July, 1969. Apollo 11 lifts of from Cape Canaveral, Florida. I still remember the images from TV and being so facinated that something as large as the Saturn V spacecraft could actually leave the planet. This made me very interested in rockets and spaceflight and I started to read everything I could find in our city library related to these topics.
A couple of years later I was in the library at Hilliard (Ohio) Middle School reading a magazine about model airplanes. In this mag was an advertisement about model rockets and a company called Estes Industries. Wow - a company that makes actual flying rocket kits and the motors that power them ! I talked to my Mom and Dad at dinner that night and the following weekend my Dad took me to Tom Thumb Hobbies in Columbus to check out this hobby. Naturally, not knowing anything about model rocketry at the time, I wanted the coolest rocket they had on the shelf - an Estes "Orbital Transport". Fortunately for me, the stores rocketry expert was able to talk me into choosing a kit made for a beginner and we instead settled on an Estes Alpha kit. This was a much easier kit to build and my first flight, at the playground of Brown Elementary School, was a total success.
Over the next several years as I built and flew several more kits, my building and flying skills got better and better. I also joined the newly formed Rocket Club at Hilliard Junior High. Our instructor, the schools Physics teacher, taught us about propulsion, aerodynamics and for me, the most interesting thing of all - stability. For a self guided rocket to be stable and fly straight, its Center of Mass MUST be forward of its Center of Aerodynamic Pressure. Once I understood this critical principle, I was no longer confined to just building pre made kits. Now I was free to start designing and flying my own rockets ! I kept a note book with all my designs, hand drawn, that I built and flew. I have no idea where that book is now but it sure would be fun to look at it almost 40 years later.
I pretty much stayed involved with the hobby with a few lapses during college and aviation maintenance schooling. But by the mid 90's I was starting to loose interest. The biggest motor I could find was still the Estes "D" motor. When you're 12 years old the D motor is very cool. When you're 35 and been flying rockets for a good chunk of those years, the D motor becomes a bit routine. And then, in the Fall of 1997, it happened ! I was living and working in Springfield, IL and still flying hobby rockets. I struck up a rocketry conversation at work one day with a guy that was also into rockets. He invited me to a local launch the coming Saturday and, of course, I accepted. So on Saturday morning I loaded up my fleet of little rockets and launch equipment and drove out to a large field outside town. When I got there I saw guys with rockets that were huge !! The first one I saw was 7 feet tall and 4 inches in diameter. I sort of figured that this rocket needed something bigger than a D motor so I started asking the guy that built it a ton of questions. And that was my introduction to High Power rocketry, composite propellant high thrust motors and FAA airspace waivers. I was just totally blown away by these big rockets. I did not fly any rockets that day - I did not even get any equipment out of my car. I was like a human sponge just absorbing all the information that I was given that day. Soon after that launch, I bought a mid power rocket kit called The Initiator, from Aerotech and a reloadable motor system. After the first flight on a G-64 APCP (ammonium perchlorate composite propellant) motor to about 2000 feet, I was hooked !! I can't tell you how many time the Initiator flew but it was alot. I had to make several repairs along the way and finally last year I had to retire it. It was simply worn out. I did re-use the nose cone when I built the Cherokee G.
In the Fall of 1999 I obtained my Level 1 High Power Rocketry certification using a high power kit from Binder Design called the Sentinel flying on an Aerotech H123. And 2 years later obtained my Level 2 certification with the rocket in this picture flying on an Aerotech J350. By the time I was ready to do the Level 2, I figured I had enough experience to skip the kit. The rocket is designed by me -no kit- is 9 and 1/2 feet tall and weighs about 15 pounds at liftoff.
I am a member of the National Association of Rocketry and belong to 2 local rocketry clubs. Both clubs support low, mid and high power rocketry as well as being family friendly. My son, Alex, also likes to fly rockets and is starting to ask me alot of questions about the big ones we see at the launches we attend. Supprting kids is one of the best things about the NAR and the local clubs. The kids flying now are the future of the hobby and who knows, maybe NASA.......