One of my most cherished possessions when I was in Junior High School was my Estes model rocket catalog. I was in awe of anything that could fly and model rockets were just incredible. At the time fire laws prohibited the firing of rockets without a permit so I ended up joining a model rocket club. The ultimate rocket of the day was the “Big Bertha” a two foot high model using a C series rocket motor. The stock rocket would go about 500 feet.
I imagined owning one of these beauties and I remember looking every day at my crumpled catalog as I dreamed of firing one of these off at the local rocket club. I was finally able to purchase one with my birthday money in 7th grade. I spent weeks preparing the rocket. I sanded the fins, filled them in with balsa wood filler and painted them with perfection. I spent hours in the final assembly making sure everything was just so. When I was done I had a beautiful red, white and blue flying machine.
The time came to fire the machine and it was truly a joyous occasion. I put the rocket on the club launch pad, hooked up the igniter and I remember those famous words… five, four, three, two, one, liftoff. The rocket soared to 500 feet, gracefully turned over and then… tragedy struck. The nosecone popped off, but the parachute did not open. The rocket plummeted to the ground and those fins that had taken hours to glue and sand broke into many pieces.
I was devastated as the recovery crew handed me my broken rocket. What had taken days to prepare was destroyed in only a few seconds. After wiping the tears from my eyes I told myself I would rebuild it. Not just stock… but bigger and better. My imagination took over. I wanted the biggest engine and two stages. It had to be the best. It had to reach a thousand feet. And this time it would have two parachutes so disaster would not strike a second time. Failure was not an option.
What happened over the next month was truly amazing. I picked up a new catalog and found that Estes had come out with a new more powerful D rocket engine. I had to have a D. Not only one but two engines would power my new rocket. I went to Hobby Lobby with my catalog in hand and purchased the individual pieces to build the “Dominator”. I read up on “two stage” flight and built my booster stage. I replaced the C motor mount with one that would hold the massive D motor. It took weeks to finish. But there it was!
I painted the new machine fluorescent orange and inserted the two “D” rocket engines. I built two custom parachutes and folded them securely in the top section of the rocket. I put the finished machine on my desk in my bedroom and waited for the chance to launch it. I imagined what it would be like. The machine soaring to new heights, flying to over 1000 feet and then a graceful recovery. I could hardly wait for the weekend to fly it.
My dad decided that to fly such a machine we would need to go to the rocket site out in the desert. A place called Lucerne Dry Lake. We packed up our Country Squire station wagon and headed out. After driving for two hours we ended up in one of the most desolate places in southern California. We set up camp and setup the heavy duty launching pad. I took all of my smaller rockets along and we had a great time firing them off. Then it came time to fire the “Dominator”. The sky was clear, with a slight wind to the east. I put the huge machine on the pad, hooked up the igniter and went to the launch controller. We counted it down… five, four, three, two, one, blast off.
The machine roared to life. The huge D booster motor thrusting the rocket into the air. The booster quickly dropped away and the main D engine took over. I had never seen a rocket go so high. It was just a speck as it reached apogee. This time the parachutes opened. I picked up my binoculars and watched as the machine gracefully descended
Then the unthinkable happened. A high altitude wind caught the huge parachutes and the fluorescent machine was blown across the sky. I started running, trying to keep the high altitude speck in sight. I ran and ran and ran. The machine disappeared from sight. My dream was gone, but the experience of that flight lasts till this day. It was better than I had ever imagined.
Inspiration thru Imagination. The fire that helps us go further than we ever thought possible. Go forward 30 years and look at what imagination has created now. Others have imagined bigger and better rockets. Multiple engines, different propulsion and new technologies. My 26 inch dominator has been replaced with 26 foot, multi stage, multiple N engine behemoths. Rockets going routinely over 10,000 feet into the air.
Be Inspired… Dream Big!