The earsplitting shriek of a model rocket pierced the tranquil Concordia Theological Seminary grounds Sunday, prompting spectators to rib the hobbyist responsible for the especially loud launch during the Summit City Aerospace Modelers' monthly gathering.
“Hey, warn us next time,” someone called out. “My ears are still ringing.”
Craned necks were a common sight as members of the family-oriented rocketry club tried to follow the rockets' paths, a task sometimes made easier by the plumes of exhaust streaking the sky.
The rockets' return to earth was largely uneventful as parachutes successfully deployed, leading to a gentle landing.
Mishaps happened, however. A two-word plea – “no trees” – became a chant as gently descending rockets drifted away from the grassy launch area and toward the shady parking lot. Uh-ohs sounded when parachutes failed to pop out, leading to a nose-dive return to earth.
Club members have rescued rockets from high places, but they said they avoid bringing shovels to dig out rockets stuck in the ground after a hard landing.
Such preparation is “almost like jinxing yourself,” said Dennis Watkins of Huntington.
While Watkins' interest in model rockets dates back to childhood, Jenny Gross of Fort Wayne said she got involved as an adult, after the club's booth caught her husband's and son's attention at a hobby show. That was 10 to 15 years ago, she said.
“It's been rockets ever since,” she said.
Gross, who is certified to fly anything that can go into space, said her best was a rocket that reached 18,742 feet in Nevada's Black Rock Desert.
Achieving such heights wasn't an option at the Concordia site, where launches are flown under Federal Aviation Regulations as Class 1 rocket launches, according to the club's website. Participants had to watch for airplanes and helicopters flying overhead, and they hiked across grassy athletic fields to fetch rockets after landing.
As some boys readied rockets on launchpads, Watkins noted the hands-on activity provides valuable lessons disguised as fun.
“It pushes young kids into being more interested in science and math,” he said.
Tom Stump of Goshen chatted as he prepared a rocket for launch, a process that can take minutes or hours, depending on the rocket and parts used.
Stump worked at a table set up alongside his car, the open trunk showing an array of rockets, and ensured placement of various elements, including the chute release – a device that holds the parachute closed until the rocket drops to a certain altitude.
“OK, let's see if we got it right,” Stump said before trekking to the launchpad for the afternoon's largest rockets.