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21Country: Rocketeers have a blast, share excitement behind monthly launches

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA21) - This hiss of ignition, sizzle of fuel burning, and smoke billowing in the air, usually means the monthly meeting of the Summit City Aerospace Modelers (SCAM) is underway.

Rocketeers routinely set up four launch pads in the fields of Concordia Theological Seminary, allowing distance for safety, while being close enough for spectators and enthusiasts to watch.

Tim Hegemier is the president of the club.

He’s been flying rockets with the group for about 15 years.

“When I was a kid, actually my brother got me started into it - he had a 4H project in rocketry,” Hegemier explained. “There are a lot of guys that flew rockets when they were younger, and rediscovered it in their 20’s and 30’s, and have been flying bigger rockets ever since.”

The rockets members launch, vary greatly.

Besides the conventional rocket build, there are also saucers, and gliders.

Hegemier also says, there’s a even more unique category of novelty shapes, which can include scale objects like fire hydrants, traffic cones, Christmas trees, and even outhouses!

“The motors are typically not reusable -- the fuel burns up, and the casing is disposable,” he shared. “The rocket bodies themselves will come down on parachutes, so they can be used time and time again.”

Launches don’t always go as planned.

Sunday, one of the parachutes on Hegemier’s rockets didn’t deploy, and the body slammed into the ground mangling its shape.

In most cases, they can be repaired.

“The rockets here today are made of cardboard, or really thin plywood,” he told us. “Some are made out of fiberglass. Another material could be used is carbon fiber.”

“This is a very scaleable hobby,” the club leader continued. “You can spend $8 on a rocket and fly it here on the small end of things. Probably the biggest rocket here might be a hundred dollar rocket. But then if you go out to other parts of the country and have space to fly, you can easily put thousands of dollars into a big rocket.”

Members of SCAM have been known to travel to states like Nevada or Kansas, with permits that allow them to shoot off anything, of any size and power, with no limitations.

That’s not exactly the case for rockets fired in the middle of Fort Wayne.

 “The limits that we have here for this field are 3.3 pounds total weight on the launch pad,” Hegemier said. “The motor size is limited to an H-size motor. We’re not limited on altitude, we can fly as high as we want.”

One of the rockets member Michael Gross launched, was a scale model of a BOMARC missile.

“The fact that you build something, use science to engineer it, and have it fly the way you want it to,” he told us. “And the feeling you get from building it yourself, flying it, and getting it back… there’s a joy to it!”

Gross has been flying rockets for decades.

He says understanding the science behind the rockets is crucial to launching responsibly, and having control over its trajectory.

“We do all the calculating we can, power to weight ratio, and the wind. We’ll angle the rod a little bit,” Gross explained.

Dave Porter says he’s close to retiring as a rocketeer, due to age.

Over the weekend, he launched his own aircraft he calls his 'Generational Rocket’ -- the names of his kids and grandkids are signed on the fins and body.

“2007, 2008, I reacquainted myself as a B.A.R,” he smiled, elaborating on the acronym, “born again rocketeer! Since 2008 I was very heavily into it, and all the way up to 2019. Now I’m a little bit… almost too old to fly anymore. I still love coming out and watching all the new technology and meeting new people.”

Porter, along with many of those active as Summit City Aerospace Modelers, welcome newcomers with open arms.

They’ll explain tips for the best launch, while also keeping an eye on the inexperienced to maintain a safe environment.

“We want to perpetuate the hobby and get much younger people involved, building and flying rockets,” Porter said.

“We’ve had a lot of people come here within the last few meetings that haven’t done this before and they get hooked,” he continued. “You get hooked, no doubt about it!”

“It’s a sport for everybody,” Hegemier concludes.

“There’s excitement every time,” Gross shared. “If you don’t get butterflies in your stomach every time, you’re in the wrong hobby.”

SCAM meets once a month, March through October.

A membership costs $20 a year, however non-members or spectators can watch, or fly their own rockets at monthly meetings for free.

They’ll launch rockets two more times this year, on September 19 and October 17, between 1:30-4:30 p.m.

For the alternative rain dates, or to get involved with the club, you can visit their website here.

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Daniel Beals

Daniel Beals is the producer of the ABC21 feature franchise “21Country”. He is constantly on the lookout for ideas that capture the “people, places, things, and history” that makes Northeast Indiana unique. Feel free to reach out: dbeals@wpta21.com.

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