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Thaw the Chicken! (The Chicken Gun)

Netlore Archive:  On the unadvisability of firing chickens out of a cannon before they are fully thawed...

Description:  Urban legend
Circulating since:  1998 (this version)
Status: Grain of truth (see details below)

Email contributed by Ann C., 1997:

True story, as heard on the "Late Late Show with Tom Snyder" 3/3/97

Scientists at NASA have developed a gun for the purpose of launching dead chickens. It is used to shoot a dead chicken at the windshield of airline jet, military jet, or the space shuttle, at that vehicle's maximum traveling velocity. The idea being, that it would simulate the frequent incidents of collisions with airborne fowl, and therefore determine if the windshields are strong enough to endure high-speed bird strikes.

British engineers, upon hearing of the gun, were eager to test it on the windshields of their new high-speed trains. However, upon firing the gun, the engineers watched in shock as the chicken shattered the windshield, smashed through the control console, snapped the engineer's backrest in two, and embedded itself into the back wall of the cabin.

Horrified and puzzled, the engineers sent NASA the results of the experiment, along with the designs of the windshield, and asked the NASA scientists for any suggestions.

The NASA scientists sent back a brief response: "Thaw the chicken."

Analysis: Yes, "chicken guns" (or "chicken cannons") are for real and are still used by aeronautics engineers to fire poultry at test aircraft, though I haven't been able to confirm whether the above story was actually told on Tom Snyder's show. As to its overall veracity, well... there's reason to be skeptical.

The tale has circulated as an urban legend around for many years and in many a variation — Cecil Adams even rolled out a French version in a 1997 "Straight Dope" column. Before that, an Air Force Materiel Command public affairs report on chicken guns included a politically correct variant set in a nameless "foreign country."

Regardless of the setting, the self-serving upshot is always the same — American aerospace engineers are called upon to instruct a crew of pathetically inept foreigners who can't understand why the catapulted chickens keep shattering their most impact-resistant windshields.

See Andrew Warriner's "Thaw Before Use!" for more variants and a thoughtful (if inconclusive) analysis.

Last updated: 04/14/06

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