ee-majh-ee-nay-r”] or The Hypochondriac. Ironically, Molière suffered a brain haemorrhage while playing the lead role onstage, and found himself at the mercy of the very doctors he had so thoroughly skewered. Unsurprisingly their swift intervention with bleedings, purgatives, and enemas proved ineffective, and the great playwright died later that day.

While the mania for enemas never again reached the absurd heights of the 17th Century, the medical obsession with constipation never really went away, with laxatives and purgatives remaining the best-selling pharmaceuticals for over 300 years. And while the Four Humours eventually gave way to more modern medical paradigms like Germ Theory, ironically this did little to quell anxieties about bowel regularity and auto-intoxication. Following the publication of Charles Darwin’s seminal 1859 work On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, anatomists began to realize that the human body was not in fact a perfect creation made in God’s image but a messy and imperfect machine containing all manner of vestigial features left over from its evolutionary past, from the tailbone and appendix to the uvula and tonsils. In these seemingly leftover and useless organs doctors began to see the roots of all human disease, and no single organ attracted more scrutiny and scorn than that old enemy: the colon. Thanks to theorists like Ilya Metchnikoff and health guru John Harvey Kellogg – yes, the inventor of Corn Flakes – the colon came to be seen as a venomous snake coiled up in the abdomen of every person, slowly poisoning them and robbing them of a long, healthy life. But while surgeons may long have dreamed of excising the troublesome organ altogether, it was not until the development of antiseptic techniques and anaesthesia in the late 19th Century that such a procedure became a viable reality. And when it did, surgeons jumped upon it with fanatical zeal, and none more so than Dr. William Arbuthnot Lane.

The celebrated chief of surgery at Guy’s Hospital in London, Lane was a surgical powerhouse, pioneering techniques for setting of fractures with metal plates and screws, repairing harelips and cleft palates, clearing intestinal obstructions, and reducing postoperative infection through the use of specially-designed sterile instruments. Such were his eccentricities and prodigious powers of deduction that he is believed to be one of the real-life inspirations for the character of Sherlock Holmes. In the early 20th Century, Lane directed his considerable talents and energies towards a new enemy: the dreaded colon. At first the good doctor recommended his patients consume large quantities of heavy cream and liquid paraffin to purge their colons of harmful, putrefying bacteria, but for Lane this was merely a stop-gap measure. He soon developed the procedure that would make him infamous: the radical colectomy, in which the entire colon is excised and the end of the small intestine attached directly to the rectum. In this manner, Lane claimed, waste would be expelled as soon as its nutrients were absorbed, giving it no time to build up in the colon and putrefy. The radical colectomy caused a sensation, with patients flocking in their hundreds to Lane’s surgery to undergo the new cutting-edge procedure. From the 1910s to the 1930s thousands of Britons and Americans had their perfectly healthy colons snipped out as a preventative measure, with Lane himself performing over a thousand such procedures over the course of his career. The mania for colectomies reached such heights that the procedure was regularly prescribed for ailments as minor as a sore throat or stomach ulcer. On one occasion a young boy scheduled for a tonsillectomy was accidentally wheeled into Lane’s surgery and emerged without his colon but with his tonsils intact. The colectomy craze was parodied in George Bernard Shaw’s 1906 play The Doctor’s Dilemma, in which the character of Dr. Cutler Walpole – clearly modelled on Lane – exhorts the medical wisdom of the day: 

“Ninety-five per cent of the human race suffer from chronic blood poisoning and die of it. It’s as simple as ABC. Your unciform sac is full of decaying matter – undigested food and waste products – rank ptomaines. Now you take my advice, Ridgeon. Let me cut it out for you. You’ll be another man afterwards.”

 But despite the medical miracles promised by the radical colectomy – such as delaying the onset of aging and warding off depression – the actual results of Lane’s procedure were predictably disappointing. Few colectomy patients experienced the promised benefits of the procedure, and while Lane was a far better surgeon than most, up to 30% of his patients later died of infections and other postoperative complications. Gradually medical opinion began to turn against the radical colectomy, though the procedure continued to be regularly performed as late as the 1930s. Lane would later abandon his faith in surgical intervention and instead found a movement known as New Health, which promoted more practical, holistic lifestyle choices such as fresh air; whole foods, fruits, and vegetables; exercise; and vitamin supplements as a path to good health and longevity. But Lane was hardly alone in his advocacy of surgical intervention, and even his considerable zeal was far surpassed by one of his contemporaries, Dr. Henry Andrews Cotton.

In 1907, Cotton became the superintendent of the New Jersey State Lunatic Asylum in Trenton, New Jersey, and immediately imposed a series of progressive reforms including eliminating physical restraints, hiring social workers, and organizing daily staff meetings to coordinate patient care. However, around 1915 Cotton learned of a new theory proposed by Johns Hopkins psychiatrist Dr. Adolf Meyer, which held that all mental illness was caused by latent bacterial infections. Like putrefying food in the colon, Meyer argued, these hidden infections produced toxins that slowly poisoned the mind. This idea, which Meyer called the Theory of Focal Infection, was based on two key pieces of evidence: first, the observation that those with severe bacterial infections often became delirious; and second, the discovery in 1913 that Treponema pallidum, the bacterium that causes Syphilis, was also responsible for a form of dementia known as the General Paresis of the Insane – and for more on this, please see our previous video That Time a Dude Was Given a Nobel Prize for Intentionally Infecting People with Malaria.  

To Dr. Cotton, the upshot of Meyer’s theory was simple: eliminate all sites of infection, and mental illness could be cured. He thus set about removing any of his patient’s body parts which could potentially harbour harmful bacteria, starting with all their teeth. So enthusiastic was Cotton that he even removed his own children’s teeth as a precaution as well as his own when he believed himself to be going insane. When pulling teeth did not achieve the desired results, Cotton moved on to other organs, gleefully excising his patients’ testicles, ovaries, spleens, stomachs, gall bladders, cervixes, and, of course, colons. Cotton reported a phenomenal success rate of 85%, winning him widespread acclaim among his fellow psychiatrists.

While horrifically misguided and reckless by today’s standards, Dr. Cotton’s methods were actually remarkably progressive for their day. The psychoanalytic ideas of Sigmund Freud had not yet caught on with the mainstream psychiatric community, and the eugenics-based theories of the time held that mental illness was the result of inferior genes, and could only be eliminated from society by sterilizing the mentally ill. Meyer and Cotton’s theories, by contrast, framed mental illness as a physical affliction like any other, curable via physical intervention. Cotton’s methods proved especially attractive among the upper classes, who flocked to New Jersey to experience his miracle cure. Among his highest-profile clients was Margaret Fisher, daughter of famed Yale economist Irving Fisher, who in 1919 was diagnosed with schizophrenia and transferred to Trenton to undergo treatment. Cotton attributed her condition to – what else? – chronic constipation, and proceeded to remove her colon. Tragically, Fisher suffered a fate which befell up to 45% of Cotton’s patients, succumbing to a massive streptococcus infection. Yet despite these high mortality rates Cotton’s crusade carried on for unimpeded for decades, the medical community making only a minimal effort to investigate the validity his claims. Indeed, following a 1925 investigation into Trenton State Hospital by the New Jersey State Senate, the New York Times reported that:

“…eminent physicians and surgeons testified that the New Jersey State Hospital for the Insane was the most progressive institution in the world for the care of the insane, and that the newer method of treating the insane by the removal of focal infection placed the institution in a unique position with respect to hospitals for the mentally ill.”

However, that same year Cotton left Trenton State and established his own private clinic, which was less subject to government oversight and regulation. There he carried on performing his radical surgeries for wealthy clients until his retirement in 1930. By this time, advances in medical technology had begun to undermine the assumptions which had underpinned the radical methods of William Lane, Henry Cotton, and others. X-rays dispelled the notion that wastes stagnate and putrefy in the colon for days on end, while blood tests revealed that even the most chronic constipation produces no significant rise in toxins in the bloodstream. Indeed, doctors began to realize that humanity’s hysterical obsession with constipation, regularity, and intestinal cleanliness was grossly misinformed and overblown, with British gastroenterologist Sir Arthur Hurst stating in 1935 that:

“Constipation should be defined as any condition that causes the patient to complain that  his bowels are not moving often enough. One man’s constipation is another man’s diarrhea…. [People have become] a vast army of hypochondriacs, who are never happy unless their stools conform to an ideal which they have invented for themselves.”

 Furthermore, doctors discovered that far from being a useless, vestigial organ, the colon in fact plays a vital role in reabsorbing water and minerals from solid wastes and contains beneficial bacteria that promote good digestion and produce Vitamin K, essential for blood clotting. Yet despite these revelations this oldest of obsessions has really never gone away, and to this day countless fad diets, alternative medicine gurus, and high-fibre breakfast cereals continue to extol the dubious virtues of regularity and flushing the colon of harmful “toxins.”

Nor, until recently, did we fully abandon our obsession with removing perfectly healthy body parts. For nearly a century, few British or American children made it through grade school with their tonsils intact – regardless of whether said organs were diseased in the first place. A 1934 study of 1,000 New York schoolchildren found that 61% had received tonsillectomies, and that doctors had recommended surgery for all but 65 of the remaining 390 children. Tonsillectomy soon became the third most commonly-performed surgery in the English-speaking world, being performed on 80,000 British schoolchildren every year. This crusade against tonsils was initially inspired by the same focal infection theory which had driven the radical surgeries of Dr. Henry Cotton, with the tonsils being seen by leading surgeons like Dr. George Waugh as particularly pernicious sites of chronic infection. However, the practice persisted long after the abandonment of such theories and the development of antibiotics, and came to be seen –  along with vaccination against measles and polio – as merely another necessary preventative measure against childhood disease. It was not until 1978 that the National Institutes of Health examined the statistical evidence and concluded that not only was tonsillectomy far less effective at preventing throat infections than previously believed, but that the risk of postoperative complications far outweighed any perceived benefits of the surgery. Mass preventative tonsillectomy of schoolchildren was soon abandoned, and today the surgery is only performed in cases of chronic and persistent tonsil infection.  It just goes to show that while medical science eventually advances and learns from its mistakes, sometimes much of what we think we know about the human body is, like our colons, completely full of shit.

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy our new popular podcast, The BrainFood Show (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Feed), as well as:

Expand for References

Panati, Charles, Panati’s Extraordinary Endings of Practically Everything and Everybody, Harper and Row Publishers, NY, 1989


Barrett, Stephen, Gastrointestinal Quackery: Colonics, Laxatives, and More, Quackwatch, August 4, 2010,


Khazan, Olga, Pulling Teeth to Treat Mental Illness, The Atlantic, October 22, 2014,


Wessley, Simon, Surgery for the Treatment of Psychiatric Illness: the Need to Test Untested Theories, Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, October 1, 2009,


Scull, Andrew, Desperate Remedies: Embrace of a Deadly Cure, Princeton University, May 11, 2005,


Sir William Srbuthnot Lane (1856-1943), Historic Hospital Admissions Records Project,


Dwyer-Hemmings, Louis, ’A Wicked Operation’? Tonsillectomy in Twentieth-century Britain, Journal of Medical History, April 2018,

The post Pulling Teeth and Cutting Colons: the Weird Early 20th Century Obsession With Surgically Removing Perfectly Healthy Body Parts appeared first on Today I Found Out.

from Today I Found Out
by Gilles Messier - December 15, 2022 at 08:47AM
Article provided by the producers of one of our Favorite YouTube Channels!

Review: Jumbo Rosca

This donut-shaped snack had lots of bumps on its chocolate-covered surfaces, with a high level of crunch upon biting in. ...

from Snack Reviews
by December 15, 2022 at 07:45AM

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

The Insane Story of the Kamikaze Porn Star and the Scandal that Rocked Japan

On the morning of March 23, 1976, the peace of Tokyo’s Satagawa neighbourhood was shattered as a small aircraft came screaming out of the sky and slammed into the side of a large two-story house. The plane burst into a giant fireball on impact, setting the house ablaze and injuring two of its occupants, though miraculously no-one but the pilot was killed. But as firefighters and police arrived on the scene, it soon became clear that this was not some tragic accident but rather a deliberate attempt at assassination – kamikaze style. The intended victim? Japan’s most notorious crime boss. The assassin? A troubled porn actor obsessed with the bushido samurai code. And the motive? One of the greatest political scandals in Japanese history.

To understand the events that led to the March 23 attack, it is important to understand the political and social climate of Japan in the 1970s. For many Japanese people, Japan’s unconditional surrender to the United States on September 2, 1945 was a national disgrace. In the immediate post-war years, Japan effectively became an Allied puppet state, with American general Douglas MacArthur as the new Emperor in all but name. During this period, the Allies disarmed the Japanese military forces, banned the nationalist religion of State Shinto, arrested and tried Japanese leaders for war crimes, extracted over $1 billion in reparations for countries ravaged by Japan’s war of conquest, and forcibly replaced Japan’s military government with a western-style parliamentary democracy. Eventually, however, the Allies realized Japan’s value as a bulwark against communism in Asia and, in April 1952, ended their occupation and restored the nation’s independence. But this was independence with a catch, for the 1951 U.S.-Japan Security Treaty granted the United States the exclusive right to station more than a quarter of a million troops on Japanese soil, while the U.S. government and American corporations continued to exert massive influence over Japanese politics and industry. These measures proved deeply unpopular with the Japanese people, leading to a string of violent protests throughout the 1950s.

Amid this ongoing national humiliation emerged a powerful Right-Wing Nationalist movement, which rejected both capitalism and communism and yearned to restore Japan’s lost honour and return the nation to its militaristic glory days of the 1930s and 40s. At their peak in the 1970s, the Nationalists numbered in the hundreds of thousands, divided among dozens of militia groups scattered across the country. Among these was the Tatenokai, or “Shield Society,” led by celebrated poet, playwright, and actor Yukio Mishima. On November 25, 1970, Mishima and four of his followers infiltrated the central Tokyo headquarters of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces, took the commandant hostage, and barricaded themselves inside the building. Then, wearing a traditional hachimachi headband bearing the rising sun emblem and the motto “To be reborn seven times to serve the country,” Mishima appeared on a balcony and delivered a passionate speech to the soldiers gathered below, calling on them up against the government and restore control of the military – and all of Japan – to the Emperor. Unfortunately, Mishima’s speech inspired only jeers and heckling, and when it became clear that no uprising was forthcoming, the poet-turned-revolutionary committed seppuku or ritual suicide, disemboweling himself with a knife while a follower decapitated him with a sword.

While Mishima’s attempted coup d’état was a dismal failure, his example inspired a whole generation of young romantic nationalists, including our soon-to-be kamikaze assassin, one Mitsuyasu Maeno. Little is known about Maeno’s early life. Born in Tokyo in 1946 or 1947, Maeno took to acting at a young age, joining various theatrical groups as a teenager and appearing in his first film in 1959. He later took acting classes at the University of California in 1967 before returning to Japan to start his acting career. Unfortunately, Maeno found film roles hard to come by, and was forced to appear in low-budget exploitation films like 1970’s Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo and a popular style of Japanese soft-core pornography known as pink film. In the 1970s, pink films made up nearly 2/3 of all films made in Japan, with the most popular being the “Roman Porno” series made by Studio Nikkatsu. Maeno appeared in 20 of Nikkatsu’s Roman Pornos, the highest-profile of which being 1975’s Tokyo Emmanuelle, in which Maenos’s character makes love to actress Kumi Taguchi while flying a plane.

Maeno’s personal life was equally troubled. He was married twice, first to Japanese actress Noriko Kurosawa and later to an American woman, but both marriages quickly ended in divorce. Distraught, in February 1976 Maeno attempted suicide by overdosing on suicide pills. He was found lying in the snow outside the hot springs resort town of Yuzawa and rushed to hospital, where he soon recovered. Sometime after Yukio Mishima’s attempted coup in 1970, Maeno became fanatically devoted to the Nationalist cause, and yearned for an opportunity to prove his courage and redeem his country’s lost honour. That opportunity would soon come in the form of a scandal that rocked Japanese society to its very core.

In February 1976, a U.S. Senate sub-committee led by Idaho Senator Frank Church revealed that the California-based Lockheed Aircraft Corporation had paid out more than $22 million in illegal bribes to foreign governments as enticement to purchase their products. Recipients of these bribes included Japan, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Italy, and West Germany, whose purchase of 916 F-104 Starfighters was trumpeted was “The Sale of the Century.” According to testimony by Lockheed executives, despite securing $250 million in government loans, by the early 1970s the company was on the edge of bankruptcy. Delays in the release of its new L-1011 [“Ell-Ten-Eleven”] Tristar airliner had resulted in disappointing sales, with most airlines opting instead for the competing Douglas DC-10. Sales of other aircraft were equally disappointing. The F-104 Starfighter, introduced in 1958 as a high-speed, high altitude interceptor for shooting down Soviet nuclear bombers, was short-lived in U.S. Air Force service, being replaced after only 11 years by more versatile aircraft. In desperation, Lockheed marketed the Starfighter as a low-level ground-attack aircraft, exporting the type to 14 friendly nations including Canada, Germany, Denmark, Turkey, and Taiwan. However, the F-104 proved ill-suited to this new role, resulting in dozens of pilots dying in training accidents and the aircraft acquiring the nickname “The Widowmaker.” Indeed, the Japanese Defense Forces had already selected the Grumman F11 Super Tiger as its primary fighter aircraft before Lockheed bribes convinced them to switch to the F-104. In addition to the Starfighter, Lockheed also bribed Japanese airline All Nippon Airways to adopt the L1011 over the DC-10 and the Italian Air Force to purchase C-130 Hercules transports.

News of the Lockheed Bribery Scandal caused many key figures to resign in disgrace, including Italian President Giovanni Leone and  several top Lockheed executives. In the Netherlands, Prince Bernhard, who had received $1.1 million to ensure the F-104 won out over France’s Dassault Mirage 5, was forced to step down from public positions and forbidden from wearing his military uniforms. But nowhere was the impact of the scandal more keenly felt than in Japan, for it laid bare what had long been an open secret in Japanese politics. While the United States had attempted to impose upon Japan a western-style parliamentary democracy, this foreign import failed to stick, and Japanese politics quickly devolved into what New York Times reporter Jerome Cohen described in 1976 as:

“…[a] loose oligarchy of conservative politicians that goes by the name of the Liberal Democratic Party. Power derives from factions, and factions coalesce around leaders picked less for ideological considerations than for political talent —particularly ability to raise money. The money is used by the leader and his cohorts to win elections and solidify ties with constituents…. Each faction strives to place its members in ministerial and other high posts. Its ultimate goal is to elect its leader to the party presidency, thus assuring his selection as Prime Minister, assuming the Liberal Democrats remain in the majority in Parliament. Faction leaders are constantly contending, negotiating and conspiring in teahouses, geisha restaurants and hotspring resorts, and every Cabinet reshuffle reflects the latest temporary coalition of forces. Occasionally one faction leader will give a large sum of money to other leaders to win favour with them and their followers.”

Indeed, with the exception of five years from 1993 to 1994 and from 2009 to 2012, the Liberal Democratic Party has ruled Japan almost continuously since its founding in 1955. In Japanese politics of the 1970s, bribery was a fact of life, with Cohen going on to state:

“Japanese law makes it a crime for any public official…Between a legal political contribution and an illegal bribe lies a murky area no legislation has yet succeeded in regulating. In a society where giftgiving is a traditional, widely practiced and subtle art, the law is applied only against those who give and receive financial benefits plainly outside the bounds of customary giftgiving. Bribe givers frequently resort to ingenious subterfuge. “Stuffing cash in biscuit boxes or whisky cartons, preferably wrapped in the paper of major department stores, has become an accepted way of making an inconspicuous bribe,” notes The Far Eastern Economic Review. “Cartons of Old Parr whisky are said to be especially popular, as 10,000yen notes fit inside perfectly.”

In the case of the Lockheed Scandal, this ingrained culture of bribery had an even shadier dimension, for one of the key players in the affair was one Yoshio Kodama, a high-ranking figure in the Yakuza, or Japanese mafia. Born in Nihonmatsu in 1911, Kodama joined the Yakuza at age 12, serving as an enforcer and beating up trade unionists. In the 1920s and 30s, he became involved with various right-wing ultranationalist groups, which sought to fulfill what they saw as Japan’s manifest destiny to dominate all of Asia. To this end, Kodama organized the murder of several Japanese politicians advocating for peaceful relations between Japan, Korea, and China, and planned the assassination of Prime Minister Saito Makoto. The latter plot was unsuccessful, resulting in Kodama being arrested and imprisoned. Following the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937, Kodama was released at the behest of Imperial Japanese Army General Kenji Doihara and sent to Japanese-occupied Manchuria. There he served as a spy and fixer for Chinese collaborationist forces, helping to root out and suppress resistance to the Japanese occupation. During this period, Kodama also engaged in the violent and large-scale plunder of the Chinese countryside, confiscating whatever valuables he could get his hands on and selling them for a large profit back in Japan. Thanks to these activities, by 1945 Kodama had become one of the wealthiest men in Japan, with assets worth some $175 million USD. After the war, Kodama was arrested and investigated by the United States as a suspected Class-A war criminal, but was soon released and recruited by U.S. Military Intelligence to fight the rise of socialism and communism in Japan. At the same time, Kodama returned to his underworld roots, helping to unite several Yakuza clans and amassing an even greater fortune through opium smuggling. By the early 1950s he had become one of Japan’s most successful and infamous kuromaku or behind-the-scenes power brokers, helping to found the Liberal Democratic Party and launching the careers of several Japanese politicians including Nobusuke Kishi and Kakuei Tanaka, the Prime Minister at the time of the Lockheed Scandals.

In 1969, Kodama was approached by Lockheed to be the middleman for its bribery payments. Over the next 5 years, Kodama received and funnelled more than $12 million in Lockheed bribes to various officials including Prime Minister Tanaka, Finance Minister Eisaku Sato, Japanese Self-Defense Forces Chief of Staff Minoru Genda, top executives of the Marubeni Corporation and All Nippon Airways, and, of course, himself. When the scandal broke in 1976, many of Kodama’s fellow ultranationalists were aghast, seeing his collaboration with a company whose aircraft had devastated Japan during the War as a betrayal of everything the claimed to stand for. Many even called for Kodama to commit seppuku to atone for his disgrace. Particularly incensed was Mitsuyasu Maeno, who upon learning of the scandal declared Kodama to be without honour and vowed to kill him in the most heroic fashion possible: by crashing an aircraft into his house in the style of the wartime kamikaze suicide pilots.    

At the time, Maeno held a private pilot’s license and was registered at the Taiyo Flying Club on the outskirts of Tokyo. In early March 1976, Maeno rehearsed for his attack by making several flights over Kodama’s home in Tokyo’s Satagawa Ward. While Kodama had been indicted for his role in the Lockheed Scandal on March 13, the 65-year-old Yakuza boss had recently suffered a stroke and was declared too ill to appear in court. Maeno was therefore confident that Kodama would be home when he finally launched his attack.

On the morning of March 23, Maeno rented a kamikaze pilot costume complete with fur-trimmed flight suit and hachimachi headband and arrived at the Taiyo airport with two friends. Maeno told the airport that he was appearing in a movie about the kamikaze and wanted to shoot a publicity reel to help promote the film. After posing for a photograph, at 9AM Maeno and his friends took off in two Piper Cherokee aircraft and headed out over Tokyo. They flew around aimlessly for around an hour until Maeno declared over the radio that he had business in Satagawa – the secret signal for the attack to begin. As Maeno banked towards Kodama’s neighbourhood, his friends in the other plane followed, filming the attack with a home movie camera. Maeno circled the house twice before switching on his radio and announcing:

“JA3551 – Sorry I haven’t replied for a long time. Tenno Heika Banzai! [Long live the emperor!]”

Then, at 9:50 AM, Mitsuyasu Maeno dove his aircraft and slammed it into the side of Kodama’s house, dying instantly in a blaze of glory. One local resident later described the scene:

“There wasn’t a big sound of an explosion but the smell of fuel filled the air. Someone told me a small plane had crashed into Kodama’s house and I rushed to the roof to look. The property was surrounded by high, thick walls that muffled the sound and made it hard to see what was going on. Policemen soon swarmed the site. None of us understood what it was all about.”

Miraculously, while two servants were injured by the fireball, nobody but Maeno was killed. Kodama, the intended target, was resting in another part of the house and was unharmed. As Kodama’s servants carried him to safety in a blanket, his Yakuza bodyguards rushed into the house to fight the flames. The fire department soon arrived, and within 20 minutes the blaze was brought under control. Word of the attack spread quickly, drawing a group of around 70 ultranationalists who surrounded Kodama’s property and clashed with police attempting to enter the house.

Reactions to Maeno’s brazen assassination attempt were mixed. While his fellow ultranationalists praised him for embodying the spirit of the samurai, others were less impressed, with an editorial in the newspaper Mainichi Shimbun asking:

“Is it imaginable that a young German, not a wartime officer, would commit suicide in a Nazi uniform, shouting ‘Heil Hitler!’? Coming more than 30 years after the end of World War II, Maeno’s kamikaze flight revived the ghost the Japanese wanted to forget.”

Keiichi Ito, the director-general for training of the Japan Self-Defense Forces and a former kamikaze pilot, dismissed Maeno’s supposed heroism, declaring:

“Maeno was performing an egotistical, grandstand play to win publicity, not unlike Mishima’s suicide. Both were showing off to the world.”

However, in an amusing case of “game recognizing game,” Ito went on to praise Maeno’s technique in carrying out the attack, calling his piloting:

“…very skillful. I give him the highest marks on that score

But in the end, Japan’s last kamikaze attack would have no impact on the scandal which inspired it. On July 27, 1976, Prime Minister Tanaka was arrested and formally charged with taking $1.6 million in bribe money. His trial ended in conviction on October 12, 1983, with Tanaka being sentenced to 4 years in jail and a ¥500 million or $4.3 million USD fine. Tanaka immediately launched an appeal, which lingered in the courts for years. During this time, Tanaka managed to retain his grip on power, winning the December 1983 election by an unprecedented margin. However, on February 7, 1985, Tanaka suffered a stroke and spent the next decade in and out of hospitals as his political power gradually waned, He died of pneumonia on December 16, 1993, having not served not one day of his mandated jail sentence.

Meanwhile, across the Pacific, Lockheed chairman Daniel Haughton and president Carl Kotchtian were forced to resign their positions, while the scandal prompted the drafting of the 1977 Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibited American corporations making payments to foreign governments to advance their business interests. Lockheed was also forced to cancel all its contracts with Japan and several other nations, leaving the company in an even worse financial position than before. Lockheed was only saved from bankruptcy or hostile takeover by a 1994 merger with Martin-Marietta Corporation, creating the company now known as Lockheed-Martin.

But what of the central figure in our story, Yoshio Kodama? Kodama’s trial officially began in June 1977, but had to be postponed on account of the Yakuza boss’ poor health. But before the trial could be concluded, Kodama suffered another stroke and died on January 17, 1984, escaping justice just like his client Kakuei Tanaka. But one has to wonder: had Mitsuyasu Maeno’s attack been successful, would an old ultranationalist like Kodama have seen it as the more honourable way to go? We shall never know. All we do know is that this story of corruption, scandal, attempted coups, and a kamikaze porn star is one of the wildest we have ever covered on this channel.

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy our new popular podcast, The BrainFood Show (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Feed), as well as:

Expand for References


Halloran, Richard, A Japanese Dives Plane Into House of Lockheed Agent, The New York Times, March 23, 1976,


Nambi, Karthick, When a Porn Star Crashed His Plane Into a Crime Boss’s Home in Japan, Medium, December 21, 2021,


Hornyak, Tim, Japan Rewind: 40 Years Since the Porn Star’s Kamikaze Attack in Tokyo, Tokyo Reporter, June 10, 2016,


Cohen, Jerome, Japan’s Watergate: Made in U.S.A, The New York Times, November 21, 1976,


Jones, William & Berry, John, Lockheed Paid $38 Million in Bribes Abroad, The Washington Post, May 27, 1977,


Saxon, Wolfgang, Yoshio Kodama; Was Rightist, The New York Times, January 18, 1984,

Weiner, Tim, CIA Spent Millions to Support Japanese Right in 50’s and 60’s, The New York Times, October 9, 1994,


The post The Insane Story of the Kamikaze Porn Star and the Scandal that Rocked Japan appeared first on Today I Found Out.

from Today I Found Out
by Gilles Messier - December 14, 2022 at 08:53AM
Article provided by the producers of one of our Favorite YouTube Channels!

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

The Race to Create Working, Practical Personal Jetpacks

In the opening sequence of the 1965’s Thunderball, James Bond, having just dispatched the villainous SPECTRE agent Colonel Jacques Bouvar, flees to the rooftop of Bouvar’s French chateau, dons a futuristic-looking jetpack, and makes his dramatic escape. Given its fantastical, over-the-top nature, this scene was obviously accomplished via the magic of Hollywood special effects, right? Well, no, actually. As incredible as it might seem, the vehicle featured onscreen was a real-life working jet pack, developed by Bell Aircraft and flown for the cameras by Bell test pilot Bill Suitor. But if working jet packs existed back in the 1960s, why, then, don’t we see them in every garage alongside flying cars? Well, as the long and frustrating history of jetpack development shows, it is certainly not for lack of trying.

The idea of the jet or rocket pack has existed in popular culture for a long time, appearing in fiction as early as the 1890s. However, it was not until the development of jet and rocket technology in the 1920s and 30s that man-sized flying machines became a practical reality. One oft-cited candidate for the first working jet pack is the Himmelstürmer or “Heaven Stormer,” a device supposedly tested by the Nazis in 1944 to allow combat engineers and assault troops to jump over trenches, barbed wire, and other obstacles. The Himmelstürmer was based on pulse jet technology, most famously used in the Fieseler F.103 or V-1 cruise missile, some 12,000 of which were launched by the Germans against targets in Britain and the Low Countries between1944 and 1945. Unlike regular jet engines, pulse jets have no rotating compressor or turbine blades and instead use a set of spring-loaded shutters or vanes to burn fuel and air in a series of high-frequency pulses, generating thrust. This simple construction makes pulse jets cheap to manufacture, but also loud and inefficient compared to other jet engines. The Himmelstürmer incorporated two pulse jets: one strapped to the soldier’s back to provide vertical lift, and one mounted to his chest on a swivel, allowing him to steer. In testing, the device allowed soldiers to cover distances of 50 metres at a height of 15 metres.

…only no, it didn’t, for despite being widely covered on the internet, the Himmelstürmer never actually existed. This fanciful piece of Nazi tech was in fact invented out of whole cloth by Canadian author Ernst Zündel, first appearing in his 1976 book German Secret Weapons and Wonder Weapons of World War Two. An ardent conspiracy theorist and holocaust denier, Zündel’s extensive bibliography includes such choice titles as Secret Nazi Polar Explorations; Hitler at the South Pole; The Hitler We Loved & Why, UFOs – Nazi Secret Weapons?; Auschwitz, Dauchau, Buchenwald: the Greatest Fraud in History; and Did Six Million Really Die? – which should give a good idea of the credibility that ought to be attached to his claims. In any case, the Himmelstürmer as commonly described would likely never have worked. The Argus As-014 pulse jet used in the V-1 cruise missile measured 4 metres long and produced only around 270 kilograms of thrust; a pulse jet small enough to strap to a man’s back would not only be too weak to lift him off the ground, but would also become far too hot and inflict serious burns. This, combined with the inherent difficulty of controlling such a device, would have made the Himmelstürmer an impractical death trap. So despite what The Rocketeer, Captain America, and Iron Sky would have you believe, Nazi stormtroopers flying around in jetpacks were never actually a thing.

It was not until after the Second World War that practical jetpack development began in earnest. One early candidate for the inventor of the jetpack is Romanian inventor Justin Capra, who claimed to have built and flown a working “flying rucksack” in 1956. Capra approached both the Romanian military and the American Embassy in Bucharest with his invention, but neither expressed any interest, and Capra was imprisoned by the communist government for approaching the Americans. Capra later claimed that the Americans stole his idea, but was unable to provide any credible evidence that he ever actually built or flew his invention. The invention of the first practical jetpack is thus commonly attributed to Wendell Moore, an engineer at Bell Aircraft of Buffalo, New York. In 1953, Moore began experimenting with a vehicle called the Small Rocket Lift Device or SRLD, a backpack-like contraption designed to carry a single person over a short distance. The technical challenges facing Moore – and, indeed, all jetpack designers to the present day – were daunting. To be practical, a jet pack must be lightweight enough to comfortably wear, produce enough thrust to lift a man off the ground, carry enough fuel to cover a useful distance, and be stable, safe, and easy to fly – requirements that are frequently at odds with one another. While the ideal power source for jet pack is a turbojet engine, which can provide constant thrust over an extended period and operate at reasonable temperatures, in the early 1950s no turbojet engine was simultaneously compact and powerful enough to fit on a man’s back and lift him into the air. The only alternative was to use rocket engines, which presented problems of their own. Rocket engines are notoriously thirsty, severely limiting their endurance, and produce dangerously hot exhaust gases that can potentially injure the pilot.

Moore’s initial SRLD prototype used cold compressed nitrogen gas stored in tanks and vented through a pair of flexible nozzles controlled by twin joysticks. Intended as a testbed for evaluating stability, control, and other technical issues, for initial testing the SRLD was flown tethered to a special rig. While much safer than future iterations, the SRLD nonetheless had its fair share of teething problems. For example, on one occasion the nozzles were found to be mounted too close to the operator, causing the rocket blast to tear his shirtsleeves clean off. These early experiments soon caught the attention of the U.S. Army’s Transportation, Research, and Engineering Command, who in 1958 launched Project Grasshopper, a concerted effort to develop a practical rocket pack to allow combat engineers and assault troops to jump over minefields and other obstacles. Rival companies Aerojet and Thiokol submitted nitrogen-powered “jump belts” very similar to Bell’s SRLD, but Bell eventually won the Government contract to build a combat-ready “rocket belt.”

As compressed nitrogen had insufficient energy density to meet the Army’s requirements, Wendell Moore switched to a more potent propellant: High-Test Hydrogen Peroxide, or HTP. Ten times more concentrated than the peroxide used to bleach hair, when passed over a suitable catalyst, HTP decomposes violently into hot, high-pressure steam and oxygen. It is also highly corrosive, capable of stripping flesh from bone in seconds. Nonetheless, throughout the 1940s HTP was widely used in torpedoes and a variety of rocket-powered vehicles, including the German V-2 ballistic missile and Messerschmitt Me-163 Komet interceptor – and for more on this, please check out our previous video, The German Rocket Fighter That Dissolved its Pilots Alive.

Weighing 57 kilograms fully-fuelled, the Bell Rocket belt was built around a fibreglass frame moulded to fit the operator’s body. To this was mounted two tanks holding 19 litres of HTP plus a tank of compressed nitrogen to push the propellant through the system. HTP passed from the tanks over a platinum catalyst, converting it to high-pressure steam and oxygen, which exited through a pair of flexible nozzles mounted on either side of the pack, producing 127 kilograms of thrust. The angle of these nozzles was controlled by a pair of joysticks, allowing the pack to be directed forward, backward, left, and right. Thrust was controlled by twisting the throttle on the right-hand joystick. Tethered test flights began in early 1961, mostly flown by Moore himself. Once more the pack and its control system proved temperamental, with one flight on February 17 nearly ending in disaster when the Rocket Belt ran away and snapped its tether, causing Moore to crash to the ground and break his kneecap. Eventually, however, most of the kinks were ironed out, and on April 20, 1961 the Bell Rocket belt made its first free flight at Niagara Falls Municipal Airport with engineer Harold Graham at the controls. While this flight lasted only 13 seconds, subsequent tests further expanded the device’s flight envelope, with Graham ultimately achieving distances of 262 metres, altitudes of 60 metres, and speeds of 96 kilometres per hour. Once satisfied with its reliability, the Bell team began demonstrating the Rocket Belt before military officials across the United States and around the world. Some of these displays were more successful than others. While demonstrating the Rocket Belt as a potential means for NASA personnel to escape a rocket launch tower in an emergency, Harold Graham plummeted 6 metres onto his head and knocked himself unconscious. More encouraging was an October 11, 1961 flight in which Graham took off from a landing craft anchored off Fort Bragg, North Carolina, flew across the water, and landed in front of an astonished President John F. Kennedy.

But while outwardly futuristic and impressive, the Rocket Belt was hardly the safest or most practical vehicle. For one thing, despite the greater energy density of hydrogen peroxide compared to nitrogen, the Rocket Belt only carried enough fuel for 21 seconds of operation. This, along with the fact that the Rocket Belt flew at altitudes too low to use a parachute, meant that running out of fuel was almost inevitably fatal, forcing operators to carefully monitor their fuel consumption throughout each flight. To help avoid mishaps, the Rocket belt incorporated a special timer with a buzzer mounted in the operator’s helmet, which sounded every second as soon as the throttle was opened. After 15 seconds the intermittent buzz became a continuous tone, warning the pilot that he had just 6 seconds to land. The Rocket Belt was also deafeningly loud – exceeding 130 decibels – and while cooler-running than most rocket engines, the hot peroxide exhaust could still inflict severe burns, forcing operators to wear special heat-resistant Nomex clothing. These limitations made the Rocket Belt impractical for use in combat, and in 1962 the Army, having spent nearly $150,000 on what was essentially an expensive toy, pulled the plug on the project. But the Rocket Belt had already captured the public’s imagination, and the Bell Rocket Belt Flying Team enjoyed a long career as a novelty act for special events, making dramatic appearances at the 1964 World’s Fair, the first Super Bowl in 1967, the opening ceremonies of the 1984 Los Angeles and 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics, and – of course – in the James Bond film Thunderball. Today, a handful of qualified pilots, including stunt performer Dan Schlund – AKA “Rocketman” – continue to fly updated versions of the  Bell Rocket Belt for movies, TV, and special events.

Despite the commercial failure of the Rocket Belt, Bell Aircraft continued to develop personal flying machines for the military. Their next attempt was the POGO, a small rocket-powered flying platform designed to carry two people. Originally intended for use by Apollo astronauts on the moon, POGO was also pitched to the Army as a “flying jeep” for carrying soldiers over rough or dangerous terrain. While Bell managed to make the POGO extremely reliable, stable, and easy to fly, NASA turned it down in favour of the more conventional Lunar Roving Vehicle, while the Army decided the POGO was insufficiently “GI proof” for combat use and the project, like the Rocket Belt, was eventually cancelled. Undaunted, Bell abandoned the use of hydrogen peroxide and teamed up with the Williams Research Corporation of Walled Lake, Michigan, to develop a turbojet engine compact and powerful enough for individual manned flight. The result was the WR19, which weighed only 31 kilograms and could produce over 193 kilograms of thrust. Bell incorporated the WR19 into a single-man flying machine, imaginatively named the “Jet Belt”, which, like the earlier Rocket Belt, was steered by moving a pair of flexible jet nozzles using joysticks. The Jet Belt first flew on April 7, 1969 at Niagara Falls, piloted by Robert Courter. Subsequent flights revealed the device to be capable of flying for up to 25 minutes at speeds of up to 135 kilometres per hour – making it far more practical for military use. Despite this, however, the U.S. Army saw the Jet Belt as too heavy, complex, and temperamental, and like all its predecessors the device never entered service.

After the 1960s, military research into jetpacks effectively stopped, but over the following decades various inventors have attempted to push the technology forward. In 1992, insurance salesman Brad Barker, businessman Joe Wright, engineer Larry Stanley, and professional inventor Doug Malewicki formed a company to develop an updated version of the original Bell Rocket Belt using lightweight alloys and composite materials. The resulting design, dubbed the RB 2000, was first flown on June 12, 1995 by Bell test pilot Bill Suitor, and succeeded in increasing the design’s maximum endurance from 21 to 30 seconds. Unfortunately, like the rocket pack’s hydrogen peroxide fuel, the four men’s business partnership proved dangerously volatile, and the whole venture collapsed into a bizarre maelstrom of paranoia, intrigue, and lawsuits, culminating in Barker being kidnapped by Stanley for eight days and Wright being murdered by an unknown assailant. But the allure of the Rocket Belt survived even this outlandish soap opera, and today modernized examples are sold commercially by both Mexico’s Tecnological Aeroespacial Mexicana or TAM and Colorado’s Jet Pack H2O2. So if you have access to hydrogen peroxide, a quarter million dollars burning a hole in your pocket, and a death wish, you too can experience the thrill of untethered human flight for 30 seconds at a time.

Far safer and more practical are the wide array of turbojet-powered jetpacks made possible by recent advancements in gas turbine technology. Among the most famous of these are the jet packs designed and flown by Swiss pilot Yves Rossy, known around the world as “Jetman.” His packs, consisting of 2-metre-wide carbon fibre wings strapped to his back and powered by four Jetcat P400 compact turbojet engines, have reached speeds of up to 304 kilometres per hour and carried Rossy across the Grand Canyon, the Alps, the English Channel, and other landmarks. As impressive as they are, however, Rossy’s creations do not quite fit the classic image of a jetpack, being incapable of taking off under their own power. Instead, Rossy must be carried aloft by a separate aircraft and jump free before igniting his engines. He also cannot land while wearing the wing and must instead jettison it and parachute separately to earth.

More in keeping with the popular conception of a jet pack is JetPack Aviation’s JB-9, which made its public debut in November 2015 by flying around the Statue of Liberty. Developed by Australian businessman David Mayman and American engineer and inventor Nelson Tyler, the JB-9 is powered by two AMT Nike jet engines producing 160 kilograms of thrust and can achieve speeds of 100 kilometres an hour for around 10 minutes. Even more science-fiction is the Daedalus Flight Pack developed by British inventor Richard Browning. More real-life Iron Man suit than jet pack, the Daedalus consists of a metal exoskeleton fitted with six 22-kilogram-thrust micro turbojet engines – two on the back and two on each arm, allowing the wearer to maneuver the suit by simply moving their arms. On November 9, 2017, Browning set a Guinness World Record for jet engine powered flying suits, reaching a speed of 51.5 kilometres per hour over Lagoona Park in Reading [“Redd-ing”], England. On the more accessible end of things, in 2008 Canadian inventor Raymond Li patented the JetLev, a rocket pack that uses jet-ski technology to levitate the wearer on jets of water pumped from a lake or ocean below. JetLevs are available for rental at dozens of tourist resorts around the world and, in possibly the first practical deployment of jetpacks in history, have recently been adopted by the Dubai fire department to avoid traffic congestion and access hard-to-reach fires.

So, contrary to popular belief, real-life jet packs have been around for a long time, are surprisingly common, and are rapidly catching up to their fictional counterparts. Why then, isn’t everyone flying one to work? Well, aside from the obscene cost, the simple answer is that despite nearly 60 years of development, jetpacks are still too difficult and dangerous for the average person to fly without extensive training. Automobiles, which only drive in two dimensions on constrained roads, are relatively simple to operate, and are highly regulated, still cause millions of serious accidents each year; add in the third dimension, tricky flight controls, and a limited fuel supply, and the risk of a deadly mishap increases exponentially. So the next time you bemoan the current state of technology by asking “where’s my jet pack?”, take a step back and ask yourself: if you don’t even trust your neighbours with a car, why on earth would you trust them with a jet pack?

If you like this article, you might also enjoy:

Expand for References

Lehto, Steve, How a Holocaust Denier Fooled the Internet With Nazi Jetpack Soldiers, Jalopnik, February 5, 2013,


Burnett, Dean, Jetpacks: Here’s Why You Don’t Have One, The Guardian, September 23, 2014,


Taylor, Michael, The World’s Strangest Aircraft, Grange Books, London, 1996


Negyesi, Pal, From Jetpack to Electric Bikes – Life of Justin Capra, CE Auto Classic, February 5, 2021,


Dan Schlund – Biography, IMDB,


The Rocketbelt Made Famous by Thunderball is Back in Action, MI6 HQ, September 26, 2006,


Yves Rossy: the First Jetman,


Sofge, Erik, Jet Packs Finally On Sale: How to Buy Your Rocket Belt, Popular Mechanics, July 2007,


Blain, Loz, JB-9 Jetpack Makes Spectacular Debut Flying Around Statue of Liberty, New Atlas, November 9, 2015,


Lang, Cady, Firefighters are Using Water Jetpacks to Put Out Fires Because the Future is Now, TIME, January 23, 2017,


Mack, Eric, Daedalus is an Insane, Real-Life Flying Iron Man Suit, CNET, March 31, 2017,


Swatman, Rachel, Video: Real Life Iron Man Sets Jet Suit Speed Record for Guinness World Record Day, Guinness World Records, November 9, 2017,

The post The Race to Create Working, Practical Personal Jetpacks appeared first on Today I Found Out.

from Today I Found Out
by Gilles Messier - December 13, 2022 at 04:14PM
Article provided by the producers of one of our Favorite YouTube Channels!