Follow the flying doughnut
It’s probably not the most conventional way to promote a brewery, but that’s not a problem for Jeremy Horn, one of the founders of Wichita Brewing Company.
Horn, a science nerd turned brewery owner, is planning an unusual event for next month in which he will launch a bobble head version of the brewery’s mascot, Kansas abolitionist John Brown, plus three empty WBC beer cans into near space, a GoPro camera on board to capture the adventure.
Horn says he is determined to carry out his offbeat plan and is undeterred by reactions he gets from people who hear about it.
“Most people roll their eyes,” he said. “My wife thinks I’m crazy. A couple of people involved at WBC are excited about it, but other people think I’m nuts.”
Horn plans to send John Brown 110,000 feet into the air aboard a helium-filled weather balloon, which he will launch from a field northwest of Tanganyika Wildlife Park between noon and 1 p.m. on June 9, weather permitting. (The sky can’t be overcast, and the wind can’t be more than 10-15 mph or the event will have to be postponed.)
High-altitude “ballooning” by regular people is increasingly common these days, and people can buy a kit online that will get the job done. Schools often use them for science experiments, sending eggs and other materials into space to see how they’ll be affected.
Horn, who grew up reading Richard Feynman books and obsessing over movies like “Apollo 13,” started envisioning his space launch several years ago and finally bought a kit. He decided the launch could double as a promotional event for his brewery.
Horn and his crew will set up in the field starting about 11 a.m. on June 9. They’ll sell beer on site for those who want to watch the launch, and they’ll pass out raffle tickets for the chance to win a John Brown bobble head like the one headed into space. Those raffle tickets will also allow spectators to get 25 percent off their Tanganyika park admission that day.
Horn will launch the balloon between noon and 1 p.m., and around 3 p.m., he’ll have to leave to go look for it.
If all goes as planned, the balloon — fitted with a GPS tracker — should be in the air for three to five hours. It should travel so high that the GoPro should capture pictures of John Brown and his beer can passengers with earth in the background.
The balloon will rupture from the pressure when it gets high enough and then a parachute will deploy and it the payload should float gently back to earth. Horn will have to figure out where it lands and go retrieve it. He estimates it will land between 25 and 100 miles away.
“The worst thing that could happen is that either the GPS unit fails while in the air or it lands in a pond or at the top of a tree,” he said.
Horn has hired a video producer, and he hopes to have a short film of John Brown’s high-altitude journey on the brewery’s social media channels within a few days of the launch.
WBC is also launching a special beer to celebrate the stunt — called Hop-ollo 13 — and it will be for sale in the field during the launch and in both WBC restaurants in Wichita starting soon.
The planning for the event has been interesting and long, Horn said, but he’s enjoyed it. He hopes WBC’s fans will, too.
“As much time as I’ve spent on this, I need to get 10,000 likes on Facebook to make it worth it,” he said.