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Hi everybody. Check here on a Saturday with my Saturday Selex pick from June 3rd, 2010. I think I picked this one because I just got done watching Once upon a Time in Hollywood. Once again, here is our episode, How Flamethrowers Work. You seen that movie? You know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, I hope I didn't spoil it for you. So learn all about flamethrowers right now.
Welcome to Stuff You Should Know. A production of iBOT Radios HowStuffWorks. Hey, and welcome to the podcast. I'm Josh Clark, there's Charles W. Bryant that makes this stuff you should know, right? Yeah, yeah. Terry just I love it when, like, we get last second instructions. Yeah. And they don't make any sense. Save it for the show. Guys, show that picture on the podcast. The audio podcast. Oh, goodness.
How are you, sir? I'm fine.
By all rights Friday. But it's actually Thursday. But it's almost Memorial Day. Yeah.
And when are you coming in? Tomorrow.
No, I'm not comfortable saying either way. OK, well, it's got to be a surprise.
I don't want to get in trouble. Well, I'm not. I'm still scared of the man. I know you're not, but you're all like, hey, look at me. I'm 40. I make my own decisions, not 40.
So, Chuck, you're George Carlin fan, right? Yeah. The late George Carlin. It's the late. All right. We always had the bomber, don't you?
George Carlin could be like George Carlin. He's the greatest standup comedian ever.
Well, it was a life the very the worm food. George Carlin, the. Yeah, the dearly departed.
Yes, I like him. Why?
I have an obscure standup bit that I'll bet you haven't heard of. That is apropos of our topic today. Let's hear it. So George Carlin had a bit about flamethrowers. I never heard that one. He said that the very presence of flame throwers, and I'm paraphrasing here, the very presence of flame throwers means that at some point, some time, someone said to himself, you know, there's a bunch of people over there that I'd like to set on fire, but they're too far away for me to get the job done.
I wish there was something that I could use to throw flames on them. And as a result, we now have the flame thrower. Yeah, which is kind of crazy when you think about it that way. It is pretty interesting. It is. And when you start to really look into flame throwers, you realize just how horrific the acts that humans inflict on other humans can be. Yeah, it's pretty it's pretty awful stuff, actually. Yeah.
When you I mean actually all kinds of modern weaponry. I know my brother in law's in the Marines. He told me about this, I think it's called the flechette, some sort of bomb that like explodes above people and sends thousands of razorblade shooting out.
Yeah, I think it's mainly used for clearing like jungle, but yeah, I can't remember jungle of enemy combatants. Exactly. Yeah. To some psycho thought that up. Yeah. We're like one step away from the alien weapons in District nine. Yeah. People just blow up in an almost cartoonish fashion. Right. Yeah it's coming. Twenty. Fifteen. Sure. The atomizer or something they'll call it. Yeah. What's, what's odd is that that person, the first person that George Carlin envisions actually lived a lot longer ago than you would think.
I was shocked. I was well even in century B.C., fifth century B.C. man.
Right. It wasn't well, it was a flame thrower. It was a very crude, vulgar, if you will, flame thrower. It was a long tube, sort of like a blowgun.
And they filled it with solid stuff like hot coal and sulfur and went, yeah, ideally you don't suck in. That would be bad.
No, I was thinking that, too. Like, you have to suck in the breath before you put the tube to your mouth or else you're in big trouble. Although that's the case with any blow blow blowgun, right? Sure. Yeah. Did you ever make those in your head? No, I never did. I was too busy burning stuff I could have done, but apparently that's true.
So yeah, they would shoot I guess, um, coal or sulphur out at their enemy combatant. Right. Instead of a flame persay. Yeah. Which I guess ultimately it it would bounce off of their arm and they'd be like, oh it burns.
Right. And then they just tussle and leg wrestling.
Right. And then shake hands afterwards and go eat abor.
That's how that went to life in century B.C. with Josh.
But leave it to the Greeks who were one of the brainiest, most thieving cultures of all time. Oh yeah. They probably got this idea from the chemists frankly. But there's this stuff called Greek Fire. Right.
And actually, I can't say that the Greeks came up with it's called Greek fire. But the Byzantines, the what we know is Turks were were most notorious for using this stuff.
Yeah. And that they they think they're not sure because it was a long time ago. It was a mixture of liquid petrol and sulfur and stuff like quicklime, petrol, British for gas. Yes. Yeah.
And they would pump it out actually from a reservoir through little narrow tubes. And like anything that goes from a big reservoir type system to a small thin one, it would create pressure to shoot it out. Right. And then some unlucky guy would be the lighter at the end of. And that would be like a real flame thrower, like dozens of feet. Yeah, as we're going to learn anybody whose job it was to deal with any aspect of flame throwing was the unlucky guy.
Yeah, I would say so. One of the more dangerous weapons you can use. Yeah, but it was very effective. No one, since it's oil based, it could this this Greek fire could be used in naval battles. Yeah. Because it would still burn even when it contacted the water. Sure. And so the Byzantines mounted it on their ships, these flame throwers, on their ships and on the city walls around Constantinople. Yeah. And basically just repelled people out of fear as much as, you know, burning them alive.
Yeah, they were their enemies were really freaked out, I imagine, when they first saw it, like fire shooting at them.
Yes. Freaked out and intrigued, especially in the case of the Chinese. See, what the Byzantines had was a single action pump.
You just pump like they literally did the sea that you see the jury, them following your command. The the Byzantines had a single action bellows pump where when you press down on the downstroke, it would push the liquid out, right? Yes. You get like a burst of fire.
And that's right, because on the upstroke, nothing was happening except the bellows were filling back up with air to press down compressed. Right.
The Chinese said, hey, that's that's really funny because we have a double action. Bellows. Yeah.
To where you are compressing air on the upstroke and the downstroke. So instead of your stupid little short bursts of Greek fire, we have one long burst. They just cut you in half. Yeah. Leave it to the Chinese. It all better. The wheelbarrow, the kite, the hang glider, the flame thrower you name gunpowder and actually gunpowder equaled the demise of flame throwers for about a thousand years, right? Yeah. As soon as gunpowder came along, they were like, yeah, we're just chumps with fire when we can actually shoot a gun.
That's that's the way of the future. Right. And it was. But so was the flame thrower, as it turns out. Yeah. Because it lay dormant for about a thousand years. And then in World War One, actually, right before World War One, the Germans, a very warlike state at the time, were they said, you know, what exactly can we add to our arsenal that is just totally scary and wildly destructive? Yes.
Let's look back through the annals of of, you know, historic weaponry and find something. And they look through and they said the flame thrower. Yeah.
Richard Fielder is an engineer in 1941. They credit him with inventing it, but he clearly was using old technology as the initial idea, at least. Right. It's a clever design, though, isn't it? Yeah, because this from this original design, there have been some polishing moments for the flame thrower over the years. But from that from that modern era, the design has remained relatively the same. Right. It's like a three tank design. Yeah.
The Pflum and Verver. Because it is cool.
Yeah, nice. The Germans. The Germans come later. Hosn Yeah. And it was well was. Yeah. Let's go and explain how it works. Well thanks. All right. And this is the handheld flamethrower, which is the one that's I guess was most readily used in combat. Yeah.
And it's the one you see like a guys wearing these tanks on his back and he's got the rifle.
It's just right. Yeah. So you got to autre tanks and those are filled with the flammable fuel oil based petrol, if you will, like Greek fire. Sure.
And then there's a center smaller tank which holds a compressed gas like butane. And it was it would feed the gas through a pressure regulator connected to the tubes. Right. And you can take it from here.
Well, the this is why I think it's very clever. The butane served a dual purpose. One, it was compressed. So when you open the valve, it would push the the liquid fuel out of the tanks into the tube and ultimately into the reservoir in the gun.
The pressure regulator. Right. That's what they would but switch on. There is another tube that came directly out of the the third tank that held the compressed gas like butane. Yes. And this tube went directly to the ignition valve. Right.
Right. So it served as the igniter later on, right. It was because it was the butane that was actually burning. Right. When you when you open the ignition valve, the butane flows to the end mixes with air, the end of the rifle right here. And then there's like there's two triggers. There's the fuel release trigger, right? Yes. And then there's the ignition trigger. And the ignition trigger is basically you're operating a battery that operates a spark plugs and the current generates heat, ignites the butane.
Now you have that little blue flame on the end.
Yeah, that's what you see in the movies. Like if you see them laying around that. Yeah, exactly. You see the little like three inch flame coming out in the end. Right.
That's actually butane burning. The fuel has a. Been released, the Hellfire has not been opened yet or released yet, that's when you squeeze what's the fuel release trigger? Yes.
And then, well, that pulls back a little valve plug because you obviously want it plugged or else you're going to have a big mess on your hands. Yeah, we are on fire very quickly. Yeah.
So when you pull the fuel release trigger, it pulls the little valve plug back and then all the fuel supply suddenly rushes through to the tip of the gun where the flame is. And boom, there you go.
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Since day one, we've talked about everything from growing our families to growing our companies. We've basically been in an endless conversation about how it all works and sometimes how it doesn't. We talk about the juggle of parenting and work and also about how we both want to make a lot of money, but also be the best moms possible. We've also bonded over our love of women stories. We all know the stories of industry titans like business and jobs, but the stories of women remain incomplete.
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Yeah. Which is ultimately a gasoline or petrol.
In the case of Chuck in our British friends, a gasoline thickening agent. Right. So with a slightly thickened gas, you have a longer range carries further because it has more mass or girth or whatever. There's less there's less friction from the ground coming up right here. And it also can be concentrated more easily.
Right. Right. So basically, that was one of those real big polishing moments. It went from just gas, which sprays to thick gas, which sticks and burns. It evaporates much less quickly. So it'll burn forever. And it's really difficult to put out. And if you get covered in it, you're entirely in trouble. Yes, you're out of luck.
And they would mount these on, well, PT boats for one. Have you ever seen the videos of those things like cruising down the river, shooting napalm into the forest?
Well, I see there's a picture of it in the article. Yeah, I've never seen video of this. Pretty wicked. Yeah. And they call them they call them Zippo Flamethrowers, right. Oh really? Because the ignition system failed so frequently. It's just like on a gas grill. Would they have to light it with a zip up with a zipper. You're kidding. No. And that's the other unlucky dude I guess. Yeah. He'd be like, don't get too close to it for this hand.
And so flame throwers, it wasn't just some guy, you know, who where it would be like a bunch of infantry guys. And then some guy in the end happened to grab the flamethrower that morning when they went out. And it's just, you know. Right. They were part of a tactical strategy. Yeah. What would happen was the rifleman would lay down cover fire. Right. Let's say you come to the mouth of a cave and there's a bunch of enemy combatants in there and they're shooting you and they have snipers and you're in big trouble.
All your your rifleman lay down fire on this case.
Those guys can't move cover fire. Right, to allow your flamethrower man to get close.
He was highly susceptible at this point because of what he's wearing on his back. Yes. All it takes is one good shot to one of those tanks. And that guy is gone, right.
Or a bad shot. Just a shot. Sure. Yeah.
If you come in contact with it. With the bullet. Yes, but so the flame thrower guy gets close, basically cooks everybody burns everyone to death in that case.
Yeah, right. That's his job. Right.
And then after that the munitions guys come in and explode the cave so it can never be used again. And that's Sinora. Yeah. For the cave dwellers. Yes. You know, speaking of quick death, I always heard when I was a kid, you know, that, you know, if you were a flame thrower in war, your average life span is like 30 seconds in combat. Is that right? Well, I always heard that and I'd scour the Internet and I could not find anything to verify that.
But that's what I always heard. I thought that was an interesting tidbit.
I did read that most people who were flame thrower operators didn't survive.
I would imagine it's a pretty dangerous thing to be toting around.
Yeah, and they also had assistance because the assistance would open and close the valves on the pack. For him. That was the whole job was always a two man team. So both of them would usually not make it.
I would if I was the assistant, I would turn on his little valve and then run for cover and then run up and turn it off again. Right. And be pretty unpopular with the flame thrower guy. Probably the flame thrower guy was well liked because if you can take out an entire gun nest of people, then, you know, everybody's going to applaud you and clap and. Sure, you know, probably not get too close, though, because you're going to die eventually.
Yeah, I'd rather be a sniper. I think they'd be like, I play Call of Duty.
I got a three now, but I tell you that no one else it was given to me by my step father in law.
You did tell me my step father in law, OK? And so I got just a couple of games. I'm not like a huge gamer at all. Like I think a Nintendo, like the first Nintendo is the last thing I actually own. But I play Call of Duty now.
I like shooter games too. It's pretty fun, but you choose to be a sniper on that. Well, no, they're just certain levels where you can be a sniper.
Like you'll pick up a sniper gun if you want to. And I usually can entertain back and pick guys off. Yeah, especially guys with flamethrowers.
So here we go again to liberal peaceniks like us. When it comes to like this war stuff, we just get all giddy. Well, it is this one.
For some reason. I was reading a passage about a flamethrower operator in World War two who, you know, received the Medal of Honor for invading a Japanese I think they're called pillbox. It was a little gun nest, burning them all and burning them all alive. And the guy wrote that there was some muffled screams and then silence. Wow. It's like, you know, being burned alive is pretty much everybody's worst death, I would think. So it's up there.
Well, we had worse way to die. That's right. A. And I think if I remember correctly, burning to death is consistently the number one inlike informal poll. Right.
I imagine it's pretty painful and it happened a lot in World War One to Vietnam. Yeah, I mentioned Korea.
This is a horrible weapon and. Absolutely. But you can find civilian applications for cancer. Yeah. Well, before we move on to that, we also need to say that there aren't tanks as well. So it wasn't just boats. They used them on tanks and the design was basically the same. You just had a lot more fuel and you had like piston rotary pumps to get a lot more length on your shot girth and.
Yeah, the the backpack mounted ones. Right. Had a range of about 50 yards. Right. Uh, forty six meters.
That's that's a long way though. Let's have a football field. You have to get that close. Sure. Yeah. I wonder who the first enemy that was like uh he's got a flamethrower but we're way too far away right there within like 45.
Hi, this is Hillary Clinton, host of the new podcast, You and Me both, there's a lot to be anxious and worried about right now, and it's made so much worse by the fact that we can't be together. So I find myself on the phone a lot, talking with friends, experts, really anyone who can help make some sense of these challenging times. These conversations have been a lifeline for me.
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We're going state by state and giving you in-depth reporting on the Trump and Biden strategies so that you understand what they're doing and more importantly, why they're doing it.
Listen, a battleground on the I Heart radio app, Apple podcast or wherever you get your podcasts. Civilian applications forced forced fire fighters, forced firefighters, he said. I don't know if they actually use these when they do the like the prescribed burning, like sometimes they'll burn. Well, not just the firefighters. They do prescribed burns anyway. Sure. And then sometimes the firefighters do that. They'll, like, burn a section to cut it off that right there.
Right. And that's what they do it with flame throwers. Yeah.
Which actually kind of made me want to go get a job with the Forestry Service so you could burn things on purpose.
Well, with the flame thrower, yeah. Did you hear about this car thing in South Africa, theft deterrent system that burned, you know? Yeah, I don't think it's still around. This is like 12 years ago. And a South African man invented it was called The Blaster, and basically it would shoot a man high fireball.
It's what they called it. What about you?
If you tried to break in to the car for a mere 39 hundred ran, which is 70 years and this is nineteen ninety eight dollars. Now it's like 650 bucks. And it would squirt liquefied gas from a bottle in the trunk through two nozzles located in the front door. And the rub is you couldn't turn one on and turn one off. So if a guy was breaking in to like the driver's side door, it would still shoot fire out of the passenger side.
Wow. To whomever might be walking by.
Unluckily, on that side, I'd say, yeah, that's that's an invention that wasn't fully thought through. I would think so. But apparently he sold a bunch of them at the time and he said it's non-lethal, but it would definitely blind a person is what he said, and keep them from stealing your car. Yeah.
Because they can't see cars any longer. That's terrible. Yeah. Way to go. South Africa. Lastly, Chuck, fire breathers there, a form of they follow the basic principles of flame throwing by drinking kerosene.
Yeah, there you go. If you want to learn about fire breathers, we have an article on them. If you want to learn more about flame throwers and before you send us a listener mail, we are aware of flame thrower exhaust systems. We've both seen grease before. Yeah, you can type of any word you want to into the handy search bar, howstuffworks dot com. It'll yield something interesting, I guarantee you that. So, Chuck, listen to me.
I'm going to call this I love this dude and his name is Guy and not as in Hey Guy. His real name is Guy.
I got a guy from San Francisco says, guys, just listen to the art theft podcast. And by the way, we do know about the Paris heist that just went down.
Yeah, pretty cool. Very intriguing for future monetary incentive, neither here nor there. However, I have a little bit a little habit that I thought I might like to share that loosely pertains. I have never stolen art knowingly. However, I do frequently and I'm subjected to I travel frequently and I'm subjected to much distasteful art, guilty of being a budget traveler. So there's the rub. But to amuse myself, I like to take the horrible art off the wall, take it out of the glass and frame and add the ever so slightest detail.
This guy's wonderful.
He does this in Odell's a chicken in the corner by the bar and a seagull flying over the crest of a wave, a beer bottle and fishing pole by the babbling brook. I do it in every hotel, motel, hotel, hostel, bungalow, you name it. I will stay there and I will change the art. They have art and hostels now. Yeah, probably not. It makes me chuckle to think that maybe one day some will be staring in an awful hotel painting and look closely and notice one of the gallant cowboys has a tin of skull by his left boot hill.
So if you stay in cheap hotels, keep your eyes out, people. You may have stayed where guy from San Francisco has stayed.
Just don't turn on the black light. So I have to say, that's awesome. That is awesome, man. I love to hear people doing cool stuff. Vandalism. Yeah, but it's vandalism with like an eye toward coolness.
It's fun to listen crime. Well, if you're a starving artist who shows your work at the airport Hilton conference room, we want to hear from you. Just send us an email to stuff podcast, HowStuffWorks Dotcom. Stuff you should know is a production of radios HowStuffWorks for more podcasts, My Heart Radio is the radio app, Apple podcasts or wherever you listen to your favorite shows. Hi, I'm David Plouffe. And I'm Steve Schmidt. We're the host of a new podcast called Battleground.
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