Gonna Fly Now

Three . . . two . . . one . . . my finger presses the launch button. One or two silent seconds pass. Then zoom! Up goes the rocket, and our heads all snap toward the sky. We follow the trail of smoke until we see a tiny parachute pop out, and we follow it to the ground, running toward its ultimate landing point. When the rocket is retrieved, a collective whoop of joy erupts. Success!

I was rather “thrust” into model rocketry due to someone else’s lesson plan in 1990, teaching English and Chemistry in a job where I took over mid-year for a part-time teacher. I have a science minor and a teacher’s license, and although my previous experience had been in English, I thought, “How hard can it be to teach Chemistry?”

It was harder than I thought it would be, but it was fun. I was asked to take over a class called “Chemistry in the Community” so I got to teach everyday chemical stuff, like solubility of sugar (we made our own sweet tea), exploring how eggs denature when cooked, what our hair and cheek cells look like under a microscope, and other easy experiments. I even had a meteorologist come out for a talk on weather patterns and tornadoes. But the best part was a lesson in physics using rockets.

I had never built a rocket before, but my husband had built and flown them with the Boy Scouts when he was a kid. I had absolutely no experience teaching rocketry, but I just followed the plans that had been left for me. I ordered a bunch of simple rockets from the hobby store and my students spent some of each class period assembling them. When launch day came around, my husband brought his launch pad, and we launched right from the practice football field next to my classroom. Thinking back, we should have had a much larger space further from traffic; we had too many rockets that got lost or were irreparable due to landing in the street, getting tangled in branches, or getting run over by cars. Even with the problems, after the first rocket went up, I was hooked.

In my second job at a middle school, I volunteered to team-teach a unit on rocket physics. The science teacher had done the same unit each year since the dawn of man, so it was my opportunity to be the student. After that my husband and I began actively building rockets as a hobby. Once our friends discovered we were building rockets in our spare time, many of them came over with kits they’d had since childhood, and we had rocket-building parties at our apartment. One friend even built a scale model of a Saturn V rocket which he flew for my class the following spring.

Along with my husband Darcy, our friend Dave, and my brothers Don and Dean, we formed what became known as the “D-Force Rocket Team.” We even had shirts made, with names like “Recovery Specialist” (Darcy, because he could chase the fastest, and spot rockets from a distance), “Flight Commander” (Dave, because he knew the most about model rocket design and flight, and could make quick repairs in the field), and “Pre-Flight Engineer” (That’s me; I was the prepper). Any time four or more members of the D-Force got together, we called it an official meeting, whether we launched rockets or not. Most weekends we looked for favorable conditions and the perfect launching area, sometimes driving into Falcon or east to Calhan or Ellicott.

After I started teaching high school English full time, my rocket building skills went dormant. We got busy, and found other hobbies. Model rocketry is expensive, and we were limited on funds, so we put the rockets away, thinking we’d get to them later. A decade went by.

Last February, we had some unseasonably mild weather, and Dave and a few other people were at our house. “We should go launching,” Dave said. Why not? We had all the stuff, and a couple of usable rockets. So we piled everyone in the van and took off for a construction area nearby (construction areas are perfect launch sites: usually a wide expanse of nothing, with a few poured concrete pads if we’re lucky). Our friend Donette and her son Colin went with us. Donette had never considered model rocketry as a hobby, but she was hooked, just like I was years ago, the first time a rocket went up. Colin, who is autistic, absolutely loved it. We taught him how to hold the launch controller, to wait for a count of three, and to push the button. Since then he has helped build at least four rockets and has gone out with us almost every time we launch.

Colin with his first rocket

Colin with his first rocket. (Credit: Donette Bisbee)

Of course Donette was instantly admitted into the D-Force because of her name, but we inducted Colin, too. He loves rockets whether he’s launching one or not. When he sees pictures of rockets, he gets excited. He knows it won’t be long until we’re back at the launch site again.

This summer has been a record season for rocket launching. We’ve gone out at least once per weekend and frequently twice. This can be attributed to Donette’s discovery of a website where we can get rockets and supplies for half the price listed at the hobby store. With more members in the team, it’s easier to share the cost of the engines and supplies, so when it’s rainy, we build. When it’s sunny, we fly.

Over time we’ve grown different styles of building rockets. Darcy likes to build the same type but paint them different colors so he has a fleet of one style. I like the complicated kits that take precision and a long time to build. Don likes to take his time and put an artistic twist on the designs, and Dave likes to design his own builds from scratch. Donette built her first kit rocket this summer, and it’s become one of the staple flyers. Colin has his own “mini-fleet” of smaller rockets that he helped build. We also like the easy-to-assemble kits because they go together quickly and have a single-piece tail that can withstand harder landings.

(Credit: DeLyn Martineau)

The Lynx, in progress. (Credit: DeLyn Martineau)

Lynx done

The Lynx, completed. (Credit: DeLyn Martineau)

The D-Force Rocket Team has even been hired for its first show. At the end of this month we will do a rocketry exhibition for The Academy for Advanced and Creative Learning. While the other D-Force members are setting up the launch site outside, I’ll be inside teaching the kids about thrust, altitude, apogee, and trajectory. It will be like teaching in the old days, but I think of it like being a grandparent: I get to enjoy the kids, but when they get overwhelming I get to give them back to their parents (in this case, teachers).

If you’re interested in booking the D-Force Rocket team for a demonstration at your school, business, organization, or function, please contact us at dforcerocketteam@gmail.com. We’d love to make our rockets fly for you.