Saturday, November 19, 2016

My First Rocket Launch - 1969

My "first" was a night launch.
I was raised in California. In 1969 you couldn't buy engines without a state issued special permit.
We'd order rocket kits from Estes and Centuri, but no engines.
At the time I received the Johnson Smith catalog ("It's fun to get stuff in the mail!")
Johnson Smith always advertised X-Ray Specs and the throw your voice "Ventrillo" on the inside front cover of comic books. At that time they sold M.R.I. starter sets and engines.
At the bottom of the rocket listing it always stated: "No engines shipped to California, Oregon, Washington state or New Jersey."

One year the Johnson Smith catalog didn't have California listed as a prohibited state. The other states were still there. This was before the state had lifted the restrictions on engines. A mistake?
I ordered some engines. Not knowing what to get, I ordered three A3-2 MRI engines.

We got to the school yard field after dark and loaded up an Estes Streak on an old style Electro Launch.
The launch button was pressed and held down for some time. The igniters then were bare nichrome wire. We all looked at each other with an expression of: "Well, is it going to fly?"

As soon as we turned away it did. We thought it would be a slow, NASA style launch, not a hiss, flash and some sparks.
We ran scared underneath the school building awning and waited. It was a real adrenaline rush! We didn't hear a thing, no ejection or landing. It was too dark to look for it, we went home thinking it was lost. One of the boys found it the next day before school.

For six years that after that I launched 1/2 A through D engine rockets in that same schoolyard. I even launched a single Enerjet Nike Smoke there with an E24 engine. There was a fence around the property but the gate was always open. After some vandalism the gates were locked after school hours and weekends.

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