From the Wall Street Journal :
Mr. Kennedy has been studying and writing about ancient engines of war since his days at Sandhurst, Britain's military academy, some 30 years ago. But what spurred him to build one was, as he puts it, ``my nutter cousin'' in Northumberland, who put together a pint-sized trebuchet for a county fair....as you do...
The device hurled porcelain toilets soaked in gasoline and set afire. A local paper described the event under the headline "Those Magnificent Men and Their Flaming Latrines."What's interesting is how they figured out the mass of the projectiles. Medieval artists weren't too concerned about things like drawing relative sizes accurately, and the principles of perspective were still hundreds of years in the future.
Building a full-sized siege engine is a more daunting task. Mr. Kennedy believes that dead horses are the key.Well, naturally.
That's because engravings usually depict the trebuchet hurling boulders, and there is no way to determine what the rocks weigh, or the counterweight necessary to fling them. But a few drawings show dead horses being loaded onto trebuchets, putrid animals being an early form of biological warfare. Since horses weigh now what they did in the 1300s, the engineering calculations followed easily.Oh, but every home should have at least one! As Avon Lady Repellant. Or a quick method of garbage disposal. In the UK, for Home-Defense, as guns are apparently illegal. There must be a thousand uses.
One thing has frustrated Mr. Kennedy and his partner: They haven't found any commercial value to the trebuchet.
Finally, there's the prospect of flinging a man into space - a living man, that it. This isn't a new idea, Mr. Kennedy points out: Trebuchets were often used to fling ambassadors and prisoners of war back over castle walls, a sure way to demoralize the opposition.20 g over 1 second would end up as 200 metres/second, near enough. 12 km/minute or 720 km/hr. 0 to 90 mph (call it 160 km/h) in 1.5 secs? 3 gees, no more. Aerobatic aircraft routinely pull more over long periods. And US rocket sled experiments had people pulling 20 gees for several seconds with no ill effects, other than nosebleeds, red eyes, and piles (which fighter pilots also suffer from, they routinely do 5 gee and sometimes 9 or more in short, sharp manouvres).
Some English sports parachutists think they can throw a man in the air *and* bring him down alive. In a series of experiments on Mr. Kennedy's machine, they've thrown several man-sized logs and two quarter-tone dead pigs into the air; one of the pigs parachuted gently back to earth, the other landed rather more forcefully.
Trouble is, an accelerometer carried inside the logs recorded a centrifugal force during the launch of as much as 20 Gs (the actual acceleration was zero to 90 miles per hour in 1.5 seconds). Scientists are divided over whether a man can stand that many Gs for more that a second or two before his blood vessels burst.
So it's doable.
As for the Inventor of the Trebuchet?
Only one full-sized one exists today, designed and built by Mr. Kennedy, a wealthy landowner, inventor, military historian and - need it be said? - - full-blown eccentric.Eccentric? Merely unconventional. And a man after my own heart. But I'm worried about anyone he describes as his "Nutter Cousin" though.
Meanwhile, should you wish to own your own trebuchet - and when it comes down to it, who doesn't? - just surf on over to Trebuchet.com. Kits and plans for fully working models, some so small you can put them on your desktop, others capable of breaching walls of neighbourhood castles.
Or of course, you can always try out the Virtual Trebuchet I mentioned in an earlier post.