Link to Part 1 – Burning out
After some experimenting with the OAID machine and after obtaining some success igniting small test acreages, demand for existing stocks of the chemical and the ping-pong balls we needed was dwindling fast. We required ping-pong balls and potassium permanganate in massive quantities, much beyond the capabilities of the commercial supplier who couldn’t keep up with demand. To tackle aerial ignition on the scale that was required, a huge manufacturing capability was needed to supply the materials in their final form.
Consequently, the Ministry began scouting around for a building to contain manufacturing operations. The only viable location was the Dryden arena, an old wooden building. Certainly, the timber in the building was extremely dry because of its age, and this was a concern due to the fire hazard of the potassium. Approval was quickly obtained, workers were hired, chemical was delivered, and ping pong ball halves were assembled with the required amount of chemical. Throughout it all, the arena remained standing.
The ping-pong balls arrived at the base camp in huge green garbage bags. The bags were transferred to metal garbage cans to contain the balls and then loaded into the back of the helicopter. Our thinking was that the metal cans would prevent the balls from contacting the anti-freeze floating around in the slipstream.
During the ignition operation the Burn Boss sat in the front. Sonny Lengyl was the OAID operator in the back of the helicopter. When the hopper was reloaded with balls there was all kinds of loose potassium floating around. Anti-freeze flowed freely in the slipstream and got all over the hands of the operator. When the anti-freeze got under Sonny’s fingers it mixed with potassium permanganate. The smell of smoke wound its way into the front of the helicopter. I thought we were on fire, but it was only Sonny. I landed, he managed to get his fingers under control and we carried on with the burn.
It all seemed like good fun at the time.