Up, up, and a (no) way!

By Phil Plait | February 17, 2010 7:00 am

[Update: The comments for this post have been… interesting. Opinions are all over the place on this. I know the Humor tag is small and easy to overlook, but I pretty much figured the tone of this post made it clear I was just being silly. Either I missed the mark, or I have a lot of commenters who did. Given that choice, I’ll just assume I’m funny. :) Actually, rereading it, the skydiver I mentioned threw off the vibe of the post, so I removed it. Hopefully that’ll bring the tone more to where I wanted it to be, and I certainly hope no one was offended.

Anyway, to be clear, I was kidding. This sounds like a fun sport, and it would be awesome to watch. However, I stand by the whole I’d-never-do-it-in-a-million-years thing. It takes a special kind of crazy to load a rocket motor onto the back of a plane. I’m happy it’s being done, and a lot happier people other than me are doing it!]

I just received a very odd press release: the Tulsa Air and Space Museum is partnering with something called the Rocket Racing League to create — get this — a rocket racing show. Like an air show, but with rocket-powered vehicles. They have a poster and everything:


Now, as soon as I read this press release I had three thoughts barrel through my brain, willy-nilly, right on top of each other. They were, in order:

1) This must be a hoax.
2) No, I think this is real, and we live in THE FUTURE.
3) This is a really bad idea.

I’ve been to a few air shows. They make me nervous, not the least reason for which is all the footage you ever see of air shows on TV is when two planes slam into each other or the ground or the spectators or some other obstacle like a goose, the main feature of all these being the slamming.

So, doing this with a rocket motor strapped to your backside just strikes me as being, well, a terrible, terrible idea. Apparently they have some sort of course the rocketeers must go through — ostensibly without the circa 1991 Jennifer Connelly waiting for them when they land* — and the audience at the show can follow along on giant TV screens using some sort of augmented reality system. People watching on TV can, according to the press release, "have the unique sensation of riding right alongside famed Rocket Racing League pilots."

Yeah, not so much for me. I think I’ll watch Spongebob reruns. Much safer. And that way I can just wait for the highlights on "America’s Funniest Rockets Slamming into Things Way Faster Than a Plane Can".

* Yes, I am assuming all the rocketeers are men (well, heterosexual men if you want to be really specific). It’s not sexist; it’s because all the women I know are far too smart to strap a rocket to their backside in this manner.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Geekery, Humor, Piece of mind
MORE ABOUT: rocket racing

Comments (80)

  1. TDL

    Rocket Racing League is fairly old news. First announced after the X-Prize was won, I think.

  2. Um, Phil. Hate to break it to you, buddy, but the Rocket Racing League uses rocket-powered aircraft, not jetpacks. This is confirmed pretty easily by looking at their media page: http://www.rocketracingleague.com/Dev2Go.web?id=202903

    Not that flying around in the modern equivalent of an Me 163 sounds that much safer, but yeah. 😉

  3. Ben H.

    Thanks for posting this! I hadn’t heard about the Tulsa show. I’ve been following the Rocket Racing League since it was announced 5 years ago. They had some of their racers on display at the x prize cup in 2006 and 2007 (in NM), which I saw. These are some really competent people – engineers, financiers, pilots, etc – who have put this league together; the brainchild of the well-known to geeks, Peter Diamandis. I understand your initial reaction but honestly it’s going to be a lot of fun and a great addition to air show events, once they get off the ground. Now, if you have a natural aversion to air shows to begin with, maybe it’s not for you.

    For those that don’t know much about the league, its not like they get in these planes and turn on the motor and go really really fast for a few minutes. The planes are more like gliders. there is a pre-determined ‘virtual’ route (see, nothing marking the route) through the sky with turns and peaks. The pilot will have to intelligently use the limited burn life of his re-startable rocket motor to get the push he needs to go into turns and over peaks. You’ll likely see one or two second burns, and then 15 seconds of gliding before the plane needs another push again. The planes will be highly maneuverable like in the Red Bull Air Races but will glide, rather than be pulled by a propeller, except when they need a quick push from their rocket engines (which I think are mostly hybrid like SpaceShipOne.


    So, what you are saying in your footnote is that only men indulge in willy-wagging, isn’t it? 😉

  5. Mark S.

    Wow, I grew up going to several air shows a year and never saw any significant accidents. Yet you’re saying air shows are scary because you observed one relatively improbable event as a child and because news coverage of them (understandably) focuses on accidents? I mean, I realize you’re half joking here but still, seems a really odd position for a SKEPTIC to take. :)

  6. LeslieS

    I live in Tulsa. Hopefully one of these guys doesn’t end up in my living room…

  7. Rick W.

    The Rocket Racing League was announced several years ago. 2005 if I’m not mistaken.

    “all the footage you ever see of air shows on TV is when two planes slam into each other or the ground or the spectators or some other obstacle like a goose”

    If I showed you only pictures of Antartica would you believe that the entire planet as covered with ice?

  8. Mark Sletten


    The rockets on these aircraft are controllable — the pilot can switch them on and off. In fact, the rocket will be off for the majority of the time in flight.

    While there will be two aircraft flying at the same time in a ‘drag race’ type format, the race courses are parallel — the paths of the aircraft are not meant to cross — to limit the chances of an in-flight collision.

    The virtual race courses are not over the crowd (FAA regulation prohibit the performance of aerobatics OVER spectators) and there will be strict weather requirements. In other words, risk management will be paramount for these events.

    The planes are derivatives of Rutan designs, and the rockets are manufactured by companies with names I’m sure you’ll recognize — XCOR, Armadillo Aerospace, etc. If we have any hope of developing a civilian space flight capability, these are the kinds of people and companies that need our support, not our ridicule.

    Aerospace activities always carry an element of danger. The RRL, of course, will be no different. The RRL is trying to develop an air racing format, however,that translates well to remote audiences. Indeed, the live spectators will not have as good a view as remote audiences. In fact, those watching online — the preferred audience if I correctly understand the ultimate goals of the League — will enjoy multiple views and live data streaming of in-flight telemetry, including cockpit video. But by keeping the aircraft away from the live spectators and managing other risks to the maximum extent possible, I don’t see how this can be any more dangerous (to either the pilots or the spectators) than a NASCAR event.

    Please rethink your position on this one Phil. We need all the excitement we can get in the civilian aerospace industry — now more than ever!

  9. Chip

    Alan Boyle has written about this several times on Cosmic Log blog
    These were the only two that poped up on a quick serach of the site but he had a at least one last year with video also

  10. Jamey

    You know, I find that kind of odd – though I can understand trauma causing such an attitude. However, the Rocket Racing League is fairly new, but apparently, Armadillo Aerospace is involved, so I’m going to give them a shot.

    Still, this puts me in mind of Heinlein’s _Rocketship Galileo_, which was the first book that really inspired me to think that *private* individuals might be able to do meaningful rocket development (I read _Have Spacesuit, Will Travel_ before, but the aliens did all the really neat space travel in that one).

    Seriously, we need this kind of thing. And as for the deaths: “Any project bigger than a schoolyard swing involves probable loss of life.” The problem we’ve had with the space program so far is that we’ve been far too risk-adverse to actually get anything done. http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/31236

  11. “A rocket motor strapped to their backside”? Are you confusing this with that guy who recently strapped a rocket motor to his backside and flew over some mountains? Because this looks like airplanes with rocket engines, which is quite different.

  12. Jeremy

    Rocket racing has been a long time coming. The engines for the racer’s were developed by Armadillo Aerospace, the same guys that completed the lunar lander challenge, and I believe were mentioned on the BABlog before. Anyways some really cool media can be found on the armadillo website or more specifically at this news post http://armadilloaerospace.com/n.x/Armadillo/Home/News?news_id=361

  13. Magrathea

    Bleah, is this the only way to top the Ramstein airshow disaster? It’s one thing to do demonstrations and shows, it’s quite another to do acrobatics and bring it to the edge right in front of people. There’s more than enough excitement in all others area in life, I don’t need to go see silly dangerous shows (I still will attend F1 racing, but that’s about a billion times safer than any air show)

  14. Ray

    Phil, air shows are about as safe as anything else. The reason you keep seeing the video of two planes colliding is because death sells (which you took advantage of with your book).

  15. mithril

    actually, this was an idea proposed shortly after Rutan won the X-prize. Popular Science covered it then, though they focused more on the “electronic courses projected on the planes cockpit”, and other such “hype” that we wouldn’t see until several years of operation. but the basic premise, taking the old idea of aircraft races, and adding in rocket power, is a solid one.

    some more information:

    http://www.popsci.com/military-aviation-space/article/2005-10/rocket-powered-air-races-launch-next-year (they got the date wrong, but Pop-Sci has never been good with predictions..)

  16. Tony

    Great. Real life pod racing. Should be safe, so long as they keep the Tuskan Raiders away from the track…

  17. Mark Sletten

    Magrathea Says: ‘I still will attend F1 racing, but that’s about a billion times safer than any air show.’

    See what I mean Phil? Your ‘opinion’ carries a lot of weight here. This person is willing to make a ‘safety’ determination based on little more. Worse, she makes no attempt to even define what she means by ‘safer.’ Safer for whom? The drivers? The spectators? F1 cars are safer than airplanes going the same speed? Drivers are safer than pilots?

    Based on what data?

    Please, please, please folks, take a minute to research what the RRL is about before you pile on.

  18. Cheyenne

    That. Looks. Awesome.

  19. sketchy

    isn’t this the concept behind the red bull racing league?

  20. Darren

    I would certainly risk strapping a rocket motor to my backside if circa 1991 Jennifer Connelly was waiting for me.

  21. Kevin

    I love airshows. Of course, I’m an airplane geek, so any chance to see some planes is a win for me (helps being a military brat).

    But the Rocket Racing League has been around for a few years now.

  22. Gary Ansorge

    Personally, I hope they succeed big time. We rocket enthusiasts need an alternative to NASCAR. Putting it on the net is a great idea.

    GAry 7

  23. Steve

    Fear of skydivers slamming into the ground. Fear of planes slamming into planes and fear of big rocks slamming into the Earth. . .

    Sometimes “a cigar is just a cigar”.

    It’s probably best that Phil doesn’t read up on the Me-163 (lucky pilots were blown up on landing, unlikely pilots dissolved in flight).

    Seriously though airshows are safe fun.

  24. Doc

    Have you looked at the “Ignition Test Sequence” video on the Rocket Racing League website? It’s not exactly confidence instilling.

  25. The air race phenomena is certainly legit. Seeing the course they had to run in Budapest on ESPN (or ESPN2 or 3, or whatever) a few weeks ago, my guess is this is primarily promotional of that sport. What rocket vehicles there are that are similar may be demonstrated in such a perfect venue.

    And after watching the race in Budapest, it’s hard to see a rocket plant as more dangerous (on a course) than the high-thrust air-breathing jets employed. And over the Danube, downtown directly between Buda and Pest, the dangers to pilot and spectator seemed less a concern perhaps than it should have been without the expense to taxpayers of building a NASCAR track.

    So, if this species of racing aircraft can be seen as obviously more challenging than the apparently successful jet racing seems to be, my guess is it will be coming to a venue nearby soon.

    If not nearby, than at least at the Oklahoma Spaceport. (Like the sub-orbitals, not a bad way, in the long run, to reduce the cost of future spacecraft, if, as so many believe, “privatization” is truly the Next Big Thing.)

    If not, the air-breathers present quite a show, and one far superior to watching those who are out to prove their “driving in a circle prowess.”

  26. Messier Tidy Upper

    Sounds like spectacular fun that could well help “rocket” the technology forward. 😉

    I like it. No, actually I *love* it! 8)

    Risk & danger is an element that attracts as many as it puts off – if not more. It is visceral, almost instinctive for some to love speed and danger and thrill to the adrenalin rush of going fast and racing incredible machinery.

    While it sounds like the BA has had a horrible chidlhood (?) experience with airshows & I can therefore understand why he and others might disagree, it doesn’t mean that this necessarily such a terrible idea.

    If you have to die (& lets face it we all do) there are far worse ways to go than flying (or watching) a rocketplane.

    To para-phrase quote Alan Shepherd :


  27. ASFalcon13

    “So, doing this with a rocket motor strapped to your backside just strikes me as being, well, a terrible, terrible idea.”

    Why does a rocket motor all of a sudden make this a terrible idea, exactly?

    As Ben H. pointed out, these rocket-powered craft aren’t going to be balls-to-the-wall the whole time…it’s going to be mostly gliding flight boosted by small burns. If anything, it sounds even more tame than Reno Air Racing, which is already well-established. For those of you who don’t know about Reno Air Racing, think of souped-up P-51 Mustangs zipping around an oval course at full power. In 2003, Skip Holm (a former Lockheed test pilot) set a speed record of 507 mph on the track. Reno started in 1964, and is still going.

    Ultimately though, realize that airshows are governed by the FAA, and the rocket planes will be built to conform to FAA requirements just like any other aircraft.

  28. *Yes, I am assuming all the rocketeers are men (well, heterosexual men if you want to be really specific)

    Ah yes. All non-heterosexual men being either, A) nancy boys, or B) much, much too rational for this sort of thing.

    BTW, I had a horrible experience with a clown when I was a kid. Doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate Cirque du Soleil.

  29. Miko

    Yes, I am assuming all the rocketeers are men (well, heterosexual men if you want to be really specific). It’s not sexist; it’s because all the women I know are far too smart to strap a rocket to their backside in this manner.

    In point of fact, this is sexist. As a handy guideline for future use, if you have to include an explanation of why what you’re saying isn’t sexist, it means that it probably is.

  30. it’s because all the women I know are far too smart to strap a rocket to their backside in this manner.

    Insert strap-on/backside/rocket joke here.

  31. Sarah

    Actually, while Rutan may have pioneered the form the RRL airplanes are based on the Velocity XL airframe.

    I saw a demo at Oshkosh ’08 and it was _awesome_. Seeing and hearing the airplane in a vertical climb ( ended with a pushover at the base of an overcast ) in front of a 100,000 person crowd was incredible. I love living in the future.

    * Oshkosh ’08 == “Experimental Aircraft Association” annual mega-airshow. And this is a heck of an ‘experimental’.

  32. drow

    wow, phil gets one wildly wrong. either he’s human, after all, or someone hacked his blog.

  33. gss_000

    I think the whole history of this sport is a great indicator of how things are going to go with the commercial spaceflight industry in general. It shows that while progress is going to be made, you can’t always believe the hype especially when it comes to company CEOs and their rollout dates. There were supposed to be exhibition races back in 2008 with full seasons starting now. I doubt this will be an actual race here, so when the first exhibition race will be is anyone’s guess. The website has no mention.

  34. t-storm

    this might be one of the most ignorant posts I’ve seen.

    If airshows were truly that dangerous they would never have them. accidents happen. the RRL has been around, as everyone has said. The rocket engine is very similar to the engine that powered spaceship 1. Nitrous as the oxidizer and rubber as the fuel, not necessarily throttleable, but restartable. pretty cool actually, I’ve been waiting for the air races to start for years.

  35. I expect that this sort of thing will bring advances to (private!) rocketry in much the same way that road racing has brought improvements to private automobiles.

    Things like shatterproof windows, seat belts, airbags, crush zones, roll bars… :-)


  36. I spent my entire youth attending air shows. I think there was an accident once.

    It makes perfect sense that the media would cover the accidents and horror stories because “Air show has no issues and was entirely safe again this year” doesn’t really make a compelling headline.

    I also fail to see how using a rocket for an engine somehow makes this entire event scarier — I mean, you advocate programs that use giant rockets to propel people and payloads into space; what better way to get people excited than to let them go see much smaller rockets on fast planes?

    Finally, your “it’s not sexist because no women are dumb enough to do this” statement is, in fact, a sexist comment. I know you probably don’t perceive it that way, because I don’t think you’re sexist — but almost everyone says sexist things sometimes.

  37. Mark S.

    @24 Doc, I don’t see anything troubling about that ignition sequence video at all. I mean, were you expecting it to actually take off? Were you confused by the title “IGNITION test sequence”? Here’s a hint. They were just testing (wait for it)….IGNITION!

  38. Chris A.

    I’m reminded of Bill Maher’s take on NASCAR and illegal recreational drug use (paraphrasing here): Both are unnecessary, high risk activities which, not infrequently, result in the maiming or killing of the participants. The participants of one are held up as heroes, while the participants of the other are vilified. Why?

  39. Joseph

    @ Phil!


    See the light (of the warm glow from the tail end of the rocket planes as they race at break neck speeds into the future)!

    This is an awesome sport! Been waiting for it to get off the ground since Pop. Sci. covered it in an article years ago. As a number of others have said this is just what the com. aerospace industry needs!

    If you think of safety concerns like that no one would attend any event with large potentially explosive machines. Think shuttle launches. At least here things will be built by commercial sponsors and not government contracted lowest bidder.

    Go with your second thought and throw the others to the wind (to be burnt up in the rocket exhaust flames of passing planes)!

  40. Magrathea

    @Mark Sletten: you’re splitting hairs here. Who tells you I am basing my decisions based on what appear here, which is merely a blog? I am just stating a personal affirmation i.e. most races are dangerous. There has been no death in F1 pilots since Ayrton Senna, that was ages ago and yes, I know a few marshals or side course people have died in events (Adelaide 2001 comes to mind).

    Yes it is a dangerous activity, but it’s mostly in 2D, there’s a whole axis they don’t touch, with planes and rockets, I don’t believe you can effectively be safe to the public unless you bury the crowd in bunkers.

    Just my opinion, stop assuming things, it’s demeaning.

  41. Elmar_M

    Yepp, they are serious and they have been arround for a while. The first rocket racer to fly was actually built by Xcor aerospace.
    But Armadillo’s (John Carmack of Doom fame owns it) vehicle was chosen by them after a few testflights.
    Both are really, really impressive planes and both have already flown at airshows.
    There are videos of them on youtube.
    I do share some of the concerns in regards to savety though. I think that this is a problem with all airshows though and I dont think the rocket racers are any more dangerous than jet airplanes. So people that dont mind going to a “traditional” airshow, wont mind that either.

  42. Dave

    This can’t be much worse than MX stuff that I watch. Dirtbikes weren’t made to do double backflipes in the air as where planes are atleast made to fly. Heck, it’s a better idea than jumping crotch rockets into foam pits!! But, people do it, and I’m gonna watch it :)

    Going out in a blaze of flames does sound pretty cool though… just don’t take the crowd with ya 😉

  43. DaveS

    drow@33–you’re quite right. That post just doesn’t sound like the Dr. Plait that I know, from the un-researched premise, to the anecdotal-based attitude about airshows, to the misandry at the end.

    What that really you, Phil?

  44. Mark @8
    “If we have any hope of developing a civilian space flight capability, these are the kinds of people and companies that need our support”

    Right on Mark!

  45. Ian

    Wow. I never thought I’d see such an epically ignorant post from Phil. Way to lower the bar.

  46. Kirk

    Hmm. I don’t think that’s the sound of rockets or jetpacks or whatever. That’s the sound of the humor of this post going right over people’s heads.

    Pro tip: Phil likes to be funny on his blog. Reread with senses of humor switched to “on.”

  47. Mark Sletten

    Magrathea said: ‘…I don’t believe you can effectively be safe to the public unless you bury the crowd in bunkers.’

    Ok, so it seems your safety concern centers on the spectators, not the drivers/pilots — that wasn’t at all clear in your last post. So your opinion is that it’s ‘about a billion times safer’ for F1 racing spectators than airshow spectators. Forgetting the fact we’re not taking about an ‘airshow’ per se, but air racing, on what data is your opinion based? How are the numbers derived? Is it based simply on the numbers of spectators who have died watching F1 races vs airshows? Is it based on the ratio of racers to spectators in each sport?

    Please give me some idea of how you determined the relative safety of the two sports aside from your gut feeling.

    BTW, if you’re gonna post your opinion publicly you should be prepared for the public to make observations about it and even question it — especially when your opinion appears to be based on misconception and ignorance.

  48. Mark Sletten

    Kirk @ 47, yeah, skydivers falling to their deaths… now that’s funny!

  49. I would totally strap a rocket to my back if I thought it would get me Jennifer Connelly.

  50. Kirk

    When I was in kindergarten, my teacher wrote a note on my report card for my parents: “Kirk needs to stop being so sensitive.” I was apparently getting ticked off for taking things too seriously or too personally when I was really misinterpreting things and building them up into something much bigger than they were.

    It was good advice that I’ve always remembered.

  51. Gumba Masta

    The only way this could be any more cooler AND dangerous is with tigers.
    That’s right ladies and gentrons, Rocket Powerd Tigers.
    And as luck would have it the aeronautics division of the evil faceless corporation that I work for has just cut my funding for this project so I plan on smuggling them out and releasing them into the aircrafts paths to show them that I’m the one who’s laughin now! Muahahahahahha!….
    Hmmm, I think I should switch to a different brand of blood pressure pills.

  52. CrazyJesse

    Events having vehicles racing in mud are more dangerous per capita. Or how about the running of the bulls? What about that downhill cheese-wheel race? With all the above there’s different levels of the lack of a fine line between participant and spectator. Or wait! how about the most extreme road-ragious drivers trying to get to where they want to go during bad weather? Life is dangerous and the entrance fee for infants is always free.

  53. eddie

    Phil, nowadays some people would take the following statement as sexist: “I’m a man; she’s a woman.”

    Really. I’m in the media, and it’s gotten that bad. So no worries about the sexist thing.

  54. Chip

    The basic Long-EZ canard design is by Burt Rutan though this plane is a called a Velocity and is based on Rutan’s concept. It is originally a propeller pusher aircraft that has had the prop motor replaced by a rocket engine. Apparently the motor can be switched on and off and is likely solid fuel.

    The old German Me 163 was much much faster (being designed as a defense interceptor) and used T-stoff and C-stoff liquid fuels that were highly explosive and dangerous even in the ground. Many people don’t know that Northrop also built secret rocket powered-flying wing aircraft in WWII that were also highly dangerous to fly. These “Velocity” planes are much slower and safer – though nothing is risk free.

    BTW – there is more than one “Chip” positing here.

  55. !AstralProjectile

    “The only way this could be any more cooler AND dangerous is with tigers.

    “ANNND one drop of human blood!”

  56. John Sandlin

    So… Where can I sign up?

  57. Gavin Williams

    Lmao. Excellent news. Excellent post. C’mon folks, it’s called irony! How is a space scientist NOT looking forward to this!?

    I am, even if my favourite band is Rammstein.

  58. XCOR, which makes the Rutan Long-EZ aircraft modified with XCOR rocket engines (called the EZ-Rocket), is located right next door to the Long-EZ’s home, Scaled Composites (SpaceShipOne, SpaceShipTwo). They are both very cool companies and I’ve had the pleasure to meet lots of folks from both, including XCOR’s CEO Jeff Greason.

  59. CAS

    So it’s sexist to say that men are smarter than women, but not sexist to say that women are smarter than men?

  60. As one of the first four pilots named to the Rocket Racing League program, I’m going to do something that escaped your blog… I am going to speak from experience and utilize facts and research.

    After all, those can, DO — Those who can’t, BLOG.

    The RRL program is being very carefully researched and brings together a number of exciting technologies (and incredible talents) with the ultimate ambition of not only creating a new sporting event, but one that inspires people to pursue education, technology and their own personal ambitions. If you reach for the sky, your life is far less likely to bottom out, after all.

    The program has come together slowly… simply because all involved are dedicated to raising the technological bar in pursuing this effort and doing so while maintaining proper levels of safety. We are working closely with the FAA and the airshow industry to make sure that all operations are as safe as humanly possible and while any flying activity (much less a rocket powered one), has its hazards, you would NOT catch this 18,000 hour pilot in one of these vehicles if I didn’t feel that all efforts were being made to bring a proper level of safety to the process — and I assure you that other pilots involved in this program are equally committed to the same.

    Additionally; the comments about both the airshow industry and the skydiving community are out of line and cast aspersions on the amazing progress I’ve seen in both pursuits (and yes, I have worked in both areas… once again speaking from EXPERIENCE). Both activities have undertaken intensive efforts to make their activities safer and the last few years have allowed both undertakings to compile truly impressive safety records. If you look into any proper statistical analysis of both industries over the last few years, you will see concrete evidence (as in FACTS) that show that progress has been, and continues to be, made in achieving greater levels of safety than that seen previously. None of us do this to ‘cheat’ death… we do it to enjoy our lives to the utmost and inspire others to do the same… in whatever fashion they choose.

  61. Gumba Masta

    “The only way this could be any more cooler AND dangerous is with tigers.

    “ANNND one drop of human blood!”

    Actually that’s part of the Black Magic department

  62. AeroNewsNet (#61): Did you read the update to this post I put at the top? You posted your comment after I updated the post.

    Gavin Williams (#68): Bingo. Thank you.

    And it occurs to me, perhaps too late, that maybe not that many people here have seen “The Rocketeer”. Maybe that would explain a lot…

  63. 54. eddie Says: “I’m in the media, and it’s gotten that bad. So no worries about the sexist thing.”

    And it’s been that bad for a while. Some of the comments I got from folks reviewing chapters of “Spaceship Handbook” (2001) prior to publishing:

    1) I shouldn’t use the term “manned” to refer to a vehicle with people on board. What am I supposed to use, “personned?”

    2) One guy was upset over my use of the term “bimbo” to refer to a not-too-bright, blond cartoon character, even though she was deliberately created that way by the animators and was the very definition of the word. Historical note: the original “Bimbo” actually was a cartoon character invented by Max Fleischer in the late ’20s. He (yes, it was a male) was an anthropomorphic dog who was often the companion of Betty Boop.

    3) One objected to my use of “mankind” even when quoting historic documents. I absolutely refuse to use the awkward, condescending PC term “humankind” (even though I just did), although if really pushed I’ll use “humanity.”

    There were others, but it’s making me depressed thinking about it.

    – Jack

  64. Unikraken

    “After all, those can, DO — Those who can’t, BLOG.”

    Hey congratulations! You’ve managed to come off as a pretentious jackass. The fact that you couldn’t realize the satire in this post shows exactly why you’d strap a rocket on your ass and encourage others to do so.

  65. Les

    Long, long ago, lost in the mists of time[1], that ancient IT sort-of-news site, The Register found it necessary to use the “JOKE ALERT” animated gif (it flashed quite nicely) for articles that the hard of thinking took too literally. I may have a copy of it somewhere if you’d find it handy for defending yourself against those that can’t detect humour pitched above the slapstick level.

    [1] Back in the early 21st century. I’m working on internet time, which makes that somewhere in the middle ages, or something like that

  66. Mark Sletten


    Hmmmmm. Trash a start up venture with the potential to create funding for civilian space exploration in a blog post, include a comment about a person falling to their death, slap on a humor tag and then blame your readers when they don’t get it.

    I still don’t get it.

    I’m glad you posted a ‘correction,’ Phil, but I still think you blew it on this one. And some of us know people who have fallen to their deaths…

  67. Al

    Last airshow I went to, even these planes didn’t crash into each other:

  68. drow
  69. gopher65

    The Tulsa Air and Space Museum is a joke. There is nothing there worth seeing. It’s tiny, with no substantial exhibits. It’s a museum to the same extent that my PC is a world class supercomputer.

  70. I think where you went wrong is that there didn’t seem to be any reason for the snark or the strange “humor” exhibited in this post. It’s one thing if you’re taking down some sort of woo, but according to your update, you think this would be cool to watch, so the reason for mocking it eludes many who are just reading your words, not your mind.

  71. @ Eddie and Jack:

    While I think you both are correct in your assessment of over-the-top PCness (and Jack, I’ve read a couple of your books now and would never accuse you of being sexist…just a writer who uses the English language with all its traditionally male-gendered generic nouns), but I think you both kind of missed the point about the “sexist” complaint.

    It wasn’t the language the good doctor used, it was the assertion — ironic perhaps, tho I’m still trying to figure out where exactly that irony lies — that somehow this sort of activity is the sole domain of testosterone charged straight men. Emphasized, as someone pointed out above, by the claim that it wasn’t sexist to state that.

    A simple googling of aviation history would surely have brought up the name Amelia Earhart, wouldn’t you think? And heck, the Wright Brothers were lifelong bachelors…

    Now off to watch The Golden Age of Ballooning…

  72. 72. kuhnigget Says: “@ Eddie and Jack:…I think you both kind of missed the point about the “sexist” complaint. ”

    While this is true (at least for me), I should point out that I was commenting on Eddie’s comment rather than Phil’s post.

    BTW, thanks for being so perceptive. The style as you describe it is exactly the tone I aim for, at least in the history books.

    – Jack

  73. t-storm

    I’ve reread the post and I still don’t see the humor. I see a nervous attempt at humor but what I really see is an astronomer who hasn’t been keeping up with advances in aviation. That’s acceptable but calling it a really bad idea doesn’t seem like mocking, and then a terrible idea.

    I also see people blindly defending the owner of the blog.
    The comment at the end was sexist.

    “Yes, I am assuming all the rocketeers are men (well, heterosexual men if you want to be really specific). It’s not sexist; it’s because all the women I know are far too smart to strap a rocket to their backside in this manner.”

    What about any female astronaut/cosmonaut? The space shuttle has a less than perfect safety record and women have died in them.
    The RRL uses a tank of nitrous and some solid fuel and has a pretty cool safety system in case of rocket burn through. If the rocket motor burns through it burns through a wire that’s wrapped around the motor, the broken wire breaks a circuit that shuts off the oxidizer valve. Very simple, binary, on or off.

  74. Grim

    Dr Phil, welcome to the wild, wacky world of postmodern deconstructionism.

    Oh, and Rule 1: irony doesn’t travel very well, especially between people.

    Enjoyed your post though, and no, I wouldn’t strap a rocket to my rear, either.

  75. Detached Observer

    Rocket powered airplanes have been around since 1928. Not a particularly new concept.

  76. DaveS

    Phil, okay, humor, I see what you were getting at. But clicking on the “humor” button and looking back at all the previous posts, I see plenty of pulling in of other’s humor posts (like XKCD), and panning of pseudoscience, and making fun of really stupid specific people. But this one didn’t fit. What stupid people, specifically, are you panning?

    That’s why it threw people, including me. I just didn’t see it as funny, just stupid, and in a way that isn’t you.

    Al@68, awesome picture. Did you take that?

    Chip@55, solid-fuel rocket engines are nearly impossible to shut off. These are hybrid rockets, with both solid and gaseous fuels. Mythbusters did a lot of this kind of stuff with the salami rocket, etc.

  77. Al

    Yes, I got a pretty good spot 😉

  78. DaveS

    Al, film camera, or digital? Details, please.

  79. Al


    Nikon D300 with 70-200/2.8VR + TC-14E II


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