A New Twist On An Old Favorite

A New Twist On An Old Favorite

By: Matthew Kleinmann

Greetings again fellow pyros!  Today I will be going into something new, and something that I have not personally tried before.  I don’t see any danger and the downside is that it might not work, but the upside is that if you can get the bugs worked out, it should be a wicked cool effect.  So, as they used to say marching into battle, gentlemen, check your powder.  We are diving into uncharted waters.

As some of you may know I have been writing up these little diatribes for the good folks at Mess’s for a bit over a year now.  We all share a real love of fireworks and showmanship.  And they keep pressing me for new ideas.  That is not bad, sometimes that kind of stimulation causes you to think out of the box, and that is where we are going today.

As much as I love big booms and hudge bursts of colors, I have to admit that on a nice still night I really love launching a few Chinese sky lanterns.  If you have never tried these, I strongly suggest that you pick up a few next time you are at Mess’s.  They are simple, they are elegant, and on a still night they are just breathtaking to watch as they make their totally silent assent into the night sky.

If you have never tried them, they are really simple devices.  A large flame retardant crepe paper balloon, with an X brace of thin wire at the mouth.  The wire has a loop in the center of the X.  The fuel for the sky lantern is a piece of cardboard that has been saturated with some type of wax.  It has a hole punched in the center of it.  You place this over the two loops at the apex of the X brace and fold the loops over to hold the fuel in place.  I generally unfold the balloon and grab the center of the X brace and spin in a couple circles, and fill the balloon’s shape out with air.  Once the balloon is full, I light the 4 corners of the fuel, and hold the lantern in place.  It will slowly grow buoyant and when I feel it is ready, I let it go, and it starts it’s assent.  They seem to go for miles.

These seem so simple at first, but they are really ingeniously built.  When used properly, the fuel will burn out when the balloon is hundreds if not thousands of feet up in the sky, and even when the fuel burns out, the balloon will still remain aloft for quite some time because of the trapped hot air.  By the time they come down, they are cool and safe when used properly.  It is still a good idea to use your head with them and not deploy them if it has been dry out.  The materials they are built out of are carefully calculated.  They are just heavy enough to be stable and just light enough to fly.  There is not much extra lift.

So, I have been pondering a way to artistically deploy bunches of sky lanterns.  My initial thoughts were all mechanical, but what kind of a pyro would resort to such primitive means?  Plus I want to be able to deploy them in downright interesting ways.  Shapes of them, perhaps even letters or symbols.  I scratched my head and came up with this.  I have not tried it.  I have tried parts of it, but my extra set of hands has already gone to bed for the night so I am giving this to you as a theory only.

The gist of my idea is to use a small piece of visco fuse as a fusible link.  I am picturing a 12 foot 2x4 laying on the ground.  It has little eye hooks every few feet.  The devices I would use to release the sky lanterns would be a few inches of thread tied around one end of a 2” or so piece of visco, and the far end of that would be connected to an electronic match with it’s wires wrapped around the eye hook.  The other end of the thread gets tied around the sky lantern where one of the X braces meets the balloon body.  This should be well out of the way of the flames from the burning fuel.  You might take a pair of needlenose pliers and make a little loop on one aspect of the X to tie the thread through.  Add no other material than the very short piece of very light thread though.

It will take a few assistants to help hold the balloon bodies up while the fuel is lit (a propane torch is a great help here), and each one will need one person to attend it until it becomes buoyant enough to stand up on it’s own.  An assistant will also be needed to watch to let you know when all of the lanterns have enough lift to ascend and are “tugging” at their strings.

Any time after this I should be able to fire the electronic match, light the visco, the visco pretty much vaporizes, and the sky lantern is left untethered, free to ascend into the night sky.  It should be possible to lay the 2x4 launching pads out in patterns and launch waves of the sky lanterns into the sky in everything from zig zags to polygons.  You might even be able to spell simple numbers or letters out.

The sky lanterns have very little lift so make sure you use the thin thread to tether them with, and before you go and get all elaborate, verify that the visco that you have vaporizes as it burns.  If it leaves even little threads behind, that may be enough to keep the lantern grounded.  The green visco I just tested left nothing but some sooty dust in its wake so I should be good to go with this.

I am going to try this the next time I get some help, but if you beat me to it, please do me a favor, and let me know how it worked out for you.

I think it is totally cool taking the sky lanterns to the next level!

Matthew Kleinmann  Is a professional, licensed pyrotechnician and a staff writer for Mess’s Fireworks