Launching fireworks

A UK pyrotechnician has invented a machine to launch fireworks more reliably and cheaply. Based on the principles used in conventional six-chamber pistols, it reduces the set-up time for major fireworks displays from days to hours.

Although a show can be over in minutes, preparation can take many days because of the hundreds of mortar shells that make up the bulk of most displays. Each shell has to be fired from its own cardboard launching tube and set off by its own electric igniter. Every tube has to be linked by individual cables to the pyrotechnician’s control desk, and every cable and connector has to be waterproofed by hand. Igniters can be used once only and can cost up to a £1 – more than the shell itself.

But this could be about to change. Charles Adcock of Event Horizon Pyrotechnics has developed a system capable of launching 144 mortars, which needs just one cable and a single igniter.

Made entirely of steel, it has a hopper of 12 vertical tubes arranged in a circle which can be rotated when a tube empties. Each tube holds 12 shells. Shells fall from the hopper into the empty chambers of a horizontal wheel beneath. The chamber wheel rotates according to instructions from the computerised control desk, eventually moving the loaded chamber in line with the launch barrel.

To launch the shell, a glow plug from a diesel engine is used as a firing pin. It is rammed from below into the gunpowder charge that is built in to every mortar. The charge ignites, lofting the shell through the vertical barrel, and a timer fuse makes it explode at the correct height. Meanwhile, the firing pin retracts and is ready to launch the next shell. The whole machine can launch 70 mortars in two minutes.

Adcock received a DTI Micro Smart award to help perfect his design.