The Industry

“It’s Like a Big Lighter”

What it’s like to own one of Elon Musk’s flamethrowers.

Fire from a flamethrower.
It’s lit.
Thinkstock/Andrey_A

Brendan Finn is a 20-year-old student at the United States Naval Academy. As of Saturday, he is also the proud owner of a flamethrower he bought from Elon Musk. As you may already know, the man that the Guardian called a “pyromaniac Willy Wonka” made good on his promise to start selling the fire-breathing toys (officially dubbed “Not-a-Flamethrowers”) through his Boring Company over the weekend. The company even hosted a pick-up party for the roughly 1,000 people who preordered them earlier this year. Finn was among the attendees and agreed to speak to Slate about the party and what life is like now that he’s got a flamethrower.

Slate: Did you make the trip to California for this?

Brendan Finn: I was back in Tucson[, Arizona] for a little break over the summer, got the invite, and figured I might as well make a little trip out to Los Angeles with my girlfriend and siblings. We made a little event out of it. We drove about seven, eight hours.

How did you first hear about the flamethrowers, a few months ago when they were announced?

I heard about it on Twitter, from Elon Musk’s Twitter account. I got the Boring Company hat previously. It just seemed like a very novelty, unique thing that would ultimately be worth the $500. I thought that it could potentially go up in value, but even if it didn’t, I thought it’d be a neat thing to have around for a long time.

Do you consider yourself a fan of Elon Musk?

I definitely am. I like to follow what’s going on with Boring Company, SpaceX, Tesla. There’s a lot of hope in what he does for the future that many other companies don’t give. Where other companies seem invested with the bottom line, they seem invested with making the future better… SpaceX really caught my eye with all that they were doing and all they hope to do. I became obsessed and caught the bug—I would say that’s why I’m studying aerospace engineering now.

What was the pick-up party like?

It was in basically just a parking lot. It had a mariachi band, which I thought was very funny, because SpaceX’s first picture was with a mariachi band. They had a nice little picture-taking setup that everyone could go and take a picture with, some really good churros; the worst part was that the Capri Suns they had were hot.
It was a very interesting venue. It was like Muskland, with the Boring Company right there and SpaceX and Tesla—instead of Disneyland, Muskland.

What did it feel like to get the flamethrower?

It felt surreal walking around Hawthorne with a flamethrower in a box with a bunch of other people with flamethrowers in a box. It felt like the weirdest thing ever. Such an odd circumstance.

Have you tried it out yet?

I didn’t try it out until I got home [to Arizona]. It was a surprisingly big flame. Honestly, it just seemed like a fun party trick, something to hang around and brag to your friends that you have. I tried it out with my family when I got home, then I tried it out again when I went to hang out with a few friends. We live in Arizona, pretty dry, so make sure we’re far away from any and all vegetation, houses and everything. It doesn’t seem that dangerous to start a fire, but you don’t want to take any risks at all.

It’s really like a big lighter. The flame just kind of evaporates into the air. It’s not like a World War II flamethrower where it’s shooting out napalm and sticking to the ground.

Is there anything else you can do with it besides light it?

So far I haven’t done anything with it. I’ve joked around that we should try and cook a burger with it, like put a burger on a stick and try and cook it. I think we’ll probably eventually try and cook some food. Hopefully we don’t get food poisoning.

[Also] party tricks, cooking marshmallows, and that sort of stuff. There’ll be some cool Instagram pictures.

Did you have previous experience with fire-starting devices, like fireworks or anything?

Nope. Other than starting a fire with a lighter, that’s about the limit. The flamethrower was initially demonstrated at the Boring Company pick-up party. It’s incredibly safe and idiot-proof. It just looks intimidating. There’s big bark and little bite.

What did your friends and family think of the flamethrower?

They thought it was an obscene purchase but also that it was tons of fun, just something very new and cool that no one else has.

What did you think of the price tag?

I think if it was just for the flamethrower, I think it would be high, but paying for that whole experience of going to LA, seeing all the Boring Company/SpaceX stuff, and the novelty of the flamethrower, I think it’s absolutely worth it, without a doubt.

Do you think you’ll be allowed to bring it back to the Naval Academy?

No. I may keep it with some family that live nearby, but definitely will not be keeping it at the Naval Academy.