There are some who believe that steam-powered cars – like those made by Stanley Motor Carriage Company in the early 1900s – are the solution to air pollution, fossil fuel consumption and even noise pollution. No one says that about steam-powered rockets … except Mike Hughes, the designer and pilot of the X-2 SkyLimo Steam Rocket that he’s getting ready for another flight in April.
What? You’ve never heard of a steam-powered rocket or Mike Hughes? Maybe you’re more familiar with his nickname …’Mad Mike’ Hughes. Hughes is a 60-year-old daredevil following in the footsteps of the late Evel Knievel and the still-alive Wile E. Coyote. He claims he currently holds the world record for a manned steam-powered rocket flight – 1,374 feet – set on January 30, 2014.
A steam rocket is basically a pressure vessel filled with water heated to an extremely high temperature, at which point steam escapes through a rocket nozzle to produce thrust. It has been used on a dragster (Art Arfons’ record-setting Neptune 1) and on Evel Knievel’s Skycycle X-2 used for the unsuccessful Snake River Canyon jump. Both were designed by U.S. Navy rocket engineer Robert Truax.
While he describes his flight as “I'm gonna strap myself to a rocket and launch myself like Wile E. Coyote”, Hughes will actually be inside it. According to his web site, Mad Mike’s X-2 SkyLimo has a 14.5-foot-long aluminum body propelled by a steam rocket capable of producing 4,000 pounds of thrust for 4 seconds, taking him to a height of 3,500 feet at a speed of 350 miles per hour for a distance of (hopefully) a record-breaking 1,375 feet or more before falling to earth under a Kevlar ballistic chute until landing on its collapsible nose cone.
The flight is scheduled to take place on April 2nd (to avoid any April Fool’s jokes) in Texas over the Palo Duro Canyon outside of Amarillo – the so-called “Grand Canyon of Texas.” The technology has been proven and Hughes has done it before. If all goes well, the highest bidder will get to take the X-2 SkyLimo Steam Powered Rocket home after the flight “as is.”
It’s nice to see there are still some home-grown rocket builders and daredevils left. ‘Mad Mike’ may not go too high or too far but he’s doing it on his own, learning from his mistakes and using technology that can have some benefit to the rest of us. It’s far better than sitting on the couch playing with a rocket app.