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How I Became Interested in Rocketry

When I was in the sixth grade at James E. Plew Elementary in Niceville, Florida, we built and launched model rockets as a class project. That was back in 1972 or 1973. Each student in the sixth grade built and flew an Estes Mark II rocket.

I was instantly hooked and through the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades I continued to build and fly rockets. I built flying models of the Space Shuttle and Star Trek's Enterprise.

I saved for months to buy the Omega/Cineroc movie camera rocket which I first launched at my mom's family's farm near Pittsburgh, PA. I had forgotten the blast deflector for my launch pad so I used as piece of aluminum foil. The film of the flight begins with the foil flying out of frame. I only made one Cineroc movie because they stopped making the special film cartridge the camera used. But the Omega rocket became my favorite.

The Omega flew on a D-motor. It was actually a two-stage rocket, but I don't recall ever launching it as a two-stager. I flew it several times on a single D motor until one time when the rocket caught on the launch rod. The motor flew through the rocket messing up the motor mount. I rebuilt the rocket with an 18mm motor mount and flew it several more times on less expensive C motors.

Okay ... there's another reason I rebuilt the Omega for C motors. I was a little scared of D motors. They were so big!

I'm really proud of a little boost glider I designed and built from scratch. It had a large delta wing and ailerons which flipped up when the motor ejected. A friend from school painted flames on the wings. The boost glider flew very well both as a rocket and as a glider.

(I need to search my photo albums. I'm sure I have pictures of these rockets!)

During Junior High School I lost interest in rockets for all the usually reasons.

Many years later, in 1994, I moved to Orlando, Florida. Around the same time, Estes reintroduced their Saturn V kit in honor of the 25th anniversary of the Apollo moon landings.

The Saturn V was one kit I'd always wanted as a kid, but had never been able to afford. Now, a few years older and gainfully employed, I could afford it. So I bought one.

I spent many weekends building the Saturn V and am quite proud of the result -- so proud that I don't think I'm ever going to risk launching it. But I do have another kit on the shelf that I'll build and launch some day.

Saturn V

Around the time I finished the Saturn V, I picked up a copy of a rocketry magazine at a local book store. On the cover was a photo of a large, about six-foot tall, model of the Space Shuttle. The article inside described how a group of high school students had built the rocket as a two-year project. I didn't notice at first that the school was in Orlando, not far from where I lived.

I called the teacher that led the group and he invited me to see the rocket. It was very impressive. I was also impressed by the large I motor that it used. It was so much larger than the D motors that impressed (and scared) me as a kid.

But, I didn't immediately start building larger rockets. I built a few more model rockets, including the Estes Shadow, and I launched rockets a few times with a few others in the area at a field that is now a shopping center.

In 1999, I got married and my wife and I bought a new home (still in the Orlando area). We bought the home from its builder, Ken Wright. Seeing my small collection of rockets, Ken told me how he had also built and flown them as a kid. Not too long later, he came over to show me a rocket he had just built. Then he told me about a local club he had discovered that flies big rockets.

Ken and I attended a Spaceport Rocketry Association launch in West Palm and we were both hooked. Through the SRA, I learned about the Northeast Florida Association of Rocketry and I started attending their launches.

I started I began building larger rockets such as the Aerotech G-Force and attending NEFAR and SRA club launches. I spent several years building and flying these mid-power rockets before I finally decided to get my Level 1 Certification.

I built and flew "Mustang Sally", an EZI-65, on an H128 motor to get my Level 1. Around the same time I applied for a Low Explosives Users Permit so that I could buy and use larger motors.

At the 2008 Florida Winternationals, I flew my Upscale Omega/Cineroc on an I motor to earn my Level 2 Certification.

-- Roger Smith

[Posted: 2006-08-21 | Updated: 2009-03-23]

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