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Homemade Pumpkin-Launching Catapult That Shoots 2000 feet – Punkin’ Chunkin’

Looking for pumpkin catapult/trebuchet plans? Check out my roundup of online trebuchet plans here.

I’m hosting the 2009 Punkin Chunkin competition alongside my Catch It Keep It pal Zach Selwyn. During the preliminary filming, we stopped to visit with “Sir Chunks A Lot” —  a team hailing from southern New Jersey. I spent the day learning about their approach to the competition, growing pumpkins, and testing their rubberband-powered catapult. The rubberbands on these machines aren’t the ones you wrap your newspaper with — they’re about as thick as a 2″ piece of PVC pipe. For those test shots, the team uses bowling balls, which gives them a consistent shape and weight for each shot. I’ve never seen anything like watching a bowling ball whip through the air with so much backspin that it creates lift like a perfectly hit golfball at the driving range — on some shots, the finger holes on the ball made a whistling sound, like a whiffle ball — but it lasted for a good quarter minute or longer. Watch the speed on this thing – and it’s only at 70% power.

Every year in Delaware, a group of backyard engineers gathers with a single goal of seeing who can launch a pumpkin the furthest. The event is called Punkin Chunkin, and in the early years, the machines slowly pushed into the hundreds of feet. In short time the flying pumpkins passed the 1000′ mark, then the 2000′ mark, and are now closing in on the “holy grail” of chunkin’: one mile.

Calling these catapults “homemade” is something of a tease – sure, the machines that the participants mastermind for this event are all entirely custom built. Some of them even laugh that every year someone asks “Wow, where did you buy that?” – a testament to the years of work that goes into crafting each and every part of the machines, giving them such amazing throwing power. The event itself has become a gathering of the world’s foremost experts in the realm of catapult and trebuchet technology, and the innovations happening are pushing past anything that’s been imagined.

Watch Punkin Chunkin on the Science channel this Thanksgiving.