- The pyrotechnic display known as the “wall of fire” takes military air shows to a new level.
- Explosive ordnance disposal teams, military bomb squads, spend hours setting these up.
- Two EOD technicians talked to Insider about what it takes to create these towering infernos.
The US military sometimes likes to add a spark to its air shows with a massive pyrotechnic display known as the “wall of fire.”
Most recently, the Marines did this at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in North Carolina, as can be seen in this Sept. 26 video from the base. The “wall of fire” was around 1,000 feet (304.80m) long and estimated to be several hundred feet tall.
-MCAS Cherry Point (@MCASCPPA) September 26, 2021
The “wall of fire” is usually the penultimate act. The finale is typically the headline performance by an aerial demonstration team like the Blue Angels or the Thunderbirds.
Although the demonstration is meant to look like an aircraft is dropping bombs on the airfield, the successive fiery explosions are the result of hours of work by a team of skilled explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) personnel.
Two Marine EOD technicians told Insider about what it takes to make a “wall of fire.”
“It takes time. It takes the raw materials, the explosives, and a little bit of expertise. I had about 30 guys working for me,” Chief Warrant Officer 5 Michael Gaydeski, who has been in explosive ordnance disposal for most of his 23 years in the Marine Corps, said.
“As soon as it’s light, I have the guys working,” he told Insider, explaining that it took about four hours to set up the explosive display, which used over 4,000 feet (1,219.20m) of detonation cord, among other combustible materials, mainly large amounts of fuel.
The “wall of fire” does not require a lot of explosive material, Gaydeski said. “It’s not much at all. It’s the manner it’s employed. And then it’s enhanced by fuel. There is a significant amount of fuel that goes up in that.”
The recent air show at MCAS Cherry Point was Gaydeski’s third time creating a “wall of fire,” but for a lot of the Marines involved, this was their first show.
“It’s definitely not common,” Gaydeski said. “Guys who have experience doing that can be hard to find.”
A little over a month before the big event, the Marines did a practice run to make sure everyone knew what to do, with Gaydeski providing guidance.
‘More dangerous’ than Fourth of July fireworks
Pyrotechnic displays are not unusual, as anyone who has ever attended a big Independence Day celebration knows, but the “wall of fire” takes things to another level.
It is “more dangerous” than Fourth of July fireworks, Gaydeski told Insider.
The EOD personnel use explosives that they put together themselves, not something manufactured. The fiery explosions, though they are contained, tend to set the grass on fire. And there is always the possibility that something will go wrong, risking an unplanned detonation or resulting in unexploded ordnance that needs to be rendered safe.
“Once things start catching on fire, you might have other explosives that are still on the field. Then you have fire and explosives, and you don’t want an unintentional detonation,” Gaydeski said.
“If something goes wrong and we’re unable to fire a particular charge, perhaps because one of the wires got burned through – that is the most common cause – we’ve got to disarm that,” he said.
“We have got to put out the fire first so that we can get in and remove those explosives or rewire and detonate them manually, whichever we deem to be safer.”
Master Sgt. Carlos Villarreal, the second in charge with 18 years in the Marine Corps and almost 11 years in EOD, was tasked with overseeing safety during the air show.
Because the display uses “actual explosives” and because of the “amount of fuel that we use in order to make the detonations make that nice fireball,” Villarreal told Insider, “we have the safety concern of people being injured” or worse.
So his job is making sure everybody is behind cover before detonation and that the explosives do not pose a threat to personnel or aircraft, among other things.
Villarreal said creating the wall of fire was “exciting” while Gaydeski said it is “still fun” despite having done three of these.
“If you get the chance, I would say go to it,” Gaydeski said. “The spectator line is almost 1,500 feet (457.20m) away. The wall of fire is 1,000 feet (304.80m) long. You’ll feel the heat and the blast pressure.”