More Nervous than a Mythbuster’s Insurance Agent

Mythbusters is a science popular show on the Discovery channel. They test urban myths and the like using a variety of cleverly improvised experiments.  They often say their insurance company has stopped them from doing this or that experiment. I really believe that. A lot of their stuff is clearly very dangerous despite their precautions.

When I see someone sweating something, I often quip, “He looks more nervous than a Mythbuster’s insurance agent.”

Well, it looks like the Mythbuster’s insurance agent really has something to sweat about now. During an experiment at the Alameda county bomb range that involved firing a large blackpowder cannon with what looked like an 8-12 inch cannonball, the ball skipped out of the range and shot through a house in the nearby suburban neighborhood.

Nobody was hurt but it’s California so they’re going to get sued for all kinds of emotional trauma.

When I told this my son observed, “That’s seems like (an assumed) risk of living near a bomb range.” Yep, but that won’t help.

I hope it doesn’t do in the show.

31 thoughts on “More Nervous than a Mythbuster’s Insurance Agent”

  1. Years ago I had Army basic Training at Ft Ord, outside Monterey CA. At the time Ord was the 2nd biggest base in the country, next to Camp Pendleton, I believe.

    Anyway when the Army closed that base that land – being on the coast – became prime real estate but there are 1000s of acres that may never be opened – that was where the Army conducted mortar practice and there are many unexploded shells on the range.

    As to your story if it were my house I would simply ask mythbusters to fix it a- and I would have another nice story to tell on the blogs ;-)

    But you are probably (regrettably) right – why we need tort reform – but it isn’t just California.

  2. It was probably three or four inches in diameter at most. Spherical projectiles bounce. In a reasonable world they would compensate the homeowners for the damage and be more careful in the future. The world isn’t reasonable.

  3. It gives you an idea of how powerful the old fashioned artillery was.

    As to litigation, there is no question of liability so it is likely to be solved by writing some checks.

  4. A friend of mine had an old artillery piece. They used to go out to a range to shoot it. One day, the ball vanished over a ridge far beyond the point they expected. They were very reluctant to look on the other side of the ridge. Fortunately, there was no damage. Too big a charge.

  5. “It gives you an idea of how powerful the old fashioned artillery was.” I was thinking the same thing. Those old battles from Napoleonic times must have had some dudes with nasty wounds.

  6. The solid shot was not very effective against infantry. If the cannonball hit you, that was an amputation or a funeral. It was much more effective in naval combat. The US Navy in the War of 1812 using “dismantling shot” which was a piece of chain fired from the cannon, often three pieces in the shape of a star. It was very effective against rigging and was considered unethical by the British. General Shrapnel had the concept of a shell, like cannister, that was filled with smaller balls. In the result, artillery shells were made with thick cases that were scored internally so they would fragment when the shell exploded.

  7. After living at Ft. Sill I couldn’t imagine why anyone would live near a bomb range. One time they miscalculated and it landed in the near by Walmart parking lot. Fortunately the Walmart was still being built and no one was in it.

  8. Solid shot aimed at infantry would be fired low to bounce on the way in throwing up dirt and rocks.

    Two good books by David Howarth: Waterloo: Day of Battle, and Trafgar: The Nelson Touch. Lots if eye witness accounts of the weapons and their effects. Both were childhood favorites.

  9. Dan from Madison Says @
    December 7th, 2011 at 8:49 pm

    Those old battles from Napoleonic times must have had some dudes with nasty wounds.

    Even if you were out of range of canister; the solid round shot was devastating against infantry of the day. They marched in close, tightly packed formations. The ideal placement of round shot would be grazing along the ground bouncing between foot and waist level. Right through the formation. Human bodies do not slow down round shot. Nasty indeed. And there was a shock wave effect that could maim you, even if the ball near-missed you in flight.

    Besides being a gunner on a 12 lb. Mountain Howitzer with my Dragoon unit, I sometimes help 4th Artillery do presentations for school kids, usually with their Civil War vintage 3″ Ordnance Rifle. One normal question is how far can it shoot. I get wide eyes when I point out that from the park we set up in, we could easily hit the school district offices a mile and a half away. The 700 yards that the news report says the Mythbusters round went is nothing.

    Subotai Bahadur

  10. On my immediate reading list (as represented by a big disheveled pile on my bed ;-) ) is a recent – or current – American Heritage article on a secret WW2 program using “female computers” – math whizzes whose job was to calculate bomb and artillery tragectories for Army and Navy tables.

    I was trying to find a link on the Internet and after a short search – couldn’t – but here is something similar:

    I suppose like piston airplanes being developed about to the theoretical limit in WW2 look at artillery – and the guns on the Navy Battleships – capable – I read somewhere – a 16″ Gun was capable of going over 25 miles – carrying a 2,000 lb shell.

    Then there was Gerald Bull who most likely was assassinated by Mossad agents after warnings – trying to help Saddam Hussein.

    Imagine – his prototype – Baby Babylon had a foot (.333 meter) bore diameter – was a 100 feet long – with a theoretical range of 400 miles.

    I was told in the Army that in a conventional war artillery kills far more than firearms.

    I think being subject to a barrage drove more than a few nuts…

  11. “I think being subject to a barrage drove more than a few nuts…”

    There’s a reason it’s called “shell shock.”

  12. On Living Near Bomb Ranges

    This is a big problem these days with the military, and it’s called encroachment. Many military bases were out in the bush at the time they were built but in the following decades, real estate developers have built housing sometimes right up the base or range fence. A good example is Nellis AFB near Las Vegas, NV. At the time Nellis was built, Las Vegas wasn’t even developed. Now the city has sprawled up to its gates. Encroachment can lead to restrictions on operations to calls for base closure.

    You’d think that people would know what they are getting into buying or building a home next to a military base or range but 21st century Americans being a very childish people, that’s not the case. A good example is close to where I live, Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach, VA. It’s the master jet base for the east coast. Again, base was well established long before people started building against its limits, but that didn’t stop homebuyers who then proceeded to complain about the noise of flight operations and demand restrictions. This has gone back and forth and the Navy in the recent past threatened to pull out of Oceana entirely and move operations to another state. That got money from the state to buy up land around the base to prevent encroachment. Honestly, in a sane society these people shouldn’t even get a day in court.

    This isn’t only a military problem. The Mythbusters’ bomb range is owned by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department IIRC, and my gun club range has encroachment issues even. Same deal there – our club goes back to 1948 and was built in Yorktown well before any housing was anywhere close to it, but now the entire area around it has been developed and idiots complain about the noise of guns to the county and anyone else who will listen.

  13. That is the same story with airports – airport is built out in the sticks; people buy houses all around the field; then complain about the noise.

    Since the range is up in Alameda I doubt that it is owned by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Dept (a good 350 miles away) but in looking at the video it does seem foolish for those “mythbusters” to fire a cannon – it’s a wonder nobody was hurt/killed.

  14. The El Toro Marine Air Station was actually very popular with local residents because the usual takeoff route went over national park land and night operations were rare and always announced well ahead of time. It was a victim of politics. Newport Beach is a very wealthy town that is about five miles from h base. John Wayne Airport is located so that the takeoff route went right over the town. This was not a problem 40 years ago when the town was a weekend and vacation spot and propellor planes had shorter takeoff runs. Some very wealthy Republican political donors got El Toro closed about ten years ago and moved Marine aviation to Miramar just north of San Diego. The Navy was moved to North Island. The Marines moved, under quiet protest, from El Toro with 1400 base houses abandoned, to Miramar with no base housing. There were a lot of angry people around here.

    Ironically, the plan to make El Toro a commercial airport and close John Wayne fell through for financial reasons. All this in spite of the fact, pointed out repeatedly by opponents of the move, that takeoffs of heavily loaded airliners would still have to go over Newport Beach because of the predominant sea breeze that would require, just as at LAX, takeoffs over the ocean. Fighters didn’t have the same problem and, but for George Argyros and few others, the Marines would still be happily at El Toro. The base is still empty and the idiot Mayor of Irvine is still trying to get it turned into a huge park.

  15. Michael K.,

    What kind of benighted souls would hear a jet aircraft flying (ok, any aircraft) and get bothered instead of excited? Sheesh.

  16. Kirk Parker,

    What kind of benighted souls would hear a jet aircraft flying (ok, any aircraft) and get bothered instead of excited?

    Being excited by aircraft can backfire.

    Back in the 80s, Austin’s airport was pretty much in the middle of the city. It had been built in WWII way out past the suburbs and the town grew around it and outward. Attempts to relocate the airport floundered because, apparently, some evil private property owner would make a profit if they did.

    As students we got a cheap apartment in the civil aviation flight path i.e. small prop planes. I’d grown up around planes all my life and didn’t think it would be a big deal. It wasn’t to bad but the planes were distracting when as was trying to study precisely because I was always so excited by aircraft. I an ear for engines and whenever a plane came over I reflexively break concentration and try to figure out what kind of plane just flew over.

  17. Shannon,

    What–no running outside to look at it? I’d say you were far more disciplined than you realized.

  18. Shannon – it seems we are cut from the same cloth. We should have the bumper sticker that sez “I (heart) airplane noise”

    To me there is no sweeter song than a WW2 era RR Merlin V12 at speed – well, maybe a 50-60s era Columbo-designed Ferrari V12.

  19. @Michael – a lot of Navy Aviation – particularly the Top Gun school – moved way out to Fallon NV. And at El Toro – with their massive runways, Road and Track magazine occasionally does road tests out there.

    Sacramento CA had 2 major air force bases – McClellan and Mather. McClellan was huge – and was a center to rehab the F111 fighter bomber.

    Mather was where they trained navigators and with GPS the air force really didn’t need navigators any more.

    Mather was also the home of a SAC B52 squadron. Funny story years ago I wanted to fly to Rancho Murretta Airport – an affluent community with a private airport just 10 miles or so from Sacramento.

    I saw a runway, started my descent and when I was almost at pattern altitude (1,000 feet AGL) I thought (a) that runway seemed awfully long and (b) what are all those planes in circles at the end of the runway?

    Of course I put 2 and 2 together and realized I could (a) land and have a “reception committee” in blue vehicles, (b) announce my presence and upon landing somewhere have a talk with the FAA or (c) just make a sharp turn and get outta there .

    Guess which I picked ;-)

    But to the point of the story (yes I eventually get to it) both air bases closed and Sacramento was suddenly the possessor of 2-3 13,000 foot runways.

    Beautiful runways to start a new airport but there was already an expensive airport.

    Mather is now a UPS hub and you will see black T38s from nearby Beale doing touch and goes – and McClellan is an industrial park.

    If you happen to have a 747 and don’t know where to park it Mather or McClellan is the place.

  20. My Dad would get up and go outside when he heard an airplane engine. We were near Weymouth Naval Air Station. We saw lots of F-4s and A-4s. Daily flights of P-3 Orions, looking for Russian subs, I presume.

    As to the noise, one of my friends in law school was a former F-18 pilot. On his pickup truck he had a bumper sticker that said it all: Jet Noise, The Sound of Freedom.

  21. I an ear for engines and whenever a plane came over I reflexively break concentration and try to figure out what kind of plane just flew over.

    I’m glad to hear it’s not just me. I live in the flight path of a smallish regional airport — turboprops, regional jets, and some general aviation. I pretty much tune out the sounds of the usual aircraft.

    But every once in while, more interesting aircraft fly through, for exhibits or what have you. At the sound of a large radial engine, I’ve been known to freeze mid-step like a surprised deer, and then dash out of the house to see if I can catch sight of it while it’s still overhead.

    You know you have problem when even the other software engineers in your department think you’re a dork.

  22. Setbit – Lex – while we have morphed to airplane noises I will tell you about the most exciting sighting I have ever had.

    As Setbit says you can tell a lot of craft just from the noise – the sound of a UH-1 “Huey” vs a CH-47 Chinook, etc.

    Well you know how rare radial engined planes are these days – I am walking the dog one morning and hear the unmistakable sound of a radial engined plane – a large one.

    I am thinking maybe DC-6 or DC3 – I look up about 1,000-1,500 feet right above me is a B-29.

    I shouldn’t say “a” B-29 since there is only 1 flying – FIFI – of the CAF.

    What a sight – and what a memory.

    To think Boeing made over 4,000 of them….and one left flying.

  23. Bill Brandt,

    I had the exact same experience a couple of years back. I heard those four radial engines and immediately knew that some rare was flying.

    I’ve been hearing a large multi-engine radial lately at night. I don’t what it is. It might be the local museum B-24.

  24. Shannon – the Collings Foundation has for years flown their B17 and B24 around the country – they will stop for a few days – offer people rides for $500 or so – and for $5 you can tour the planes. You probably saw their B17.

    I remember going on the B24 – and over the bomb bay doors is a little catwalk – less than a foot wide – and right below you are the bomb bay doors – fall off that thing and I know those doors wouldn’t hold you!

    You really have to respect those guys for what they flew in – and died in .

    The B29 was in a class by itself. It was the first pressurized aircraft, designed to operate at 30,000 feet.

    Trouble was they couldn’t figure out why, in practice, the bombs were so off target, even with the Norden bombsight.

    They were just learning about the jetstream.

    That’s why LeMay decided to use them for low altitude bombing – they would go over Japan at 1500 feet of so.

    The book Flyboys – James Bradley’s followup to his Flags of Our Fathers – had a wonderful description of the terrible destruction these planes wrought at night – witnesses would say in the firestorms they could see the reflection off the planes fuselage as they were flying over…

  25. setbit,

    No, certainly not just you! I grew up in the flight path of McChord AFB, back when the cargo haulers were called MATS and they flew the prop Globemaster. My goodness those things would make the windows shake when the engines weren’t synchronized.

    Also the flight path of the F-106’s as they made their practice scrambles to the coast. One day a plane dropped a load of chaff right on top of our sandlot baseball game (I don’t think we ever noticed the plane, too intent on our game.)

  26. I was stationed at Mather, in 1981 – and lived in base housing – which was around the end of the runway from the main base. Many times, going home, I would pull over because the SAC birds were taking off at close interval: three B-52s and a KC-135. The second, third, and fourth in line would start down the runway as the one ahead would be halfway down it. The engine noise would seem to shake the whole world, and by the time the last one lifted off, you couldn’t see the end of the runway for the haze of exhaust!

    Bill’s story of almost accidently landing there reminded me of the incident that happened when I was there: the two little old ladies who mistakenly drove into base through the POL gate, got hideously confused turning around, and instead drove into the base and blundered onto the SAC ramp … They were closely pursued by the Security Police, of course – which panicked the driver even more. She was heading down the ramp right into the SAC alert area, in a little orange VW Bug, if memory serves. Fortunately, the SPs in pursuit realized almost at once that they weren’t dangerous intruders, and managed to stop the car without opening fire … although the two little old ladies were considerably shaken. And rightfully so. The PA office had a nice time, when the whole story hit the Sacramento Bee, though.

  27. Sgt – about that time (a few years later I think) they had a terrible accident involving 2 B52s taking off there in an exercise – one crashed and if memory serves me it actually got caught in the wake turbulence of the lead plane –

    On the Little Old Ladies – that is hilarious!

  28. I live next to an airport where a B-17, B-24 & B-25 came to visit for a few days. Whenever they were taking off or landing I would rush outside to watch. When they left for their next show they flew in formation which was really cool to see.

    We also have a local who has an old bi-plane that he flies out of the airport. Many summer weekends he’ll practice taking off and landing for an hour or so at a time. It takes twice as long for me to mow the grass when he is flying because I always stop to watch. It’s one of my favorite things to see!

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