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.

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