IG NOBEL FOLLOW-UP--
Troy and the Terrorists
Safety Engineering Prize Winner Reports an Historic Encounter
[This report was posted December 31, 2001]
We promised to pass on reports of the further adventures of Troy Hurtubise. Now comes word that a year before his recent fateful encounter with a full grown Kodiak bear, Troy had a very different kind of interaction -- one perhaps filled with surpassing menace, strangeness, and perhaps world historical import.
Troy is the winner of the 1998 Ig Nobel Prize in the field of Safety Engineering. His Ig citation reads:
Troy Hurtubise, of North Bay, Ontario, for developing, and personally testing a suit of armor that is impervious to grizzly bears. [REFERENCE: "Project Grizzly", produced by the National Film Board of Canada.]
So what happened a year ago? Here is an account from the December 8, 2001 edition of Troy's home town newspaper, the North Bay Nugget:
North Bay inventor target of wire-tapping, break-ins
by Phil Novak
Strange things are happening in the X-Files world of Troy Hurtubise.
Over the past 18 months, the North Bay inventor and star of Project Grizzly says he's been followed, had his phone tapped, and house and lab broken into.
More remarkably, Hurtubise claims to have been visited by two men, including Marwan Al-Shehhi, whom American authorities believe flew United Airlines Flight 175 into one of the World Trade Center towers Sept. 11.
Hurtubise, 37, is best known for developing the Ursus Mark VI, a 68-kilogram, high-tech body shell made of chainmail, titanium, high-tech plastic, liquid rubber and 2,289 metres of duct tape.
He has also developed an impenetrable material he calls "Superman suit" and a biodegradable fire suppressant -- FSA 333 -- that not only extinguishes flames, but also separates oil from sand or shale.
His latest version of the Ursus Mark VI, called the G-Man Genesis, is lighter and more flexible than the original and would allow its wearer "to tap dance on a mine field," Hurtubise said.
A lack of funding, though -- Hurtubise needs $1.5 million to realize the project -- has prevented him from constructing a prototype.
"If this new stuff is even half of what he says it is, he's one of the most amazing people inventing today," Dryfoos said.
Clad in the Ursus Mark VI, Hurtubise was struck by a pendulum-suspended BMW for the Ripley's Believe or Not television program in August 2000.
The same program tested the strength of Hurtsy, a substance Hurtubise made from quail feathers, polymers and resins when it held ... four cotton makeup pads together under the strain of holding up a suspended 1,350-kilogram Volvo.
Hurtsy also passed impenetrability field tests when fired on by sharpshooters hired by Hurtubise.
"This will stop a .308 with 180 grains at 50 feet," Hurtubise said. "Stop it cold. We can stop a .300 Winchester Magnum at 50 feet. Hurtsy is 50-times, pound-for-pound stronger than steel and 85 per cent lighter."
The field tests were videotaped and time-coded to demonstrate no manipulation had taken place.
Within weeks of the Ripley's broadcast, Hurtubise's life began to resemble a Tom Clancy novel, with mysterious characters and a white envelope thick with cash.
A nighthawk, Hurtubise was working in his garage lab at about 2 a.m. one night when he was visited by two well-dressed Arabs claiming to be American businessmen from Florida, who had seen him on Ripley's. ...
The men had been in Toronto on business, they said, and decided to rent a car and drive to North Bay.
Hurtubise didn't think twice about the visit at the time because, he says, he is often visited by strangers who arrive at strange hours wanting to purchase his research services.
No names were exchanged, Hurtubise said, "and I didn't ask.
"They said 'We're here for the Hurtsy material, and we'd like to see a demonstration with regards to its capabilities for ballistic protection,'" Hurtubise said.
"I told them 'If you think that's something, let me show you something I'm working on now that will blow your mind.' And then I showed them a piece of Superman suit."
'Sounds like science fiction'
The suit, Hurtubise said, is made from Hurtsy, Kevlar weave, cotton and magnetic particles. The components are layered and wired, and stiffen to impenetrability when attached to a nine-volt battery. A time-coded video viewed by The Nugget shows the material stopping an arrow from a 112.5-kilogram crossbow. When it is retrieved and held before the camera, the tip is missing and the shaft is peeled back like a banana.
Hurtubise, a graduate of Sir Sandford Fleming College of Applied Arts and Technology, cannot explain why Superman suit works.
"It sounds like science fiction," said MIT professor Robert Rose, one of the world's leading experts on material sciences, "but I would be absolutely delighted if Troy has come up with something like that, something that may be revolutionary.
"Troy is the most Edisonian of engineers, who has an intuitive feel for things. He tries something and sees if it works. If not, he goes on from there 'til he finds the solution."
But MIT's Dryfoos speculates the material stiffens because the low-voltage electricity and magnetic particles act as catalysts.
The suit's potential intrigued Hurtubise's visitors and he took ... them to an undisclosed testing site for a demonstration.
There, Hurtubise inflated a balloon and taped it to a log with duct tape. He taped a piece of Superman suit to the balloon.
"I then took a .300 Winchester Magnum, backed off 30 feet and shot it five times. The balloon didn't even burst and they just died because there was no hole in the Superman suit piece," Hurtubise said. "They're filming this with a video camera and one of them is so out of it, that he's running around punching the air, saying something I had no idea what the hell it was. But the way I looked at it, he was saying something like 'Yeah, yeah, this works.'"
While one man made a cell phone call, the other questioned Hurtubise while filming him.
"He wanted to know about Superman suit's expansion capability to cover military vehicles. I told him if you were to take Superman suit and cover a tank half a foot thick, there isn't an F-18 out there with a Sidewinder missile that would be able to touch it."
The men also wanted to know if the metal in the material was ... detectable.
"Alarm bells should have gone of in my head then, but they didn't," Hurtubise said.
When the trio returned to Hurtubise's home, one man asked him how long it would take and how much it would cost for a full-sized, front vest prototype.
"I said 'Wow, three, four weeks, $5,000,'" Hurtubise said. "His partner takes out a white envelope and counts out 50 100 U.S. bills, hands them to me and says 'Do it, and when we come back and the prototype achieves the same results, we'll pay you $200,000.'"
Hurtubise spent the next two days purchasing supplies, but then discovered a piece of Superman suit material was missing.
"It was a clean job," he said. "The garage lock was picked and nothing else was stolen, even though I had tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment in there. And at the end of the month, ... those guys never came back."
However, one year later Hurtubise recognized one as Marwan Al-Shehhi when CNN broadcast pictures of Sept. 11 terrorism suspects.
"I was in shock for at least two minutes because I knew that was the guy who came to visit me, so I immediately called the FBI hotline," Hurtubise said. "I basically got a snotty, obtuse idiot-stick who treated me as if I was some kind of a nut-case."
FBI spokesman Bill Carter would not confirm or deny that Hurtubise called or whether the bureau is investigating.
"Matters like that are confidential and kept between us and those who contact the bureau," Carter said. "We have no further comment."
While Hurtubise's story sounds wild and improbable, it doesn't surprise Peter Gizewski, a Toronto consultant who specializes in international security studies and is an associate with the Canadian Institute of International Affairs.
Gizewski said anything is possible today, noting that Saddam Hussein hired Canadian scientist Gerald Bull to develop a supergun.
"I certainly don't have any problems when I hear of people from the Middle East approaching Westerners wanting to buy military technology or things that could be used for military purposes," said Gizewski, an author and radio and television commentator.
"Nothing sounds incredible because of these past attempts to access military innovations from the West," he said. "The Florida and Toronto connections to these terrorists have also been proven."
Terrorism expert John Thompson, director of the Mackenzie Institute in Toronto, also doesn't believe Hurtubise's story is impossible.
"I can see what your man is doing being of tremendous interest to terrorists," said Thompson, who has been interviewed about the New York terrorist attacks 750 times since Sept. 11.
What concerns Hurtubise, though, is what could happen if the Superman suit sample has fallen into the wrong hands, particularly if those wrong hands figure out how to reproduce it. And that's why ... he has told his story.
"I don't want one of our boys fighting some faction over there, whether it's Saddam Hussein or Afghanistan, saying 'We've laid 100 rounds from 50 different men and nothing has happened.' So don't be surprised. I told you. It's Superman suit. They've got it on, and guess what, Hell's coming to breakfast because we can't do anything.
We at the Annals of Improbable Research urge historians to gather further details while they are still relatively fresh. The peoples of the earth deserve to learn the full story, so as to well and truly ponder its implications.
© Copyright 2001 Annals of Improbable Research (AIR)
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