Unique weapon of the Ming Dynasty — Shen Huo Fei Ya (神火飛鴉)

Ming Dynasty Divine Fire Flying Crow
Drawing of a Shen Huo Fei Ya, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Shen Huo Fei Ya (神火飛鴉, lit. 'Divine fire flying crow' or 'Flying crow with magic fire') is a very unique, crow-shaped rocket artillery. This unique weapon is assembled from three parts: A warhead (which is a small container made of thin bamboo strips and sealed with paper), attached crow body parts (head, wings and tail) made of paper and four rockets to act as propulsion. The warhead is a combination of explosive, incendiary, fragmentation, poison smoke and blinding smoke gunpowder.

Shen Huo Fei Ya shares the same design problem with another weapon known as Huo Long Chu Shui (火龍出水), in that it is impossible to ignite four rockets at the exact same moment to achieve stable flight. Shen Huo Fei Ya should be considered an impractical weapon, if not for the fact that its deployment and use as siege weapon during the Imjin War is well attested in the Jing Lue Fu Guo Yao Bian (《經略復國要編》).

The reason of this disparity is that Mao Yuan Yi (茅元儀), the author of Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》) was a scribe that never had any experience on the battlefield. It was very possible that he had heard of this weapon through unreliable secondary or even tertiary sources and got all the details wrong, as even his contemporary criticised the inaccuracies of his work.

The "real" Shen Huo Fei Ya could very well be a simple winged explosive rocket.


EXTRA: European rocket bird
European Shen Huo Fei Ya
Venetian bird-shaped rocket, from 'Bellicorum instrumentorum liber, cum figuris et fictitys litoris conscriptus' by Johannes de Fontana.
It seems that bird-shaped rocket weapon is not unique to China after all. The design of this bird-rocket is quite sensible, and this is probably what a practical version of Shen Huo Fei Ya would look like.

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