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The Story Behind Aerial Fireworks: A Short Research

Updated on September 5, 2019
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Rhylee Suyom has hopped in three different worlds: the academe, the corporate, and the media. He enjoys being with nature and his family.

Aerial Fireworks

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The Story Behind Aerial Fireworks: A Short Research

People are always fascinated with fireworks display in the skies. In the past, aerial fireworks are only seen during the New Year’s Eve. But nowadays, celebrations such as weddings or huge company events are often capped with the exciting fireworks display. But how are fireworks created? Why is it possible to safely host a firework display without the high risk of danger?

History of Aerial Fireworks

Fireworks were the product of the imaginative, industrious and creative minds of ancient China. Simon Werrett said in the ancient-origins.net website that the main purpose of fireworks is to drive away bad spirits and scare off mountain men. It started with the simple dried bamboo stalks which produced the noisy crackling sound when tossed into the flames. By the turn of the 11th century, the Chinese people invented weaponry with gunpowder. Then, the people of China used the fireworks to welcome their royal emperors during the 12th century.

Alexis Stempien also mentioned that the ancient fireworks produced by dried bamboo stalks was an accident. It was an unexpected discovery of the Chinese people at around 200 B.C. He added that the real fireworks were invented during 800 AD. This happened when an alchemist combined charcoal, sulfur and potassium nitrate.

When China engaged into active warfare with other nations, its military used the gunpowder for their attacks and retaliation efforts. Ssec.ssi.edu website revealed that China created the first rocket cannons utilizing the gunpowder to blow up their enemies by 1200 AD. But the other countries also saw the bittersweet beauty of gunpowder which led to aerial fireworks.

After many years, this amazing invention found its way to the West. Europe discovered the beauty of fireworks during the 13th and 15th century. Americanpyro.com said that the Europeans used the fireworks that they have taken from China for religious festivities and public shows. It was believed that Mongols also helped with the spread of the use of fireworks to European countries. According to ancient-origins.net, Roger Bacon witnessed the firecrackers show in the skies and recorded this stellar event. He compared the occurrence to the continuous flash of lightning and the growling and rumbling sounds of thunder.

Furthermore, a bishop’s palace in Vicenza utilized fireworks in one of their dramatic plays in 1377. By the 15th century, rockets did not only find its purpose during warfare. These were also used for non-violent occurrences. For instance, Italians and Spanish people held fireworks shows for outdoor festivities. They built whirling wheels which hoisted fireworks hanged across a street or at a town square. These whirling wheels’ structures were also called “girandoles”.

Most noteworthy of the structures created by Europeans was the “girandole”. Girandole is a castle situated at the riverbanks of the river Tiber. Simon Werrett accounted that the girandole served primarily as a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian’s family but after some time, it was transformed into a fortress for the emperor’s kingdom. Then, it was converted into a papal residence. When the structure became the home for the popes, fireworks were used to declare the election of a new pope. The ritual begins with the illumination of the castle and ends with the catapulting of rockets.

Alexis Stempen also chronicled the presence of aerial fireworks when America celebrated their Independence Day on July 4, 1977. The Europeans also shared this amazing invention to their colonies located in the Atlantic seas. More and more nationalities became interested with the beauty of aerial fireworks. Based from the livescience.com, pyrotechnic schools were established during the Renaissance times. In these institutions, students were taught to concoct intricate explosions. In Italy, people mixed metals and other materials to the original list of ingredients to amplify the brightness and add more shape dimensions to the fireworks display. They also exerted efforts to discover colors by using strontium for red, copper for blue, sodium for yellow and barium for green.

Components of an Aerial Firework

People are entranced and captive spectators of aerial fireworks but not everyone knows the process nor the components of fireworks. Fireworks are composed of aerial shells. According to popsci.com webpage, fireworks were formed to go up high into the sky and explode. These required actions need an oxygen-infused chemical and a fuel that can ignite fire. These chemicals, usually potassium nitrate, sulfur and charcoal are mixed to produce black powder. The huge composition of aerial shells is made up of mottle-sized chemical bullets that can produce bursting effects.

Live Science.com also said that aerial shells have tiny pods which contains fuel, an oxidizing agent, a binder and metal oxides. These metal oxides form the colors. These pods have the size of 1 to 1.5 inches in diameter. The website further explained that there is a fuse-like part inside the aerial shell which can be set alight to burn the gunpowder inside the shell. Each pod is one portion of the ignited explosion within the aerial shell.

When the color materials inside these pods take in the heat, its atoms get all the energy and emit light while releasing the absorbed energy. When the fuse reaction reaches its end, the huge ignition of explosion happens. That is the exact time that the people looking up to the sky open their mouth in pure awe, sighing over the perfectly bursting colors and lights in the dark heavens. Then, the aerial shell is burned up and falls to the ground.

The firework shows are awe-inspiring and spectacular due to the myriad of colors that these events show off on the night skies. The Chem Matters document states that the hues and tints produced are made in two ways: luminescence and incandescence. Incandescence is emitted when a substance is heated to the extent of glowing. The heat causes the infrared, making the red, orange, yellow and white colored lights. When the temperature is managed, the emitted glow can be maneuvered to an intended hue. Commonly, the fireworks’ light is made from luminescence. When it blasts off in the sky, the gunpowder emit heat to the extent that the substances absorb the energy and produce light. The substances are said to be composed of metal salts which make the luminescent light of various hues.

Process of Creating Aerial Fireworks

For those who are interested to create their own set of fireworks, here are the steps from the instructables.com website. First, one should make an aerial shell by getting two 3” paper hemispheres. There should be some allowances with the size, make the paper hemispheres larger so that the maker will have some paper portions to paste into the other paper parts. Then, one should also prepare the materials for the pods or stars. The maker will need a batch of 75 grams of 10 mm pumped “Tiger tail” stars. These stars will have black powder to guarantee the ignition.

The tiger tail stars are composed of Potassium Nitrate, Charcoal, Sulphur and SGRS or Dextrin. One should also have the bursting charge or the meal coated rice hulls and time fuse. The time fuse part is usually a tiny tube where the black powder can be located. The maker must also add pasting which is commonly 30-40 lbs kraft paper in 70x15 strips, ignition and the lift charge. The other materials required for making the fireworks are the lifting cup, paper tape, scissors, gummed paper tape, glue gun, brush, drill and string.

The next step will be all about construction of the mentioned materials. One will create a hole at the end of one of the paper hemispheres. The maker must make sure that the diameter of the puncture is as big as the diameter of the time fuse. Lodge the time fuse halfway inside the hole and paste both sides. Ensure that the tube does not have any air holes. Put each hemisphere on a solid space so that this will not be rolling around while the maker puts the materials within each hemisphere.

The step 3 is all about filling the hemispheres with the stars. Place the stars around the sides of the hemispheres, filling them all up to the rims. The shells should be properly filled because the filling part of the procedure influences the shell’s launch. Then, use two cut pieces of tissue paper to bind over the time fuse. Place each piece in each hemisphere against the stars and top up with burst charge to the brim. Then split swiftly the two hemispheres together, producing a tiny gap of around 1 cm at its center. After the snapping method, use a wooden dowel to tap the upper hemisphere. The stars within the shell will then be rearranged and ideally, the two hemispheres will be conjoined. Secure the center with a tape to enclose the shell and place a tape around the time fuse.

The fourth step will require the maker to do the most difficult part of the procedure, pasting the shell. The method is called the 3-strip pasting process. The maker can begin with adding glue to each strip. Then, a strip will be pasted from the north end directing towards the south pole and vice versa. Another strip will also be pasted between the two strips. This pasting will be done all over the shell, ensuring that there will be no air bubbles. Then, create a circle by using an 8 cm piece of cotton twine and attach it to the shell’s top through a hot glue. After that action, leave the shell to dry.

Next, take off the tape that sealed the time fuse. Slash two lengths of black match and angle them towards the exposed part of the time fuse. Then, envelop a string around the black match to link them to the time fuse. Then, secure the string’s attachment. Afterwards, cut a hole at the bottom of the lifting cup. The hole should be large enough to insert the match or wire. This is the lift. Then, place the match or wire within the hole in the lifting cup. Use hot glue or gummed paper to secure the hole. Lastly, fasten the lifting cup to the shell. Wrap all the parts of cup into the shell as tightly as possible. The maker has successfully produced a shell which can be ignited anytime.

Process of Setting up Aerial Fireworks Shows

Pyro technicians or the experts who mount fireworks display shows during events don’t just create the materials. According to loc.gov website, they are also in charge of managing each facet of the show. The entire event can take some time to plan, design and prepare. They begin their work by putting up a launch site. This place will have short metal pipes named as mortars. A shell will be positioned in a mortar on top of black powder called the lift charge. The pyro technicians link one side of the wire fuse to the said lift charge. Then the other part of the wire fuse will be attached to a control panel.

Then, the experts will decide when the computer or operator will transmit an electric current to the shell. This action will spark the lift charge, leading to the intended explosion. The flare-up will propel the shell into the air and ignite the fuse. When the sparked fuse touches the stars within the shell, they explode into the skies with the intended forms and shapes. The blaze from the blast reacts with the chemicals found in the stars or pods and this produces the various colors and shapes.

The pyro experts ensure that they make the correct measurements when making the mixture of chemicals and materials of the aerial shells and the other parts of the fireworks. They ascertain that they were able to come up with the right calculations as well as the proper timing for each step of the fireworks shows. Just one wrong decision or single incorrect move will lead to disappointing outcomes or worst, endangered lives and injured spectators. It is important that the pyro technicians’ work on the aerial fireworks are perfectly on point and will not miss a beat in the design, plan, preparation and actual execution.

Different Types of Aerial Fireworks

There are various types of aerial fireworks possible for people to make use of in shows and events according to the Dynamite Fireworks website. First, there are aerial repeaters or cakes which are the most marketable. This is a group of mortars joined up together and sparked from one fuse. It is designed with a pre-set firing method, showing the public with explosions in various colors, forms and sizes. Its height can be as tall as 300 feet. Secondly, there are re-loadable mortars or aerial shells which are formed to launch a single shell one by one. It comes from a reusable tube. The shells are circular in shape and the more shells a pyro technician has, the more colors and shapes that he can produce during the fireworks programs.

Thirdly, experts also have the aerial display tubes. These are re-loadable shells and mortars, but their selling point is their capability to produce more unusual shapes. These are pre-loaded which lessens the risk of a person’s exposure to the chemicals and the explosion. The fourth type are the skyrockets which are the oldest type. The skyrockets were patterned after the Chinese’s military rockets. A skyrocket is composed of a paper tube filled with propellant. However, it takes a bit of effort to ensure that this type of aerial firework is ignited properly in order to avoid accidents and optimize its performance.

Pyro experts also have the fifth type which is the bottle rockets. This may be the miniature type of the skyrockets, but it still gives a mighty performance in the skies when lit. This kind of aerial firework is composed of a rocket engine on a stick and can produce different sounds such as the traditional bang or the modern whistling sound. However, there are some areas that prohibit the use of bottle rockets. People also make use of the sixth kind which is known as the roman candles. This is formed like a tube with a myriad of effects and has a delay in its ignition of the explosion. A few people hold the roman candles, but experts advise against this method. It is highly recommended that when making use of roman candles, people place them on the ground or ignite them from within a launching tube.

Furthermore, there is also the seventh type which is called the flying spinners. The downside of this kind is that they do not rise into the air. But it still adds a fun vibe into the show when used. There are other exciting and modern types of fireworks as pyro technicians continually experiment different variants in order to bring in more fun and novelty into these programs.

Safe Use of Fireworks

Fireworks shows are so much fun and exciting to watch! It is the perfect way to cap an event or end a festivity, with a loud and explosive bang. But aerial fireworks must be handled properly and correctly as these are extremely dangerous. When placed in the wrong hands and produced through an erroneous procedure, it can inflict harm and damage to thousands of people and property. Due to these risks, sale and use of fireworks are gravely restricted by law in several countries.

Professor John Conkling’s advice on the use of fireworks was part of the Chem Matters document. He recommended that a person must read and follow the instructions placed on the fireworks labels to the T. Younger people should not be left alone in using fireworks unsupervised and unguided by adults. Some children do not really understand the great risks of handling fireworks and parents must ascertain that they are not exposed to these risks.

Most countries have policies which require that consumer fireworks must not exceed 50 milligrams of gunpowder in its composition. When there are more 50 milligrams of gun powder, this can lead to serious injuries when sparked recklessly. Amidst all the government warnings and experts’ repeated advice to responsible use of fireworks, accidents still occur annually. Most of the time, the children end up becoming the victims of mishandled fireworks. Due to the dangers of fireworks use, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggested that the public go to the state-sponsored aerial fireworks shows which are supervised by pyro technicians and experts.

The American Pyro website also enlisted these following tips to ensure that no one will be hurt or injured when handling fireworks. First, an adult with a sound mind and a healthy body will be placed in charge of handling the fireworks. Secondly, do not provide fireworks to the children even the seemingly harmless sparklers. Do not give in to the little kids’ whims to try out igniting the fireworks even the tiniest ones. Third, ensure that the fireworks are bought from legal consumer fireworks stores, retailers and distributors. These sellers should be licensed by the government. This tip will ascertain that the products purchased from these merchants have passed the standards of a safe and effective firework. One of the tips shared by the website is to check if the products are legitimate is to see if they have labels pasted on the products bearing the manufacturer’s details such as the name, directions of use and warnings. The labels can also contain the ingredients or components of the firework and the address and contact number of the manufacturer if in case the consumer wants to get in touch with the producer.

Fourth, the handler or user must always read and follow the instructions before use. Fifth, the user must handle the fireworks without carrying any weapons with gunpowder or make use of glass and metal containers when firing up the fireworks. Sixth, the viewing public must be positioned at a safe distance. Seventh, the handler of the fireworks must don safety glasses or masks to protect his eyes and face from any explosion debris. The eighth tips will be to avoid aiming or hurling any fireworks to any person or live creature.

Next, do not get in contact with the lit fireworks for at least 20 minutes when the entire event has ended. This is to ensure that no blasts will accidentally occur after the festivities. After the prescribed 20 minutes, place all materials in water, drain the water and put everything in a plastic bag which will be disposed properly in well-secured trash can. Ensure that children will not find their way to the any materials or parts of the discarded fireworks. Often, this is when the accidents happen.

The ninth advice will be to ignite only one firework at a time and never light a firework after the first failed attempt. Tenth, choose a place of the fireworks scene that is away from buildings, homes or any areas that can easily spark a fire. The next tip is if you are the one in charge of lighting the firework, position any part of your body away from the device. In this manner, you will have lesser risk of sustaining any injuries when the task of lighting it goes awry. Lastly, carry an effective garden hose or bucket with a nearby water source in case of fire. If the public follows these tips and strategies in handling the fireworks safely and properly, there will be less risks of accidents and fatalities.

References


“History of Fireworks.” Americanpyro.com,

Bradford, Alina. (2018). “History of Fireworks.” Live Science.com, 29 August 2018, https://www.livescience.com/63468-fireworks-history.html.

De Antonis, Kathy. (2018). “Fireworks.” Chem Matters, October 2010, https://www.acs.org/content/dam/acsorg/education/resources/highschool/chemmatters/art iclesbytopic/oxidationandreduction/chemmatters-oct2010-fireworks.pdf.

Dk, Pudi. (2018). “How to Make Fireworks.”

Instructables.com, https://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-Make-Fireworks/. Accessed

Nathan, Aparna. (2017). “Everything You Need to Know About the Explosive Science of Fireworks.” Popular Science.com, https://www.popsci.com/explosive-science-fireworks.

Stempien, Alexis. (2018). “The Evolution of Fireworks.” Ssec.si.edu,

Werrett, Simon. (2018). “A History of Fireworks from East to West.” Ancient-origins.net, 1 July 2018, https://www.ancient-origins.net/history/history-fireworks-east-west-002520.

Zambo, Kris. (2015). “Top 10 Most Impressive Aerial Fireworks.” Dynamite Fireworks, https://dynamitefireworks.com/top-10-most-impressive-aerial-fireworks/.

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