Flat-earther Rocket Man hopes to break world record in California

Mike Hughes plans to launch himself 1,800 feet into the sky

Corey Selby/Contributed
“Mad” Mike Hughes trekked from Apple Valley to Amboy, California last Friday. He experienced vehicle troubles, as his motorhome/rocket launcher broke down several times during the trip. He plans to beat the world record for longest steam rocket jump on Monday, Dec. 4.

■ By Kyle Selby / Reporter

Just before Thanksgiving, The Associated Press ran a story titled, “Self-taught rocket scientist plans to launch over ghost town,” about “Mad” Mike Hughes, a 61-year-old limousine driver turned flat Earth believer and stuntman, who’s invested $20,000 over the past few years into a homemade steam rocket.
On my way home from an out-of-state Thanksgiving holiday, I happened to run into Hughes and his hand-constructed rocket at a rest stop/cafe just three miles from the point he intends to launch from in Amboy, California. Hughes made it out there from Apple Valley early that morning, but not without complications. According to him, his motorhome/rocket launcher broke down at least 10 times before they made it to California’s Mojave Valley.
Hughes intends to break a world record he previously set in 2014, when he launched himself 1,374 feet over Winkleman Canyon, Arizona, a feat Evel Knievel couldn’t even reach when he famously attempted to jump Snake River Canyon in 1974.
“And nobody cared,” said Waldo Stakes, CEO of Land Speed Research Vehicles, and Hughes’ right hand man.
Nobody seemed to care much when stuntman Eddie Braun successfully jumped Snake River Canyon last year either, beating Hughes’ distance at more than 1,400 feet.
It wasn’t until Hughes’ determination to beat Braun’s record, paired with his radical beliefs about the Earth, were publicized and his story gained national recognition.
“Somehow, this ‘flat Earth’ thing launched it,” Stakes said.

Becoming a flat Earth believer
“I’ve been a flat Earth believer for over a year,” said Hughes, who is very aware that the flat Earth theory is largely taboo, however he said he couldn’t deny the evidence after having researched the theory for months. “I know it’s bizarre, but I couldn’t dismiss it anymore.”
Hughes essentially believes that the curvature of the planet’s surface is merely a trick your eyes play on you when you get further out of its atmosphere, which warps one’s perspective.
“From the outside, you know a hallway is 8 foot by 7 foot, but down in the hallway it looks like 2 foot by 3 foot,” Hughes surmised. “It’s your eye perception.”
Hughes also briefly shared some of his other unpopular opinions. “I personally believe the FBI and the CIA are terrorists,” he said. “All of these alphabet agencies are terrorist organizations. All of them.”
He retold a story from the 1700s, when a group of people looking for Antarctica instead discovered a 60,000-mile ice wall that, Hughes says, “holds the oceans in.”
He is also quite fond of Admiral Richard E. Byrd, who in 1954 allegedly found a “warm” landmass on the other side of Antarctica larger than the United States. Hughes believes the Antarctica Treaty is hiding the fact that that landmass holds enough coal, uranium and fuel to benefit the United States for at least 1,000 years.

Government shuts launch down
Hughes was initially supposed to make his jump Saturday, Nov. 25. However, after Hughes’ story became national news, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) prohibited Hughes and his team from jumping at his original launching spot “over the Amboy Airport” from a property owned by town owner and CEO of Juan Pollo Chicken, Albert Okura, because he would be landing on federal property.
“The BLM started contacting me late Wednesday,” said Hughes. Both he and Stakes swear they were given verbal permission from the agency to make the jump more than a year ago. “We had a gentlemen’s agreement that I would start on Albert’s property, which is right by the hangar, in line with the runway. They said, ‘well, we’re going to leave it up to the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration].’” They reneged, said Hughes.
Hughes and his crew instead decided on a location only several miles away along Route 66, and that’s where they were headed when we crossed paths.

New launch date set for Dec. 4
On Friday, Hughes told me the three-day setup would prepare them for a launch last Monday. That Monday, Stakes told me in a phone conversation that they had to postpone because of high winds through that area, and he would instead invite a crew out there this Saturday for a launch on Monday, Dec. 4.
Hughes and his crew hope to make it at least 1,800 feet in the sky, or higher, at a speed of roughly 500 mph. Hughes lives alone, and the remainder of his family lives in Oklahoma City. According to Hughes, his latest stunts are no surprise to them. “I’ve always done kind of eccentric stuff,” he said.
“Essentially [the rocket] goes up and runs out of power, and then it coasts for a while, and then parachutes come out,” explained Stakes. “That’s what we’re hoping anyway.”

Corey Selby/Contributed
Valley Chronicle reporter Kyle Selby (left) met up with Waldo Stakes (middle) and “Mad” Mike Hughes to chat about his upcoming jump.

Previous attempts unsuccessful
Hughes has constructed at least three other rockets prior to his current “Research Flat Earth” sponsored ship. He said that his crew “almost killed three people” in a previous attempt to launch one of their rockets, which left him “mentally, physically, and emotionally bankrupt.” According to Hughes, the rocket launched prematurely without him in it, soared 3,100 feet into the air, and hit the ground at approximately 300 mph.
“One of the fans hit one of the guys, and the thrust blew me and another gentleman down to the ground,” recalled Hughes. “I thought it blew the right side of my face off.”

High stakes for new launch plan
Hughes’ steam rocket will require around 77 gallons of water for the jump. Two generator-powered immersion heaters at the bottom of the tank will heat the water to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, which takes between 24-36 hours. Once the water is ready, the rocket nozzle will flash release the steam, creating about 8,000 horsepower.
“It’s going to come off of there like a bat out of hell,” said Stakes. “It’s going to shoot straight up, somewhere around 1,800 to 2,000 feet, and it will kind of arc over, start to run out of power, and it will coast,” Hughes will then deploy one of the parachutes, which will slow the rocket’s speed, so that he can eventually open a second chute. “He will be semi-unconscious, because the acceleration forces will be about 7 Gs, which would knock out most people, but this isn’t the first time he’s done this.”
According to Stakes, if Hughes deploys one chute, he will hit the ground at an estimated 17 feet per second (similar to a 15-20 mph car crash). If he uses both chutes, Stakes says Hughes will land at 9 feet per second.
“We’re hoping he comes to in enough time to pull the chute. If he doesn’t, he won’t make it, and he will barrel into the desert at 500 mph, and that will be ugly for everybody,” said Stakes.
The launch will be televised; visit madmikehughes.com for more information.

What’s next? A run for governor and a launch into space
Assuming Hughes survives any of his stunts in the future, he expressed that he is planning a run for California State Governor, pending the outcome of a lawsuit against current Gov. Jerry Brown. But furthermore, he wants to be the very first man launched into space.
“We’re going to buy a 400-foot diameter (about as tall as a 40-story building) polyethylene balloon, and hanging from underneath it will be a 30-foot-long cylinder rocket that will weigh about 1,800 pounds. The balloon will take Hughes up about 22 to 24 miles high–depending on the weather–and then it will cut him loose,” said Stakes. “The second it cuts him loose, the rocket will ignite, and three nozzles on top of the rocket will pull him up another 40 miles, and will disconnect him once the pressure switch starts to know it’s running out of propellant.”
By then, Hughes, wearing a specialized space-resistant suit, would be at around an altitude of 62.8 miles from the Earth’s surface, precisely where “space” begins. Once there, a ballute (combination between a helium balloon and a parachute) will inflate and lower him ‘til touchdown brings him round again to land. As planned, Hughes will have a camera on him, documenting the whole thing, hoping to prove once and for all that the Earth is flat.

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