Jul 16, 2006

Blast Off!

On Saturday, my wife and I went geocaching on the beach. We found a couple of caches at Frank Brown Park, which is a huge sports complex on Panama City Beach. They have a big open field that RC plane enthusiasts use for flying. I thought it would be the perfect place to launch Renegade, a two-stage model rocket I got last year at Christmas.

I’ve never really been into model rockets, which is strange, because it’s a great hobby for me. I like building things, and it’s got elements of danger and excitement. I mean, we’re talking about launching bits of balsa wood and paper tubes over a thousand feet into the air! Yeah, baby! Renegade is a two-stage rocket that I had to build. I had to cut the fins from sheets of wood, and paint/glue everything. I haven’t had a chance to launch it yet, because you need a big field and very little wind.

So yesterday, my wife and I went to the field to launch Renegade. When we got there, the wind was a bit breezier than I would have liked. I decided to test the currents with Bandito II, a small, green rocket that goes up to about 750 feet. The name isn’t a clever Estes marketing device, it is actually the second Bandito rocket I’ve owned. I lost the first one in my neighborhood whilst launching it from a local park near my house. It drifted away over the trees, and we never found it again.

Bandito I...we miss you good buddy!

Since that time, we’ve started cutting holes in the parachutes for faster recovery. We actually discovered this tactic by accident. At first, I never put any recovery wadding into the rockets and one time I was launching Snapshot and the engine burned a hole into the parachute making it come down faster, with no added damage. We were like, “Awesome!”

I put Bandito II on the launcher, and counted down: 3….2….1….blast-off! It shot out of sight. The sky was very bright, and there were some scattered clouds which made it difficult to see. (Note to self: put sunglasses with rocket stuff) However, when the parachute came out, it became visible. Now, the breeze was blowing to the northeast, and we were like 500 yards away from the nearest trees. We watched it come down…and sail out of sight into the woods. Dag-nabbit!

We decided to scrub the Renegade launch, and shot off some smaller rockets. We only had 3 A3-4T engines, and we used one on Bandito II, so we had to make some choices. I selected Swift 220 II, and we also launched Sting Ray. Sting Ray is a pre-fab rocket we had purchased that morning, but I had to construct the Swift 220 II just like I had to build Renegade--only on a much smaller scale. You may have noticed the “II” in the rocket’s name. This first Swift 220 was painted yellow, and was lost on a former mission. It’s too small for a parachute or a streamer so it employs the “tumble down” recovery method. We saw it blast off, we watched the smoke trail…but that was all she wrote. I bought another one, painted it fluorescent orange for greater visibility, and christened it Swift 220 II.

We launched it and Sting Ray and were able to recover both of them - a phenomenal achievement! (Honestly, we didn’t see them come down, we just traversed the park until we found them.) We decided not to launch any of the larger rockets, for fear of losing them. So, we packed up and headed toward the woods to attempt to recover Bandito II.

The plan was for Angela to stay in the car with her seat reclined and the AC on, and I was to head into the woods on the recovery mission. (Hmmmm….I wonder if she knew something I didn’t.) Anyhow, the brush was very tall, and I searched for an opening, but could not locate a way in. I estimated that the rocket came down about 40 or 50 feet into the woods, so I attempted to stomp the brush down and carve out a path. Okay, so the “brush” consisted of thorns, saw palms, scrub bushes, rotten wood and more thorns. It was up to chest level, and it was like snow in that as you stepped on it, your foot would punch a hole and go all the way down to the ground. It was very difficult going. I was getting scratched up, and the brush was not letting up. I thought it would get easier as I got into the woods, but if anything, the brush got higher! There were some small trees that I held on to for balance, and after about 15 – 20 feet I realized I was on a fool’s errand and it wasn’t worth the $6 I paid for Bandito II. So I decided to abort.

Hah. I thought going back would be easier because I had already cleared a path. No such luck. There was no path, only more brush. I couldn’t even see the car. The thorns were rapped around my leg, and as I started to retrace my steps, more brush gave way, and I started to lose my balance. There’s nothing to hold on to, and you can’t move your legs ‘cuz of all the danged brush you’re standing in. So I started to grab at stuff, but it all gave way and I went crashing down. Backwards. Now imagine you’re standing on one side of a log, and someone pushes you over it. You end up on your back, but your feet are up on the log. Now imagine trying to stand up, and you’ll see my dilemma. I briefly contemplated yelling for help (I was unaware that Angela had the radio blasting), but decided to make one last attempt first.

I grabbed at some old roots, hoping they’d hold, and gave a mighty pull. Once I got my center of gravity back underneath my knees, I stood up. Victory! Mission accomplished! I plowed my way back through the brush, emerging as a sweating, bleeding mess.

I had escaped the woods.

Sadly, I could not say the same for Bandito II.

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