The Spectacular Finale of Mad Mike

Mercedes Blackehart

Michael “Mad Mike” Hughes in his dwelling in Apple Valley, California, on April 20, 2019.

Michael “Mad Mike” Hughes was an enigma on a mission — to encourage and to upend.

The 64-year-old daredevil limo driver taught himself rocket science, crowdfunded the cash to construct his personal steam-powered rocket out of spare components and launched himself into the sky thrice. He was additionally a flat-earther who didn’t imagine in science. Or gravity, for that matter.

These could sound contradictory, however possibly they’re not.

He additionally ran for governor of California in 2018, held a Guinness World Document for longest limo ramp leap in 2002, hosted a flat earth convention in Las Vegas in Might 2019, had a documentary made about him referred to as “Rocketman,” had an upcoming Science Channel TV present referred to as “Home made Astronauts” and harbored fringe beliefs concerning the authorities.

On Feb. 22, Hughes launched himself for the third and ultimate time in his home made rocket, simply off Freeway 247 in Barstow, California. 

Upon takeoff, the rocket hit a metal ladder that he insisted — in opposition to his crew’s needs — be connected to the launch ramp to make it simpler for him to get into the cockpit. A parachute deployed prematurely and acquired caught within the thrust of the rocket, inflicting it to wobble. For a break up second, it seemed just like the rocket might shoot off in any path — together with towards the 50 or so spectators who had gathered to observe the launch. As a substitute, the rocket shot straight up, made a big arc away from the spectators and nosedived straight into the desert ground about half a mile from the launchpad. 

Mercedes Blackehart

A parachute will get caught within the thrust of Mad Mike’s rocket throughout his ultimate launch in Barstow, California, on February 22, 2020.

I used to be there to cowl the launch for a profile I’ve been writing about Hughes over the previous yr. I’d interviewed him at his dwelling in Apple Valley, California, and I’d seen him communicate on the Adventurers Membership of Los Angeles. Earlier than the launch, I spoke briefly to Hughes, who was clearly nervous. Then I filmed the launch on my telephone, a spectacle so surreal it was virtually cartoonish. Hughes himself had dubbed himself the “human Wile E. Coyote.”

When it grew to become clear that Hughes wasn’t going to make it, most of the spectators screamed and wailed. Then there have been 15 minutes of eerie, solemn silence. I posted the video to Twitter, which acquired 5 million views in three days and garnered media protection world wide.

Waldo Stakes, Hughes’s landlord and collaborator, and the remainder of his crew rushed to the crash web site.  

“We’re going to must bury Mike,” Stakes informed these of us who remained once they returned. “That’s how daredevils die.”

Hughes is survived by a brother and two estranged sons.

Hughes’s loss of life earned him numerous headlines, largely for his eccentric beliefs and spectacular ultimate moments. In some ways, he was a person of our American occasions, consultant of the decline of belief in experience, science, the federal government and different establishments. He was a vexatious litigant, bent on taking down what he noticed as an illegitimate authorities and court docket system. He caught to his convictions — irrespective of how unpopular — within the face of all demonstrable proof on the contrary. What’s extra American than that?

However whereas many Individuals have embraced these beliefs, Hughes was distinctive in his quest for sky-high glory. 

Seeing The Planet For Himself

Hughes’s final objective was launching himself 62.eight miles to the sting of house, often called the Kármán Line, in a “rockoon” — half rocket, half balloon. He needed to “see what form this planet is” for himself, he informed me. Hughes and Stakes had been making an attempt to lift $2.eight million to construct that spacecraft at their property in Apple Valley, which they referred to as El Ranchito Rakete.

Hughes mentioned they weren’t out to show the Earth is flat with these steam-powered rocket launches however reasonably to encourage a brand new technology. “At one time on this nation, we thought something was attainable, however we don’t imagine we are able to do something anymore,” he informed me.

Hughes’s PR consultant of 17 years, Darren Shuster, mentioned the flat-earth angle was only a publicity stunt meant to garner extra sponsors and a spotlight.

“He was NOT a flat-earther,” Shuster mentioned. “He was an actual stuntman and he was a genius PR man, as nicely, to the very finish.”

Stakes disagreed with that evaluation in a Fb put up a few days after Hughes’s loss of life.

“Mike was an actual flat earther,” he wrote. “He had dozens of books on the topic.”

Mercedes Blackehart

Mad Mike at work on his rocket at his dwelling in Apple Valley, California, on April 20, 2019.

It’s exhausting to know for certain what Hughes really believed and what he merely thought would carry consideration to his tasks. He had claimed he believed we reside on a flat, stationary, disc-shaped Earth on the heart of the universe, surrounded by a large wall of ice referred to as Antarctica and shielded by an arched firmament above us like a snow globe.

Many within the flat-earth neighborhood, which has grown within the age of YouTube and contains a whole lot of hundreds of adherents, weren’t completely satisfied about Hughes’s rockoon plan. If he went as much as the Kármán Line and (inevitably) proved that the world is a sphere, that might finish the gravy practice for flat-earthers who earn money from merchandise, books, conferences and the like.

Hughes hadn’t been invited to the Flat Earth Worldwide Convention on the Crowne Plaza in Denver in November 2018. However he confirmed up anyway. “Nobody’s finished extra for flat earth than I’ve, and also you’re not inviting me to a flat earth convention?” he complained.

It was at that convention that YouTuber Logan Paul introduced he was “popping out of the flat earth closet” as a part of a documentary he was filming. Seems, it was actually a mockumentary, which didn’t sit nicely with Hughes, whom Paul had interviewed briefly within the movie. Hughes filed a lawsuit in opposition to Paul in a San Bernardino, California, court docket, charging fraud and demanding a $500,000 high-quality and three years in state jail. On the time of his loss of life, Hughes had but to efficiently serve Paul. The following listening to in that case is scheduled for March 27.

Hughes additionally believed in a plethora of different conspiracy theories, together with that an individual’s identify written in all capital letters is definitely an entity that another person should buy by submitting paperwork with the California secretary of state. He believed he had “bought” the entities of Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk and plenty of others, together with judges and visitors cops who’d issued him dashing tickets. He’d additionally filed dozens of lawsuits in opposition to the precise folks in a futile try and extract massive sums of cash from them for utilizing his “property.”

“I’m on the brink of flip. Every part. Upside. Down,” he informed me in April 2019. “The other way up.”

Buying and selling Peril For Glory

Hughes’s first profitable rocket launch, on Jan. 30, 2014, passed off in Winkelman, Arizona. Hementioned he didn’t even imagine within the flat-earth conspiracy at that time. It was “simply to do one thing, as a result of it was purported to result in a TV present with ABC.” He claimed that following the launch, ABC determined to not use the footage.

He reached a top of 1,374 ft and hit the bottom at 50 miles an hour. It took him three days to recuperate from inside and head accidents he declined to elaborate on. He had to make use of a walker for 2 weeks.

It could seem to be Hughes feared nothing, however he’d be the primary to inform you that was not true.

Matt Hartman through ASSOCIATED PRESS

“Mad” Mike Hughes is carried on a stretcher after his home-made rocket launched and returned to the bottom close to Amboy, Calif., on Saturday, March 24, 2018. The self-taught rocket scientist who believes the Earth is flat propelled himself about 1,875 ft into the air earlier than a hard-landing within the Mojave Desert that left him injured.

“Launch day is an intense day,” he informed me. “I’m not fearless. Issues do scare me. However you gotta man up and get in it.”

Six months later, they tried to launch once more. The rocket launched prematurely with out Hughes in it and minimize off the legs of certainly one of his crew members.

“It virtually killed three folks,” he informed me. “One man was operated on 11 occasions. It virtually blew my face off.”

Hughes constructed a brand new rocket and tried once more in California’s Mojave Desert in November 2017, however the Bureau of Land Administration wouldn’t let him launch on federal land.

He tried once more on March 24, 2018, blasting off on non-public property in Amboy, California. That launch propelled the rocket — this time with Hughes strapped in it as deliberate — 1,875 ft into the air. He deployed one parachute, which was barely delayed, after which one other. He crash-landed once more, this time breaking his again.

Hughes informed The Related Press after the launch that “this factor desires to kill you 10 alternative ways. It’s scary as hell. However none of us are getting out of this world alive.”

Hughes described the sensation of launching at that velocity as your thoughts being unable to maintain up with what’s taking place to your physique. That you just suppose you’re nonetheless leaving the ramp when actually you’re already within the clouds.

“As quickly as you contact that button,” he mentioned, “you’re already 200-300 ft up within the air …. It’s weird.”

However taking that danger is what separates daredevils from most individuals, he mentioned. For him, buying and selling peril for glory was price it. 

On The Edge

Hughes was born in Oklahoma Metropolis in 1956. His dad labored in a physique store and raced automobiles on the weekends. As a child, he watched George Rice Chitwood carry out death-defying car stunts within the Joie Chitwood Thrill Present on the racetrack, an exhibition that toured the nation for 40 years.

“Mike’s dad uncared for him,” Stakes mentioned within the 2019 documentary made about Hughes, “Rocketman.” “He by no means acquired any consideration as a child.”

“I want my dad might have lived lengthy sufficient to see what I’ve completed,” Hughes mentioned in a candid second within the movie. “I believe he’d be very proud. I want I might have stayed nearer with my sons. Perhaps that is the perfect time of my life, this yr, proper now.”

Hughes began engaged on a NASCAR pit crew in 1986 and have become a limo driver in 1996. He was impressed to begin leaping limousines after coming dwelling after an evening of driving at 6 a.m. and passing out on the sofa together with his tuxedo nonetheless on. “Teletubbies” was taking part in on the TV, and as he slept, he dreamt that he was leaping a limo into the stomach of one of many characters. He awoke questioning how he might grow to be “King of the Daredevils,” as he then branded himself.

Mad Mike Hughes went out again and again to try the seemingly unimaginable, risking his life all of the whereas. He lived on the sting and died making an attempt to do one thing extraordinary, which is admirable, even when his 8chan beliefs are usually not.

“It’s been a bizarre journey,” Hughes informed me earlier than he died. “And I’m only a man making an attempt to make issues occur, you already know?”

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