Although they failed to achieve an intercept after executing over 35 full-scale tests of the missile defense system
using homemade potato cannons and 5 bags of potatoes Sunday afternoon, the No Nukes North spud test team was jubilant
over their unmitigated success and emphasized how much they had refined the system in one afternoon.
View of Delta River Test Bed Site behind intercept team.
Under sunny conditions and with the constant percussion of heavy artillery fire from the Donnely Dome bombing range just a few miles south of them, the testing team spent the first half-hour at the Delta River test bed site finding properly shaped willow muzzle-loaders, becoming familiar with using the sharpened ends of their cannons to tightly fit potato plugs, and lining out testing procedure and language so that the intercept and target teams were on the same page. The group fired numerous rounds over the river attempting to gauge the distance and trajectory of the missiles and debating whether propane or hairspray made a better explosive propellant. Missiles consistently traveled from 300-400 yards with occasional duds that flopped a few feet out of the cannon.
The first major setback occurred when Gunner #1 screwed the cap of his plumbing-pipe cannon on too tightly after fueling up the chamber, causing the team to sympathize with the Missile Defense Agency's failure to launch due to a rusty silo door in their last test. Thus the first lesson of the afternoon: don't over-screw your caps and if you do, beat them with the handle of a screwdriver to loosen them up.
Lesson number two may seem like an obvious one with hindsight: wear earplugs. Especially after Gunner #1 settled on a mixture of propane and hairspray in his explosion chamber, the launches tended to be very loud. Gunner #1 described that an 8 to10-second shot of propane followed by a 3 to 5-second shot of hairspray seemed to work well since the hairspray ignited more easily but the explosive power of the propane provided extra launch.
After initial calibrations, the gunners were split with 3 for the intercept team and one for the target launching team. The target gunner was apparently reincarnated from the fastest muzzle-loader in the Civil War. He kept up a constant stream of target missiles, firing at almost a 90-degree angle to the 3 interceptors after giving them a series of warnings ("Loading! Fueling! 3, 2, 1..").
Almost immediately a Warhead Retrievement Battalion was formed to gather up many of the potato plugs that hadn't gone into the river, and the testing team's most significant recommendation to the Missile Defense Agency emerged: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle! Using biodegradable missiles that will delight a grazing moose just makes sense.
The target gunner reported that he hadn't had a single dud and that he felt it was important not to flinch in the face of terrorism.
A serious problem with the interceptor team became immediately obvious. As Gunner #2 put it, "We couldn't possibly have any luck intercepting since we can't even get them all to fire at the same time." Indeed, all three interceptors never once fired at the same time despite the team's best efforts. Observers noted that the team may have had more luck if they had a bit more patience, as the gunners - who soon began filling their cannons with all kinds of leaves, twigs, and spud parts as shrapnel on top of the plugs - were often impatient and simply fired their load into the air to see how high it would go.
Interceptor team taking notes on strategy
After 20 or so launches, the teams took a break with a jug of homemade blueberry wine to analyze their findings and strategize for the subsequent round of tests.
Back on the test bed, Gunner #2, who had been mixing up the proper blasting terminology all day, began yelling at the target launcher to count to 3 and then wait 3 before actually firing.
Test #22 was an exceptionally close test with two interceptors actually fired at the same time and missiles that seemed to be in the general vicinity of the target. After this the target launch team decided to make the tests more realistic and he began loading handfuls of moose nuggets on top of his potato plugs to serve as countermeasures. Gunner #2 was soon complaining about a moose nugget falling in his cup of wine.
Upper portion of image shows target missile and moose nugget countermeasures,
middle part of image show interceptor missiles and shrapnel.
After test #35, two of the interceptor cannons experienced permanent failures of their ignition system. The artillery experts concluded that the sparkers had gummed up with hairspray, but this conclusion was not consistent with the success of the target launching cannon, which was using a pure hairspray mix and never encountered this problem.
Following this rigorous and realistic testing program, the team headed to the main gate of Fort Greely to make an offering of several potatoes in hopes that the managers of the missile system will take heart and learn from the day's experience.
Concerned that the general public may not feel overly confident in the underlying logic of the missile defense intercept system after these tests, the team is committed to refining their techniques and scheduling another public test in the Fairbanks area soon.