It was a fine summer’s morning in 1888 as he watched the crows that had plagued him helping themselves once again to his crops, that farmer Noah Sty of Rookery Farm muttered: ‘Well, if you can’t beat ’em….join ’em!’ And so entered the race to become the first man in flight.
It was not long before he sold several of his fields to finance the construction of the world’s first commercial air-docks and had converted an old coach lying in his barn into his Sky-Skimmer; achieved through a lick of paint and the application of his son’s kite to the roof of the conveyance. All he now required to blast himself into the annals of aviation history was the firepower.
Jeromiah Krackle, the octogenarian fireworks expert was approached and accepted the challenge by a letter safely written at arm’s length. This immediately acquired the interest of Krackle’s native American press, where he was known as a good source of copy. They speculated that Krackle was not really intending to construct a flying machine, but a new form of execution chamber called a frying machine, which because of the copious amount of fireworks involved would enable his fellow countrymen to execute the condemned and celebrate the deed in the exact same moment. Krackle had earlier worked on an invention called ‘the electric sofa’ in which three prisoners could be executed for the price of one.
Krackle was supplied with Noah Sty’s weight and that of the Sky-Skimmer and set about the task of calculating the exact amount of fireworks required for the farmer to reach his destination of the Royal Crescent in Bath. This was favoured because his sister lived there and promised to have a nice cup of tea waiting for the intrepid aviator upon his arrival.
Having made all the necessary calculations, Krackle brought the precise amount of fireworks required with him on his cart, making the journey between London and Whitchurch, Bristol in five days….though he could have accelerated his journey considerably had he elected to smoke his beloved pipe along the way.
Harrowing screams emanating from behind the locked doors of Sty’s barn well into the night indicated that things were not running as smoothly as planned. It transpired that Sty had gained two pounds in weight since initially corresponding with Krackle, blowing the latter’s meticulous calculations into orbit. Fearing the Sky-Skimmer would now land 973 yards short of its destination, and that his sister’s cup of tea would be cold by the time he had walked the shortfall, Sty had reluctantly agreed to forfeit several of his fingers to reduce his weight.
It was speculated that potential passengers would not be so accommodating. The press could not conceive of anybody, for instance, sacrificing an arm to reach Portsmouth simply because they had over indulged at Xmas. It was mooted that such amputations would be conducted in a building called ‘The Departure Suite’, and that the amputated limbs would be sent on by rail to the Sky-Skimmer passenger’s destination. This in itself would cause problems, for if the flight was delayed by rain, or the inability to find someone over 16 to buy the necessary fireworks, it would be conceivable for a passenger to find that his leg arrived in Doncaster an hour before he did.
There were, of course, other concerns mooted. For instance it was feared that if a passenger boarded a fireworks propelled flight mistakenly loaded with Catherine Wheels, he or she might never be able to walk in a straight line ever again.
On the morning of August, 22nd, 1888, Sty was strapped into the Sky-Skimmer as he attempted to make history. He posed for photographs, gave his wife a farewell kiss and then waved towards the spectators, roped-off in the far corner of the field. Unfortunately, because of the absence of several fingers, some of the crowd took offence. The touch-paper was lit by Krackle who then beat a hasty retreat along with the gentlemen of the press to the relative sanctuary provided behind the safety-rope.
A mighty explosion of colour and smoke broke the excited silence as the Sky-Skimmer was propelled across the ground at fantastic speed, without, unfortunately, leaving it. Then alarmingly, it turned and retraced its tracks. Spectators screamed and hard-bitten journalists dived behind trees for cover, knocking women and children from their path in their haste to avoid the Sky-Skimmer’s. Just as casualties seemed inevitable, the contraption stopped, pirouetted on its axis and began spinning with tremendous velocity. When it finally came to rest under an aromatic cloud of colourful smoke, Sty emerged relatively unscathed from his cockpit. He surveyed the scene of devastation for some moments, the scorched and battered earth, the flattened hedges and the dishevelled appearance of the still shockingly pale spectators.
‘Well,’ he remarked with great dignity in the circumstances, ‘at least I scared them bloody crows away!’