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Catapult contest still ‘on’

Air Force photos by Mike W. Ray
Master Sgt. Patrick Patterson cocks the catapult he and two other NCOs from the 960th AACS intend to enter in “Viking Fest” this fall. Their machine was constructed from 2x6s and uses three 100-pound exercise bands as its power source. “Considering its mobility, along with the ability to change the launch angle and to fine-tune the tension, we can put ‘warheads on foreheads’ anywhere on the field,” said Patterson, the principal designer of the medieval siege engine.

Air Force photos by Mike W. Ray Master Sgt. Patrick Patterson cocks the catapult he and two other NCOs from the 960th AACS intend to enter in “Viking Fest” this fall. Their machine was constructed from 2x6s and uses three 100-pound exercise bands as its power source. “Considering its mobility, along with the ability to change the launch angle and to fine-tune the tension, we can put ‘warheads on foreheads’ anywhere on the field,” said Patterson, the principal designer of the medieval siege engine.

Master Sgt. Patrick Patterson cocks the catapult he and two other NCOs from the 960th AACS intend to enter in “Viking Fest” this fall. Their machine was constructed from 2x6s and uses three 100-pound exercise bands as its power source. “Considering its mobility, along with the ability to change the launch angle and to fine-tune the tension, we can put ‘warheads on foreheads’ anywhere on the field,” said Patterson, the principal designer of the medieval siege engine. (Air Force photos by Mike W. Ray)

Master Sgt. Patrick Patterson cocks the catapult he and two other NCOs from the 960th AACS intend to enter in “Viking Fest” this fall. Their machine was constructed from 2x6s and uses three 100-pound exercise bands as its power source. “Considering its mobility, along with the ability to change the launch angle and to fine-tune the tension, we can put ‘warheads on foreheads’ anywhere on the field,” said Patterson, the principal designer of the medieval siege engine. (Air Force photos by Mike W. Ray)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Although it's been postponed twice, the catapult contest envisioned by the 960th Airborne Air Control Squadron is now expected to launch this fall.

Originally it was called the "Spring Fling" and was scheduled for May, but had to be postponed because of an outbreak of tornadoes. It was rescheduled for July 26 and renamed the Summer Siege. A "water fight of epic proportions" was planned, featuring "weapons of moist destruction." However, rain that day caused the event to be postponed again.

A new date has not been picked, but tentative plans are to hold "Viking Fest" sometime in October or November.

Catapults will be the featured attraction at the 960th AACS event. The medieval siege engines must be made by hand and not pre-fabricated or purchased. In addition, the homemade machines cannot use compressed air nor hydraulics to launch their "ammunition."

The launchers will be judged on their appearance -- "extra points will be awarded for striking fear into the hearts of your enemies" -- along with accuracy, distance, and the showmanship of the teams. Chief Master Sgt. Daniel Haight of the 552nd Operations Group has volunteered to be the judge.

A few siege engines have been built for the event.

For example, a four-man team from the 552nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron made a large catapult they named "Going Ballista". (A ballista was an ancient military engine, often in the form of a crossbow for hurling large missiles.)

"It's a manly 12 feet tall and 12 feet long," and was made from 2x6s and surgical tubing," said Staff Sgt. Mathew Boyd. Its crank and release were handmade. "We spent about a week and a half building it," after reviewing several designs found on the Internet, Senior Airman Adam Cannon said.

The device was intended to fling water balloons "but it can toss anything that will fit in its pouch," Boyd said. It'll heave rocks and tennis balls the length of a football field.

"We had four criteria when we started designing it," the sergeant said: "massive, bad-ass, hand-cranked, and a self-destruct button." However, "We had to nix the self-destruct feature because of base restrictions."

Besides Boyd and Cannon, other members of the "Going Ballista" team are Tech. Sgt. Justin Gillespie and Staff Sgt. Vance Kendrick.

A three-man team of NCOs from the 960th AACS also has built a catapult. Members of that squad are Master Sgt. Patrick Patterson, Senior Master Sgt. Bradley J. Zikas and Master Sgt. Chris Charpentier.

"Ours is affectionately nicknamed 'Ragnarok', from the Norse apocalyptic concept for the end of the world," Patterson related. "I thought Ragnarok appropriately captured the catapult's capability to rain down watery destruction."

Ragnarok is 8 feet long, nose to tail, and stands approximately 9 feet tall. It was constructed from 2x6s and uses three 100-pound exercise bands as its power source. "I began building the machine a few weeks prior to Spring Fling, basically because I've always wanted an excuse to build a siege engine," Patterson explained.

Zikas helped complete the initial structure, which was test-fired a week before Spring Fling. For the first test, a single band was attached to the 6-foot-long throwing arm at the lowest tension setting. "This configuration launched a water balloon only about 15 feet, but was good practice for cocking and loading the machine," Patterson said.

On the second attempt, "We applied all three bands in a 'low, medium, high' tension configuration." It tossed a half-pound water balloon about 140 feet -- and split one of the 2x6 braces in half. "Back to the drawing board."

After adding more support, "I am now confident we can hurl a projectile over the back fence of the softball field," Patterson said. In addition, Charpentier, "our expert welder," will help install a jackscrew device on the back end of the catapult, which will enable the team to vary the launch angle.

Another team from the 960th AACS, comprised of Capt. Justin Phelps and Lt. Mike Moon, spent an estimated eight hours building an onager-style catapult out of 2x4s and 2x6s. An onager was a Roman siege engine that used torsional force to hurl a projectile.
The Phelps/Moon siege engine was 6 feet long, 2½ feet wide and 3 feet tall, the captain said. Its launching arm (or "spoke") was 5 feet long and used approximately 300 feet of cord that was twisted "so the arm was powered by the tension," he added.

Unfortunately, that device was dismantled after the latest postponement. "It was in my garage and my wife made me get rid of it," Phelps said with a sigh. "We have three kids and needed the space."