Episode 146: Fireball Stun Gun

Air Date: June 2, 2010

A taser being used on a target covered with pepper spray will cause the target to catch on fire. This myth was inspired by an episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation in which the MythBusters starred in a cameo role.

plausible

First, the MythBusters attempted the myth exactly as it appeared on the show, by firing a taser at a coat covered in pepper spray. This failed to achieve combustion. Next, the Mythbusters decided to analyze the individual parts of the myth. They studied a taser and discovered that it created sparks when in operation, providing a possible ignition source. They then tested various pepper spray brands for flammability. While 2 of 5 brands did not react, the other 3 combusted violently due to their use of flammable propellant. Next, the flammability of various clothing materials was tested. The Mythbusters determined that acrylic fiber was the most flammable. They then combined all three aspects of the myth and managed to ignite a pepper-covered acrylic shirt with a taser. However, the flame was not as intense as that seen on CSI, so the Mythbusters used a significantly larger amount pepper spray to achieve the same effect. Since the myth required a number of alterations to achieve, the Mythbusters settled on a “plausible” result. To end on a bang, Jamie incinerated a dummy using a flamethrower.

A man can attach 400 fireworks to himself, launch off a ramp, fly over 150 ft (45.7 m), and land safely in a lake.

busted

The Build Team first tested various high powered fireworks to see which ones could generate the most thrust. However, they discovered that none of the fireworks commercially available in the United States could lift a person in the numbers stated in the myth. To solve this problem, the Build Team decided to duplicate more powerful European made fireworks and found them suitable for their needs. During the full scale test, Buster managed to successfully launch off the ramp, but quickly lost control and fell into the lake well short of 150 feet. Although Buster would have survived the launch, the fact that the rig didn’t work and that any amateur’s attempt would not meet the same quality led the Build Team to reluctantly bust the myth.

(This myth was revisited in Revenge of the Myths and except for the safe landing, was declared “confirmed”.)

11 Comments

  1. bill says:

    me like this episode. it was good. i like fireworks they are cool. fireball stun guns are dangerous and scary.

  2. Captbilly says:

    How was this myth busted. They attempted to fly with fireworks that they were able to buy in the US, as though they meant that no sufficiently powerful firework actually exists. Perhaps such fireworks are available in other countries or used to be available or maybe were even custom made. Perhaps the methods used by “Mythbusters” were not the most effective way to make something fly using fireworks.

    Look these guys are special effects people, not scientists or engineers, and surely not experts in the fields they are attempting to “mythbust”. How do they have the nerve to week after week claim to their audience that they have proved or disproved anything? If this show was presented like “Jackass” I would be OK with the entertainment value, but as a science channel program it is an insult to every working scientist and engineer who has to watch these amateurs pretending to know the scientific method.

  3. botbob says:

    I agree. It was a poor aerodynamic design and there I’m amazed after all their scale experiments they decided that there was no reason to follow basic aerodynamic and weight-balancing principles.

  4. Tesha says:

    In regards to the myth involving the C.S.I. experiment the myth busters had it wrong. The reason the suspect/victim went up in flames when he was tased was due not to the fabric of the shirt or pepper spray (which in fact was determined during the C.S.I. episode to be non-flammable) but the lighter fluid from a broken cigarette lighter which was spilled on the suspect/victim when he collided with the crazy foil covered lady moments before he had to be pepper sprayed and tased. The fireball seen in the final experiment was caused by the spark from the taser(which is pretty much the only thing the mythbusters got right) igniting the lighter fluid that had been spilled on the suspect/victim. Therefore the experiment conducted by the mythbusters is completely in-accurate. I’d say this is one myth buster’s experiment that needs to be retested using the right varibles; pronto.

  5. Logak says:

    The Mythbusters needed a lot of pepper spray to get the fireball, but I think that’s not as implausible a real-world scenario as it might seem. If you’ve got an unruly suspect who won’t go down easy and several officers all armed with pepper spray, it’s not impossible that the suspect could get deluged with enough to cause that kind of effect. Especially if the suspect appears to be a danger to himself or others – discretion tends not to pay in that kind of situation.

  6. thecreator says:

    hey.. i dont see u on a tv show.. i bet you dont know half the stuff theyre even talking about.. so captbilly… when i see you on a tv show proving these myths right or wrong any better then they do.. then ill believe you.. untill then.. keep doing what ur good at.. being an amateur.. and watching this show.. and stop arguing..

  7. Johannes says:

    “While 2 of 5 brands did not react, the other 3 combusted violently due to their use of flammable propellant”

    Wait – it burned violently post-discharge because of the fine particulate matter, but was the flammability in the pepper-spray test due to the propellant, pepper or both?

  8. warren says:

    Why did they not use a pig to simulate human?? The aluminum foil will set off a spark with the electrical current from the taser???

  9. Athena says:

    Just so I know what kind of clothes to dress my kids in when we’re hanging around the campfire – what were the least flammable fabrics?

  10. Cees says:

    I’d choose leather, which isn’t listed in http://www.extension.iastate.edu/publications/ncr174.pdf
    “wool and silk Burns slowly and is difficult to ignite (especially in
    winter garments). May self-extinguish.
    modacrylic Burns very slowly with melting. May melt and
    and saran pull away from small flames without igniting. Selfextinguishes.
    aramid, novoloid, Chars, does not burn.
    and vinyon”
    Pure pot joints also self-extinguish, so maybe hemp clothing is best if leather’s too expensive and wool too itchy.

    As for the spray, the Mythbusters should re-test once with only lighter fluid (should work), and once with only pepper (probably wouldn’t).

  11. Barrak says:

    In light of Tesha’s comment about there being lighter fluid present. I think this needs a RETEST as with something as flammable as lighter fluid being present, it seems more than likely to ignite.

    I also came across this article this morning:

    PITTSBURGH – The father of a Pennsylvania man who had soaked himself in gasoline during a 2009 domestic dispute is suing the Pennsylvania State Police because his son caught fire when a trooper used a stun gun to subdue him.

    Shawn Mohney’s federal civil rights suit filed Tuesday says 24-year-old Levi Mohney suffered burns over 98 percent of his body in March 2009.

    The encounter happened at a mobile home where Levi Mohney’s girlfriend lived in Strattanville, about 65 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. Troopers were responding to a report that Levi Mohney had assaulted her.

    Shawn Mohney’s attorney tells the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that there was no need to use the electric stun gun because Levi Mohney wasn’t armed and wasn’t a threat to police.

    State police are not commenting on the lawsuit.

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