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K-State at Salina


Blasting their way into the spotlight: Cat cannon showcases students' talents

One fixture at Wildcat home football games has shot Kansas State University at Salina students into the spotlight.

By Michelle Hall



2 PHOTOS: Left, the cat cannon; right, three people putting a shirt in the cat cannon and loading it to shoot
Photos by April M. Blackmon.

Left: The Cat Cannon makes appearances at every K-State home football game.

Right: Team members, Kevin Binkley, freshman, (left), Dan Mathewson, sophomore, and Luke Broberg, sophomore, as well as other students in the Cat Cannon club, make the 67-mile trip from Salina on Saturday mornings. The three are all students in the mechanical engineering technology program.

Since 2000, the Cat Cannon, a contraption built by mechanical engineering technology students at the Salina campus, blasts T-shirts into the stands at the Manhattan football stadium for the eager, purple-clad fans.

"Willie (the K-State Wildcat mascot) used to have a little T-shirt shooter," explained Greg Spaulding, associate professor of mechanical engineering technology. "But when the upper deck was built, he couldn't reach it." That's when Spaulding decided it would be a great fit for the talents of the Salina students to construct a machine that could hit all parts of the stadium.

"Our curriculum is hands on," Spaulding said. "We need to build things to learn."

Spaulding's students rose to the challenge. The Cat Cannon can shoot 120 yards, 300 feet in the air – much farther than needed from Wagner Field. With all that power, many safety features have been built in, said Bob Henning, the designer and builder of the Cat Cannon and a senior in mechanical engineering technology. Henning is into paintball, and the idea behind the cannon is much like the make-up of a paintball gun.

The Cat Cannon uses a scuba tank with 3,000 pounds per square inch of pressure, but is regulated to only use up to 150 pounds per square inch. The tank refills large PVC tubes with air; an electric sprinkler valve controls the firing. Every part is pressure tested to 200 pounds per square inch, just to be safe, Henning said. If a part would fail, instead of exploding the cannon would just leak air, reducing pressure.

"It's held up for about 1,500 shots," Henning said.

They had to jump through a few hoops to get the Cat Cannon approved for use, Henning said. Between the noise and the fact that it shoots things, he said the many safety features were just part of the public relations process.

"It was a big deal to get it out on the field," Henning said. And now, Willie especially loves the T-shirt shooter, he said. The athletics department also has been very cooperative, Spaulding added.

The Cat Cannon has now become a club, with 12 members. Each one studies the design of the cannon as well as the safety rules; they are all trained in proper firing procedures. Members bring the contraption to all home football games and also have made appearances at Topeka's Family Freedom Day air show, Dodge City Days, and the Kansas State Fair's auto races.

"It's a lot of fun for students," Henning said.

Students are now in the process of building a new Cat Cannon – the one they have now is massively over-designed, Henning said, it's huge. He said they hope to use bigger valves with one larger pressure vessel instead of two smaller ones, which should make the cannon a more manageable size while keeping the air volume the same. The new cannon will be unveiled next football season.

"It's how we're tying students here into extracurricular activities in Manhattan," Spaulding said of the cannon. "This has been a great project for our students. We saw a need for it and made it happen."

"The Cat Cannon shows off K-State Salina," Henning added.

Tony's Pizza sponsors the Cat Cannon.

Winter 2002