Monday, June 30, 2008

Rockets and Reminiscence

112855219_img_4041Leading up to Saturday we were watching the weather forecasts closely. This year's GARLO event was Saturday and we missed it last year and I wanted to make sure we were there this year.

We were big rocketeers when I was growing up. We lived close enough to enough wide - open spaces that we could walk over and launch anytime, which for a period of five years or so is what we did. We'd save up or pool money for engines and igniters and recovery wadding and head out to the field with whatever collection of rockets we hadn't lost yet. We flew A-engine through D-engine rockets, two stagers and three stagers. We duct taped rocket engines to model cars ( didn't work so well), sent action figures and eggs into orbit and had contests over duration and landing zones and anything else we could think of. We flew Estes rockets because that's what the local hobby shop had. It was years before I knew that anything else existed.

We'd get a rocket kit and be so anxious to fly it that Estes USS Enterprisepaint was an unneeded extravagance. Paint was reserved for rockets that had survived a first launch and recovery. Often the glue could have used a bit more drying time as well. I recall my Starship Enterprise coming apart on landing, largely due to a lack of drying time.

Another memorable launch was the three stage Comanche rocket. This was one of the last rockets I remember building. I took much more care and patience with this kit. It cost more, as I recall, and with three stages that meant paying for three motors for each flight. I had each stage perfectly mated with the stage above, each fin perfectly sanded and filleted - it was a thing of beauty. Only on close inspection could you tell that it was three stages.

As per tradition it was as yet unpainted. The day for the first launch was glorious (in my memory, anyway, all of those summer days are) and I of course chose the largest, most powerful motor for each stage. There was a slight northerly wind so I tilted the launch just a degree or two off vertical. The rocket flew straight and true, the first stage popped and the second kicked in. It picked up speed and altitude and the second stage popped. I got caught watching the second stage tumble down, trying to mark it's location for recovery. When I looked back up the top stage of the rocket was out of sight. I heard the parachute charge pop, but never saw the parachute. I never saw the rocket again. I assume it landed somewhere in the woods, far to the north, after reaching about 1200 ft or so.

So on Saturday I was really looking forward to taking the boys out and watching the rockets fly. I haven't launched a rocket in something like ten years. The older boys were interested, but never really patient enough to complete a kit.

Once we circled around Dodd's Park and found the launch site we were able to park close enough to see everything from the van. Daughter was interested for about three or four launches, but then the grass and the flowers were calling. The boys, however, were enthralled. They wanted to look at every rocket lined up waiting for launch, they wanted to sit closer to the launch pads. Number Four son wanted to know exactly how they worked : from engine to wadding to parachute. When one particularly gnarly F-motor launched, Number Five son could be heard above the roar of the motor exclaiming "Wow! Did you see that? Fire came out of it! Did you see that?"

They watched each rocket from launch to recovery, and were particularly interested in R2-D2's short but successful flight. We kept saying "one more rack, we'll stay for one more round of launches and then we have to go", and someone would bring up another gloriously large rocket for the next round and we'd have to stay to see that one.

83862262_img_2818 These rocketeers were good, bordering on professional. Most flights were straight and true. There were the requisite separations (nose cone disconnects from tube body on parachute deployment) and the more spectacular complete failure of the ejection charge or "prang" (rocket dives into the ground twenty feet from spectators). There were some young kids flying kit rockets that day as well, so anyone was welcome. Everyone was great, letting the kids gaze and even finger some of their rockets. There was a vendor on hand selling kits and parts (selling at least one parachute to a youngster that had forgotten to put in his recovery wadding). He didn't have any beginner or starter kits, however, so I tried to steer the boys clear of him lest they get there eye on a rocket Dad didn't want to pony up for.

Of course I had ulterior motives this day. I wanted to expose the kids to an activity that they could enjoy, and hopefully learn to love and use to branch off into other interests like space exploration or astronomy.

Wife is no fool. She asked if my Rocket Box was still out in the garage, and if I would be restocking it now. I had to correct her and say it was a "Range Box", and that it had been re-purposed as a tackle box years ago. So I'll have to get a NEW range box, and stock it up with spare recovery wadding and parachutes and engines and swivels and igniters. Right after I build that launch controller I've always wanted to make. The stock ones are just not geeky enough (or beefy enough) for me anymore.

I also need to let enough time pass so that the memory of those giant F-motor rockets has faded from memory, so that when the boys press the launch button on their first A-motor rocket they'll be just as enthralled as I was.73166792_kevin'stwostage_takeoff

The Central Illinois Aerospace club holds launches twice monthly, weather permitting. They also do demonstrations and workshops on various aspects and hobby rocketry. Newbies and spectators are welcome at all events.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Clarinet Players Beware

You've been replaced by machines. The robot player below one a competition, but it clearly has issues. Like most players, it is more comfortable in the lower registers and has a tendency to squeek a bit in the upper range. I'd have been more impressed if they'd worked out the air pressure / embouchure issues over getting it to press the keys really fast.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

It never gets easier

You would think that the older you get the more you get used to friends your age passing away.

Not so much.

I heard today that my good friend George Cherry passed away. I haven't seen George in years, but the news hit me like a punch to the gut. I was lucky enough to work side by side with George for about two and a half years teaching color guard. They were without a doubt my best years in the activity. George's creativity, enthusiasm and rapport with the kids was something to behold. From the moment he arrived he elevated everyone to a different level - and challenged me to do the same.

George was passionate about the activity and he "got it" : the pursuit of excellence, the push to drive kids to reach for things just beyond their grasp and then reach a little more. His joy for life and boundless energy was an epidemic that ran rampant through our organization while we were privileged to have him with us. The guard was never better.

George touched countless lives - here in our backwater little town, as a founding staff member of Jersey Surf, as a performer and a person. I'd lost touch with George over the last several years, but I'd always here from someone who'd heard from someone about how he was doing. Even though I hadn't seen him in forever I thought of him often - of his passion for excellence, his love of the activity, and just his approach to life every day. Even when he was privately down about something, when the kids came around the game face was on and he was ready to go.

I've yet to work with a better motivator and educator in the color guard world. The kids all loved George, even when he was telling them like it was. George had a profound effect on my career in the color guard world, coming along just at the right time to give me new enthusiasm and challenge and push. His love of the activity and the kids was unequaled.

One of my favorite George memories is seeing The Pride of Cincinnati's "First Circle" show for the first time at a regional performance in Ohio. Before they finished I leapt to my feet, tears streaming down my face because it was so damn _good_ and _right_ and I had taught kids in that show early in their careers. I looked over at George, who was a couple of seats down, and caught him looking at me with the same tears on his face. We both burst out laughing, tearing up and clapping, caught up in the joy of the moment.

And that was George - caught up in the joy of the moment.

He touched hundreds, if not thousands of lives, and will missed by many and forgotten by none.

For a time he was "my best good friend" and I will cherish his memory forever.

Update: Obituray info here from Jersey Surf

Monday, June 02, 2008

Chasing Rainbows

Last night as we drove up to evening church service there was a rainbow arcing over the church. It was quite brilliant and visible for about two thirds of the way up. My thought process went something like this:

Wow, look at that. Light from the sun is hitting that falling rain at the precise angle to refract it into the visible spectrum, reflect it off the back of the drop of water, and refract it again on the way to me eyeball. Cool. If I was in an airplane I might see a rain-ring, which is something I've always wanted to see.

Then I turned to my wife, who had tears in her eyes.

"That's God's promise," she said.

Years ago, when we knew only that she likely had cancer and not much else, we returned from a trip to Champaign that featured a day filled with poking and probing and the drawing of blood and testing. We were uptight, scared and unsure. We sought comfort from our pastor and his wife. Somewhere along the line my wife and the pastor's wife saw a rainbow. The pastor's wife said something like this:

See that? That's God's Promise. In the bible it tells us that God made rainbows to remind us of his promise never to flood the earth again. I see it and am reminded that God is still in control, that he still has a plan, and he's still watching over me.

My wife hadn't forgotten that, since she's the one that had the cancer. I hadn't forgotten it either, but then it didn't mean as much to me. It meant a lot in that it helped her deal with what was going on, and still helps her deal with things today.

I want to say that she got more out of the experience than I did, but further thought revealed that we were both missing something in the process. By ignoring the spiritual, I was limiting the impact of a simple rainbow on my psyche that day. And by ignoring the scientific, my wife missed a chance to appreciate the fundamental laws of physics and nature in action. Who missed more? For me, it is hard to say. But I'm certain my wife would say that i was missing the point entirely.


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