Mechanical engineer Jason Bell has helped people throw themselves off the New River Gorge Bridge in Fayetteville, West Virginia, for more than a decade. About 400 BASE jumpers each year, in fact, leap from the 876-foot-high span before deploying their parachutes at Bridge Day, an annual extreme sports event Bell helps run. But two years ago, he decided to build a new thrill for spectators and jumpers alike: a catapult that hurls daredevils head over heels into the chasm below.
Bell's creations include an electric go-kart and an automated towrope to pull his kids up their backyard sledding hill; he even built smart features into his home. (He can remotely adjust lighting, audio, security, and video camera systems.) But he had never attempted to build anything quite as daring as a human catapult. "Very few have been built, and many have resulted in disaster," he says. "That just made it all the more challenging."
The basic elements, at least, came together easily. Every October on Bridge Day, local authorities allow Bell to co-opt a 20-foot-deep section of the bridge for BASE jumpers, which means his catapult could be no longer than that. Bell spent a year drafting the structure—a sturdy base and an arm made of steel tubing—using a 3-D design software called SolidWorks. He eventually settled on a rotating arm 12 feet long, which a local workshop agreed to machine to his specifications. Meanwhile, Bell spent nights and weekends in his garage constructing a compressed-air launching system.
In the first tests, Bell and his friend Joe Caulfield launched stuffed animals, laundry bags, and 200-pound sandbags across his front lawn. The catapult hurled even the heaviest objects more than 50 feet. At one point, however, the stress forced a bearing to shoot out of the catapult's arm joint like a bullet. (On Bridge Day, two of the caster wheels even cracked from the strain exerted by the 2,500-pound machine.) Bell created and installed a custom bearing, added spring-loaded shocks to cushion stress on the casters, and tweaked a few other features to handle the abuse.
Last summer, Bell towed the catapult to a local lake to try it out with some friends. He sat in the chair as a buddy threw open a ball valve, retracting a piston with compressed air. The arm sprang up within a second, hurling him high above the lake. "This smooth but sudden sensation launches you upward, and then, all of a sudden, you say, 'Hey, I'm not in the chair anymore,' " he says. "I came out of the water hootin' and hollerin' like a teenager." Bell says the catapult's official debut at Bridge Day later that year was just as big a hit among BASE jumpers. "It's something I'll remember for the rest of my life," he says.
Um, I will not feel sad for those who choose this adventure and hurt themselves in the process.
Though, I do wish you well.
Wonder... you must have no fun in your life...
shame, shame, shame
That looks fun
I like most typical teens thought myself immortal and did all sorts of exception risky DUMB adventures.
I even fell off a perfectly extreme tall cliff with a friend climbing about on the tiny edges. Lucky all I ended up with a raw butt crack-seem as the tiny trees living on the cliff flew between my legs, lol, as I slid for a long time to the bottom. My friend suffered the same with a final tada of a sprain ankle at the bottom.
Now days, I am just happy to wake up and reminisce on 'wonder' of how did I escape not hurting myself, lol.
25K...there is a sucker born every minute. whoever built that thing for him was laughing all the way to the bank
I'm guessing you think design means dreaming up something and then building a perfectly functioning finished product...
seeing how the catapult was perfected over a 1000 years ago I'm going to say very little was needed in the design department
Hello all. I'm the guy who built the catapult described in this article.
Over the years, I've come to accept the fact that most people will never fully understand why people like me decide to BASE jump. Now I'm realizing that building a catapult system is no different. Perhaps it's human nature to question the sanity of individuals who do/build things that others consider to be risky? The world might be a better place if we can understand and respect those that are different.
Nonetheless, I wanted to chime in here and explain a few things from the comments above.
-I designed 100% and built/assembled 80% of catapult. Since I don't have a machine shop, I had a local company cut and weld the steel framework from my CAD drawings. I didn't buy the catapult.
-Catapults may have been perfected many years ago, but they weren't powered by pneumatic cylinders, internal combustion engines, and air compressors. I doubt our ancestors had to draw any shear-force or bending-moment diagrams.
-$25,000 for a catapult does sound high. My wife agrees! Keep in mind that a good 11hp engine can cost nearly $1000 and a pneumatic cylinder can easily exceed $2500. Add a custom $5000 trailer to haul it around and the overall cost might make more sense.
I guess I could have simply bought a nice Harley for the money I put into this catapult. But motorcycle riding is really dangerous and I could easily be killed (motorcyclists are REALLY crazy!). Plus, this catapult will eventually pay itself off.
PS. Here's a cut/paste link to my YouTube catapult video with build details and water/bridge launches: youtu.be/PYXokg9YDoY
Dumb unsafe recreational device.
Eventually somebody will get hurt and many will feel sad and yet the device will continue and multiply.
Because if we do survice this device, in our own imagination we feel more powerful, ROFL..... snort.
Dumb unsafe recreational device with people getting hurt while the device multiplies? You're really going to upset a lot of Harley owners with that comment....
Get off your couch and live a little, Captain Safety!