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What The Whatziss Is And Why It's A Whatziss...

…will be revealed shortly. But first, the backstory.

According to some traditions in the ME, the Magi – or Wise Men – who traveled from the East, following the Star to Bethlehem were Chaldeans, a people whose Magi were as learned in the natural sciences – especially astronomy – as the Babylonians were. The Chaldeans called the area around present-day Basra home, way back when. They gradually migrated north, and today, most of the Chaldeans live in northern Iraq and Kurdistan. Some time during their journey, the Chalseans threw off the old gods of Mesopotamia and became Christian.

Kirkuk is a Chaldean archdiocese.

Now, wintertime in Iraq is the rainy season. Low clouds, squalls, bad visibility – all the things that make flying – ummmmmm – interesting. Weeks go by without any sight of the sun.

Or the moon.

Or the stars.

It’s impossible to navigate without a compass.

Now, the Magi didn’t have compasses, so they had to follow the Star. Without the Star, they wouldn’t be able to get to Bethlehem.

The Whatziss is a small, hot-air balloon doing a star’s job.


The balloon envelope is thin paper, about the same weight as the rice paper the Japanese use to make lanterns, with a lightweight wire hoop to hold the bottom open and to support the oil-soaked square wick that heats the air. The wick has a hole in the center to provide a larger surface area for the flame – the more flame, the hotter the air, and the more flame, the bigger the glow inside the balloon. You can see them from ten miles away at night.

Every night during the week before Christmas, the Chaldeans launch their surrogate stars to guide the Magi toward Bethlehem – before the first burns out, they launch another. Since the wicks only burn for five minutes or so, the now *dark* balloon will descend when the air inside the balloon cools – and the wick still glows and sparks for a bit.

Now, imagine you’re on a FOB. Things falling from the night sky go *boom!* -- and a falling, fiery-orange, glowy-sparky thing suddenly plunks on the road in front of you.

Panic and pandemonium.

Short-lived, as every five minutes or so, another fiery-orange, glowy-sparky thing drops about a hundred meters away, and another, and another – and no *booms* ensue. I’ve seen as many as six in the air at once, all drifting rapidly in line, a half mile or so apart, and all burning out and falling to earth either in town, on the FOB, or in the foothills.

Pic 2 was the first of the season – it landed in the DFAC parking lot and got rained on all night. Pic 3 is one I found blowing around on the ramp after an uncharacteristically dry night.

Gee, did I forget to mention that the night winds are *strong* in December, mostly from the east-southeast, and if a balloon had enough oil to stay lit for about eight hours, the wind just might put it somewhere in the vicinity of – Bethlehem…?


Tsk. Silly me.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Now, you've gotta admit you had more fun playing with the guesses than you would have if I'd just stuck the pix up with a "Hey, looky here! A Chaldean hot air balloon!"


Dammit, Bill, I immediately thought "balloon" but did not want to appear silly in front of you people. I must be getting shy in my old age, or am not drinking enough. It looks just like the tissue-paper hot-air balloon I made as a kid, aside from the color.
Oh, and further: When I was a kid, another kid told me how to make balloons from the very thin dry-cleaners plastic bags they had back then, using one bag, some Scotch tape, 2 plastic soda straws, and I believe about 12 birthday-cake candles. I tried it on the first calm night after I got home. It worked great.  You can make them go up faster, I determined later, by building a balsa frame in the form of a square to form the bottom opening with wires stretched from corner to corner. Hang a big wad of cotton soaked in alcohol at the intersection of the wires and it goes up right fast.

This is so cool. I wanna flick you across the nose with the palm leaf I just got issued.

Great fake out and a hellova good story.  I checked your wind assumptions and you are correct.   If the object in question could hit 9000 AGL then 8 hours would put it there!

Well Played Chief!

 I know if I called you Sir I would catch HELL!


Woke up in the middle of the night and read this. I laughed my tail off. 

Well played, *Sir*!

I was smart, I was enlisted. If you act like a *Sir*, you get treated with the same respect. It's a shame, the Military never teaches *Officers* the true meaning of the word, *Sir*.

*Well Done, Chief!* Have a great weekend!

@OldDog, Now you're a trouble maker, keep it it up!
With other sites, ya gets current events or history, either factual or re-written. Maybe some humor. Maybe some local color or strategerosity or chattiness. Maybe some pedantry, maybe some think-pieces.

With the Castle, ya gets *factual* history, current events, local color, a bit of interesting-but-little-known custom, neat pictures that get your cognitive and cogitative juices flowing, all wrapped up in some chatty pedantry sprinkled lightly with humor.

Comfy li'l niche we got here, huh?

Makes getting the occasional cat hair on your monitor kinda worth it, I think.
Jtg, it just goes to show you that first impressions are the most important.

I thought *every* kid who didn't grow up surrounded by concrete had made a toy balloon at one time or another. And the birthday candles work well -- the trick is to get a lot of *hot* air into the ballon in a short time.

You are the one who called him "Sir".  So how am I the "Trouble Maker"?

/Duck and Cover

/White Smoke Inbound!

Wow...Bill Tuttle, consummate aviator and major a$$kicker is playing with paper lanterns? Bill needs some R&R or I&I.
Now, being the pyromaniac that I am, I used to fill ballons with hydrogen gas generated from a bottle with water, lye and tin foil.  When the ballon was full, I would tape a fire cracker with a slow fuse to the baloon and let it go.  Great fun - and I never did start a fire! 
I didn't grow up surrounded by concrete, exactly, but my parents were way too smart to trust me with flammables.

Well done, sir. Keep up the good work, sir.

And, honestly, cool story, sir.
That is a terrific story.  Thank you for the fun and the good part.  I needed to hear that.  It has been a rough couple of weeks here at Chez Engineer, so this was definitely kewl.
Wait, so you're telling me I just panicked over Christmas decorations? *facepalm*

That's really cool, though. Any holiday tradition that involves fire and launching things into the air I wholeheartedly approve of. 
She's been in the Army six months and already likes firey-launchy things.


Does an ol' man's heart *good* to see that...
William Powell, that would be _aluminum_ foil. Protip: The grocery stores no longer sell lye around here, something to do with terris or drugz or something, but the Ace hardware store still had some, so I  bought it, And some Al foil. I already had the bottle. Makes good hydrogen, except with some impurities which are just part of the fun.
P.s. How many of y'all were around here back when I got us all to take the Pyro Purity Test? As I recall, I did fairly well, but The Armorer maxed it, not even needing to cheat by using his military experience.
It may be time to toss it out there again.

The new kids will have fun with it and us old guys forgot the answers...
She's been in the Army six months and already likes firey-launchy things.

That's a trait I think she brought *to* the party.

Does an ol' man's heart *good* to see that...

Heh.  The actions of your heart have more to do with the fact that she's a healthy young woman who's a pilot-groupie, flyboy.  Don't delude yourself.
Ahhhhh, the melifluous sound of Redleg grumbling.

Does an ol' man's heart *good* to hear that...
With all these heart palpitations around here John may need to install a Defribulator in case someone has a heart attack
Yeah -- although we'll probably need it most for your spell-checker...
Probably the #2 cause of UFO sightings in the US.
Most likely :)
Spell-checker is the #2 cause of UFO sightings in the US?

Wow -- who'd a-thunk it?
I didn't even notice his post but I'm sure Al gore had something to do with it
Nup. More people believe in UFOs than Anthropogeneric Gorebull Worming...

Darn it, I missed playing!  

Way cool story, though.    Yeah, I can see one of those falling at night onto a FOB might make the inhabitants of said base a little skitterish.   A bit too "Incoming" even for me.