Saturday, July 13, 2013

Confessions of a BAR (Born Again Rocketter)

OK, it's like this: Model rocketry is NOT Off Topic for this list (as of now!) Don't worry....we will work radio in here somewhere!

Let's climb into the "Way Back Machine". The year: 1967.  Location: Palouse Hills in eastern Washington (state) about 70 miles south of Spokane. Having just graduated from college I was filling in as an on-air personality (and sometimes engineer) at KCLX in Colfax about 15 miles away while waiting for my date to report for USAF basic training.

Since hearing Sputnik on my old S-38 receiver in 1957, I was fascinated by space, space travel, rockets, and the US Space Program. I remember (like it was yesterday) when Al Shepard, aboard Freedom Seven lofted by a Redstone rocket became our first American in Space. Al was later to become the fifth man to ever walk on the moon as the Commander of Apollo 14.

I knew all about the Mercury Seven as well as the Gemini and Apollo astronauts. That fateful day in 1967 when the Apollo One fire claimed the lives of Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee, caused all of us who closely followed America's Space Program to wonder if the sacrifice of these three brave individuals was truly worth the price. Later, in the late 1980s I had the pleasure of knowing several of the NASA scientists/engineers who re-created the Apollo One fire and found the cause. The dedication of these men along with thousands of others involved with the space program brought to fruition, in July of 1969, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon. I was stationed in Japan at the time and on that day I was taking the train to work at Fuchu Air Station (5th AF HQ) in Fuchu Japan. It was a very good day to be an American as, since I was in uniform, I was literally mobbed by frantic Japanese passengers pounding my back and wanting to shake my hand....oh, and let's not forget the formal bowing. What a thrill. We had done something that no one else in the history of mankind had accomplished: we had visited a world outside our own, set foot upon it, and made history.

Back to the "Way Back Machine" and the Palouse Hills......I had been wanting to build and launch model rockets for several months. There was no organized club in or around Spokane (where I went to college) so I set about finding out as much as possible about building and launching model rockets. Within a couple of weeks I had two rockets built and had a pile of Estes solid fuel motors and support equipment. I pulled my 1956 Ford Crown Vic (complete with four antennas, a VHF police  radio, a CB radio along with a 2M rig (a re-purposed RCA two channel taxi radio) into the old cow pens/stockyard north of Palouse (my home). (See, I promised we'd get radio into the mix!!)

I deployed the launch rig, and inserted the igniter into the solid fuel motor,  placed the rocket on the rail and hooked up the launch controller. 5....4....3....2....1! Whoosh! off it went into the sky. Man, what a thrill! I had built and flown my own rocket! There was something magical about that. I recovered the bird and had 10 successful launches that day with my two rockets! Life was good!!!

Over the intervening years I built and launched a myriad of rockets, at a myriad of locations including Lajes Field, the Azores, and Japan. After 1975 I put my model rocketry hobby aside in favor of my military career and family.

Flash forward to December of 2012. I decided to rekindle my rocketry "jones" and purchase several Estes kits. Actually, my grand daughter, Kielan, had expressed an interest in model rocketry several years prior and I tried my best to interest her in building rockets and flying same, however, boys became her primary interest.

I had completed an Estes Honest John ("A" motor rocket) and an Estes Stryker ("B and C" motor rocket  and was ready to launch. I joined the National Association of Rocketry (NAR) and the local club Southern Amateur Rocketry (SoAR) in preparation for my first launch in about 30+ years! Unfortunately I was unable to make any launch dates until this weekend (July 13th) at a sod farm a few miles north of where I live in Dacula.

A couple of weeks ago my 12 year old grandson, K.C., came to visit the grandparents. On Saturday, 13 of July, I took him to the SoAR launch site to fly his first rocket. We arrived just after 10AM and there was already a crowd of about 200 people at the site. Many of them were Cub and Boy Scouts, along with their den mothers and fathers and parents. It was quite a sight....all those folks getting their "birds" inspected prior to launch, mounting their rockets on the pads and finally "flying" their rockets. It was truly inspiring.

K.C. had a pre-built Estes rocket that he really liked (it was green, his favorite color) so when it flew for the first time he was ecstatic! I got a "high five" from him!!! He was so excited it was almost magical. We quickly swapped to a new engine and igniter and readied for a 2nd flight. All in all he flew his Green Dragon three times that Saturday and had a ball! I, having multiple problems with igniters, only flew my Gronk I twice, losing it into the trees at the edge of the field on the last flight.

So, basically, what does this tell us? Give in to your inner kid. Get your family interested in something besides I-pads, I-phones, smart phones and the Internet. Get them out into the sunlight and ENJOY the day doing something, anything that promotes family fun and togetherness.

Have a Great Day & God Bless.

Vy 73 Rich K7SZ