Tuesday night my daughter and my wife wanted to see the rocket launch from Virginia and being that it was only the second opportunity we had to witness a launch as well as needing a break from home renovations, I decided to go with them. Like most men and boys, I have always loved flying things and I owe that interest to my dad.
My dad loves flying remote control planes and has been doing so ever since he retired, but his interest in planes and things that fly was evident even when I was a boy. I remember when I was little watching my father build rubber band powered planes out of tissue paper and balsa wood. We would take them over to the Ginter stadium and fly them. Kites were another toy my brother and I flew quite often with my father.
One Christmas Santa brought the family, well the three guys, a battery-powered plane. While I can't remember the exact name of it, it was pretty cool. It was made of a thin plastic instead of balsa wood and it used a battery-powered propeller and engine instead of the rubber band motor we used in our earlier planes. The coolest part was the flying discs that supposedly programmed the plane to fly in a variety of patterns instead of a guide line. We built that plane through the winter and finally one afternoon in March it was ready to fly.
We went over to the field and Dad brought out the battery we needed. It was a big lantern cell style battery. We hooked the leads up to the engine to charge it. I think it took a few minutes to get the plane juiced up for the flight. He started the propeller and held it against the ground for a few seconds to let it throttle to full power and then left it go and the first mission was a success. The plane took to the air and flew around for several minutes in a circle before landing back down on the field somewhat successfully.
Encouraged by the initial flight test, we charged the plane again and put in a more complex pattern. The plane was once again throttled up and took off across the field and into the air. We watched it flying this looping pattern and then as it turned to face the town instead of completing the pattern, the plane lurched forward and flew straight out of the field. As my brother and I watched the plane, my dad yelled to us to stay at the field while he ran for the gate looking up at the mechanical bird soaring above his head as he chased it.
Soon my dad was out of sight turning the corner of the alley and heading toward the center of town. A couple hundred feet above him the plane continued on its mission determined to fly across town almost daring my dad to catch it. In a few minutes though, the rebellious flyer went down out of our sight. Five minutes passed and we wondered if Dad caught up to it. As the ten minute marked was reached the thought crossed my mind of my dad flustered staring at the remains of the plane that crashed into someone's house.
As we wondered if the plane survived and if Dad would return to take us home for dinner, he reappeared in the alley with the remains of the plane in hand. It turned out that while the plane seemed to fly fast, he was able to keep up with it and was in the vicinity of the Presbyterian church when the battery wore down and the plane lost its one engine. The powerless aircraft plummeted to the ground where it suffered a rough landing as the one-man emergency crew that was my father reached it.
Fortunately it was not damaged beyond repair and we were able to fly it again, but it was not much after that incident, Dad learned about model rocketry and we built some rockets the following winter. These were much easier since they were just heavy cardboard tubes with a parachute and a plastic nose cone. They used a solid fuel engine that gave them fantastic lift and carried them several hundred feet in the air.
We were much more successful at launching rockets and by that time we were old enough to be the chase crew while Dad was the launch captain. Most of the time we didn't have to chase them too far, but one time comes to mind that was quite an adventure. We were at my godmother's farm and it was a nice day seemed perfect for a launch. Her son David and my brother Jeff and I watched as my dad charged the rocket and we counted downfive, four, three, two, one…BLAST OFF! Everything went without a hitch until the parachute deployed and immediately the rocket started flying on the strong upper wind toward the neighboring farm.
The three of us ran at full speed trying to watch the rocket while avoiding holes in the fields as we tried to keep the payload in sight. We ran almost a half mile before it came down on the neighboring tree farm. Yes, at the time I was able to run pretty quick. Today, the rocket would be waiting for me to drive to it. We retrieved it and returned it to home base where my dad did an assessment and concluded that the rocket was fine. We continued to fly rockets for several years after that until we left for college.
As I thought back to those fun times, my wife counted five, four, three, two, one and the video stream showed the launch of the rocket. As it blasted off camera we looked up to the sky and within seconds we saw the real thing carrying her payload into space. For that moment in time, everything else falls away and I marvel at the miracle of rocket flight once more with the same excitement as I had with those launches I shared with my dad, but this time I hope my daughter one day remembers this experience with the same fondness. I know I will.
Til next time…