There is mud slinging, and then there is mud slinging

Using what appears to be a Power Jets W.2 turbojet engine to remove mud at the bottom of the River Thames, Erith, England, August 1947. Anon., “Have you seen?” Flying, June 1948, 42.

Bonjour, ami(e) lectrice ou lecteur et… Sorry, wrong language. Greetings, my reading friend. I hope you’re not wearing your best clothes because today’s topic is a somewhat yucky one. Do you remember the April 2018 issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee dedicated to snow removal? No? Yes? Never mind, for there are no snow cones on the menu today. Think mud pies. Huge mud pies actually.

Back in 1946-47, some brilliant minds in the United Kingdom began to look at non aeronautical applications of a brand new technology and… No, not teleportation, nuclear fusion or faster than light travel. You are very naughty today, my reading friend. Good ideas though, but you digress. The technology I was about to mention was, you guessed it, the jet engine. One or more of the aforementioned brilliant minds came up with the idea of using such an engine to remove mud from the bottom of a river, which was quite a good idea actually.

In less time than it took to say supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, in other words by August 1947, a Power Jets W.2 turbojet engine, I think, was mounted on a barge, pointing downward, and put to the test, on the Thames, near Erith, downstream from London, England – the very city where most of the action of the world famous 1964 musical film Mary Poppins took place. Indeed, did you know, my reading friend, that Mary Poppins was a character who appeared in a series of 8 children books published between 1934 and 1988 by Australian authoress Pamela Lyndon Travers, born Helen Lyndon Goff? Profuse apologies, I digress. Dredging experts at the Port of London Authority wanted to know if the jet engine could be used to control the fast growing mud banks in the Thames’ estuary, as well as those that threatened to block some docks in the heart of the city. And yes, my reading friend, a version of the W.2 was mentioned in an April 2018 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee.

Operating in about a metre (3 feet) of water, the crew of the barge could remove a ton of mud in a minute. In ideal conditions, it needed only 4 minutes to rout out a gash of almost 5 metres (about 16 feet) in the bottom of the Thames. The blast from the engine broke up the mud, which was washed away by the tide. That same blast also threw water and mud 6 metres (20 feet) in the air – a glorious sight, as well as a tad smelly and yucky one, but I digress. All in all, the jet engine cleared mud 10 times faster than a conventional dredge. It also consumed fuel at a phenomenal rate: almost 23 litres (5 Imperial gallons / 6 American gallons) per minute at full power. For some reason or other, it looks as if this fascinating experiment did not lead to the regular use of jet engines to remove mud from the bottom of a river.

Incidentally, would you believe that a variant of the word supercarlifragilisticexpialidocious was used in 1931, about 3 years before the publication of the first Mary Poppins book?

The author of these lines wishes to thank all the people who provided information. Any mistake contained in this article is my fault, not theirs. And no, the topic for next week will not be smelly or yucky. It could, however, be rather longer than this one. Sorry.

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Rénald Fortier