ThrottleX Blog

Remembering Evel Knievel’s Snake River Jump 40 Years Later

A little more than 40 years ago, famous daredevil Evel Knievel squeezed into the cockpit of a strange open-top rocket known as Skycycle X-2 and attempted to jump a 3/4-mile chasm at Snake River Canyon, near Twin Falls, Idaho. Ultimately, the attempt was a failure and boondoggle. And for some, the incident is symbolic of the United States in the 1970s.

In the wider context, the pain of Vietnam was still fresh on that September day in 1974, as well as the anger and embarrassment of Watergate. American industry was in decline. This was when Harley-Davidson was earning the awful reputation its critics still (unfairly) point to. The remaining Apollo lunar missions –– easily the greatest examples of American technical prowess –– had been scrapped. Stock market crashes and an oil crisis had exposed the country’s weakest points.

For several months leading to this day, Knievel had built a tide of public interest in the Snake River jump. Millions of dollars had been spent promoting and now televising the event across the nation. Thousands of onlookers had come to see it in person, lining both sides of the canyon.

As crowds cheered, Knievel, bedecked in his famous stars-and-stripes jumpsuit, had been delivered to the launching platform on a throne suspended from a crane. He hadn’t just walked; he had descended as if from on high. It was American spectacle at its finest.

(Interestingly, one of the financial backers was Vince McMahon Jr. –– now owner of the WWE, and someone who knows a thing or two about creating a spectacle.)

After a dramatic countdown, the rocket fired and: Pfft. Its parachute deployed on ignition and immediately started to slow the Skycycle X-2 as it arched above Snake River Canyon.

“Whoa. It looks like he’s…” one of the ABC commentators stuttered, more confounded by the immediate anti-climax than concerned for Knievel’s safety. “Whoa. There’s been a mistake.”

The rocket wobbled in the sky, emitted some showy red smoke and drifted to the canyon floor. For Knievel, there was still drama because he would have drowned had the rocket gone into the river. But for the crowd it was a failure. After all the bombast, Knievel had come up short.

Posted by admin at 8:38 pm

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