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Time For Some Special Flying
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By Dan Bihary

My NAR section, NARScouts, was formed specifically for the purpose of education youth in all things related to space sciences and rocketry. In fact, 95% of my flying revolves around youth education. This wasn't an intentional choice. It just turned out that way. For my club and myself, youth events are the norm. It is what we do. Our equipment, supplies, displays, and material has all been acquired to enhance our program.

So what makes this event special? Why are we even considering it? What on earth would possess us to take on this day?

I guess the easy answer is "Because it's the right thing to do."

Before I tell you the story of our adventure, allow me to introduce you to the organization that we had the pleasure to serve. I've taken the liberty to share the following description of the camp. This is taken directly from their website. After visiting, I feel it is accurate and complete.

Victory Junction Gang enriches the lives of children with chronic medical conditions or serious illnesses by providing life-changing camping experiences that are exciting, fun, and empowering, in a safe and medically-sound environment

The Victory Junction Story:

Victory Junction Gang Camp once was just a dream, but in 2004, that dream became a reality for the thousands of children and families that would grace its grounds.

In 1999, after participating in a motorcycle ride to Camp Boggy Creek in Florida, the Petty family, particularly Adam Petty, was inspired to build a camp in North Carolina for children with chronic medical conditions or serious illnesses. After the loss of their son Adam in 2000, Kyle and Pattie Petty were inspired to fulfill his dream.

As they worked to turn this dream into reality, Kyle and Pattie became involved with the Association of the Hole in the Wall Camps founded by actor Paul Newman. Newman started the first camp, the Hole in the Wall Gang, in 1988. With guidance from Newman's program, the Petty family utilized their relationships within the NASCAR industry to raise funds.

Victory Junction Gang Camp proudly opened in June 2004! Since 2004, the need for a similar camp in the Midwest became more prevalent. Early 2008, Kyle and Pattie announced plans to expand to Wyandotte County, Kansas and spread the life-changing experience with children in need. The camp in Kansas is expected to open in two to three years.

Victory Junction is a year-round camp that serves children, ages 6 to 16, with a variety of health issues. During the summer, the Camp offers week-long, disease-specific sessions with up to 128 kids per session. During the fall, winter and spring, family weekends are offered with 32 families per weekend.

Due to the generosity of corporations, organizations and individuals, no child or family has to incur the cost of attending Victory Junction. The children served at Victory Junction are not able to attend normal summer camps due to their unique medical needs.

Surrounded by beautiful hardwood forests, Victory Junction is located in Randleman, N.C and situated on 84 acres that were kindly donated by Richard and Lynda Petty. The NASCAR racing-theme permeates Camp with the sights, sounds, look and feel of a race track! With 42 buildings and program areas, such as Adam's Race Shop, Goody's Body Shop medical center, the Hendrick Motorsports Fuel Stop dining hall, the Silver Theater, the Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America water park, the Michael Waltrip Operation Marathon Sportscenter, Kurt Busch Superdome, Jimmie Johnson Victory Lanes bowling alley and Jessie's Horse Power Garage, there is no shortage of fun and empowering activities!

Victory Junction serves children from all areas of the country but primarily sees children from North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.

{short description of image}So why does a group of hobbyists from northern Ohio travel more than eight hours to launch rockets? First, well if you're a fellow flyer, you know that an eight hour drive to fly rockets isn't a big deal! Second, we are all NASCAR fans! What a great excuse to get into the camp. Third, like I said before, it just the right thing to do.

Now we know the "why". What about the "How"? I've got absolutely no contact with anybody in North Carolina. Short of donating some cash, I've never dealt with Victor Junction before. So, as I tend to do, I jumped in with both feet! After some correspondence going back and forth, and information being shared. We received an invitation to come on down! In fact, we were very much welcomed!

Great! Now what?! We just volunteered to build and launch rockets with 40 potentially severely handicapped kids. Yikes. I've been dealing with youth a long time. And our additional training with the American Red Cross has taught us how to deal with diversity. But how is this going to work? Other minor details, like "who is going to pay for all this stuff?", also crept up on us.

Again, we jumped in with both feet! Sometimes you just need to have faith. So, we now move on from the "idea phase" to the "preparation" phase. First the easy stuff: request time off, figure out travel logistics, and finally the timeline. Next: design and build a rocket good enough for the kids, affordable and flyable on the field.

Hmmm. Field? Surely they have a field? Of course I did some research prior to offering to fly, but we need to consider these kids are not readily mobile. Plus, we aren't the only activity that day. These kids need to stay "close to home". This means close. Not in the farm field next door. Close. As in next to the medical staff. And close, like next to the needed facilities.

We all know rockets like to fly in deserts, or 1,000 acre sod farms, or worst case airstrips. Occasionally we are forced to demonstrate on a football field. Oh the horror! Well, we got the end zone. Ok, I might be exaggerating. For those who are truly interested, I invite you to get online and look at the aerial.

The entire camp is design to simulate a racetrack. The buildings are on the perimeter of an oval 20' wide asphalt track. We are assigned to launch in half the infield. I would guess this is a little smaller than a softball diamond. We were to be surrounded by buildings, a "pool", and in a valley with lovely really tall trees. Yea, this is ideal.

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So back to the planning. I pulled out an Estes E2X, threw it together, painted it, and put some inkjet stickers on it. Not ideal, but not bad. Our club was responsible for building 3,000 of these things at the Boy Scout National Jamboree. So I can order half a dozen bulk packs and spend a couple of nights building. Nothing a few hundred bucks won't solve.

On a whim, I entered the "prototype" in a monthly Rocketry Forum contest. I knew I would not win, but it seemed like a good way to let the rocketry community know we were doing this.

It didn't take long for help to be offered. There is truly something special about the Rocketry Forum membership. It seems they are at their best when someone needs help or is down. This event was no exception.

Evil Ed, owner of Hartle Engineering, quickly stepped up with an extremely generous offer to supply the needed materials to construct the rockets for the campers! It seems he has built a special relationship with jonrockets as well. They teamed together to help NARScouts provide a rocket for every camper. Enough supplies were to be provided to scratch build a rocket that the kids would love!

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Shortly after my conversation with Ed, I received a call from Victory Junction. It seems their estimate was wrong. There will be around 60-70 campers! Our trip weekend was a "Family Weekend" that included siblings. This didn't cause a problem at all with Ed. He never questioned the number. He only suggested that were going to need more stuff!

As the weekend approached, an unfortunate communication breakdown made it look like the rockets would be given to the kids with a "less than professional" look. But again, sometimes you just need to have faith! I had a wonderful conversation with Phred of Excelsior Rocketry. I was proud to add him to the existing vendor team of Ed Hartle and jonrockets.

First thing in the morning, I sent an email to Phred asking for help. Making a long story short, the PDF proof was in my hand by 5! Phred donated his custom decaling services to be sure the rockets look good going to the kids.

Bulk building for our club really isn't a big deal. We routinely construct 20-30 rockets at a time for use in camporees and other events. But this was different. Those were "shake the box" kits or pre-cut Fat Boys. We had to build these rockets "old-school". What they heck, there's only 70.

The educational wing of NARScouts, called Constellation One, is lucky to have our own classroom. This classroom was transformed into a mini-wood shop! Patterns were traced for 210 fins. These were cut out and sanded. Body tubes were marked. Launch lugs were applied. Ed's chutes were readied. Finally, fins were glued on and filleted.

Building rockets is easy. Building 70 isn't. Even breaking it down into tasks is still daunting. This took a LONG time. In truth, we had fun.

Did I mention painting? The seventy rockets were base coated white. Our classroom is directly under the meeting house of the church. Even though these were painted outside, the smell of freshly painted rockets was evident in church the next day. Lesson learned.

Finally, the 70 rockets were masked and various highlight colors were added to the bottom third. Now these are starting to look good!

On to the home stretch, decaling. Lets see, 70 rockets times 8 decals each is only 560 decals. Piece of cake. Enough said.

So much for "pre-game". Fast forward to after the eight hour drive from Ohio:

We had five very experienced members with us. These include Diane Jones, her adult son Eric, my wife Dawn, my son Drew, and myself. Collectively we have several thousand launches under our belts. We know how to handle build sessions, displays and flights very well. We've worked together for years.

It was explained to us by the victory Junction staff that our event was optional for the campers. They would have many things to do in addition to building and flying rockets. This ranged from traditional camp activities such as fishing (catch, kiss and release) to horseback riding. Movies, bowling, and art projects were also available.

Our morning started at about 8 with preparations for the build sessions. Unfortunately we got bumped out of the art room and into the gym. This turned out alright as the entire camp was brought in for the group picture. Seems the weather was not looking good enough for an outdoor shot. In fact the weather wasn't looking promising at all.

As with all our events, we explain o the host agency that NARScouts have the final authority to launch or not. We do our absolute best to be safe. Even if it meant canceling this launch, we will not risk causing harm or damage. We are the example these kids will remember.

Little did we know, the families were to be released directly after the picture taking to begin activities! We hadn't even finished unpacking when we had a crowd of people waiting for our help!

At this time I expected panic to in sue! But, I guess we were being looked favorably upon. Every parent stepped up and helped when asked. Some children were moderately interested, others were absolutely determined to build. The scene was inspirational. I have often wondered how parents of special needs children handle everyday life. I now know it is with intense love and support.

The kits supplied were basic E2X kits. We actually ran out of these and broke out some quest kits, and even a couple of Alphas.

We really didn't know how many "build sessions" to prepare for. We brought enough for 36. Luckily, the crowd stopped at about 30.

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We were scheduled to launch in the afternoon. This allowed enough time for Drew and Eric to individually inspect, correct, and repair each rocket for the kids. The last thing we wanted is for a fin to fall off our engine mount to fail! Most problems were due to massive amounts of glue used! But overall, we had a pretty nice fleet of rockets.

So we went onto lunch. We quickly realized this isn't your normal camp food! The building has real NASCAR cars hanging from the ceiling. Special artwork and flags are everywhere. The meal is served family style. Top notch stuff all the way.

Due too lightning strikes and rain during the morning, all outdoor activities were canceled. In fact one lightning hit took out a local cell phone tower and blew out the computerized scoring system at the camp bowling alley. Luckily, after lunch, the skies cleared and we were good to go. It seems our mantra will continue to be "got to have faith".

Just to add to our site problems, the grass was now wet. Not muddy, but enough that the wheelchairs wouldn't work. But have no fear! Many of the campers have special chairs that can "off-road". Very cool!

We set up along the track. Most of the crowd could keep their feet dry and still "push the button". As usual, the crowd was a little slow at first, but once the launching began in earnest, the line began to form.

The kids were permitted to launch either the rocket they built, or one of the pre-built ones. "Permitted" doesn't sound right. We pretty much let them do whatever they wanted to!

Our usual routine of the youth packing the rocket, loading the engine and igniter, putting it on the rail and hooking it up, and recovering it was modified this time. The camper only did what they wanted to. If they just wanted to push the button, great!

It was great to see some of the kids hook up igniters. Seems like I remember seeing that these kids could barely eat by themselves, yet they were determined to get those clips on. They all did.

To say these flights were exciting is an understatement! We had the added advantage of shifting wind shears above the tree line on top of the valley! Every launch we would flip a coin to figure out which way to aim the rod. The "pool" we were next to was in fact a mini water park. This seemed to call out "Hit me! Hit me!" Splash downs were more common than we would have liked.

Then there was the evil number 20 car on the hill. I had a standing reward of $20 for whoever could hit Tony's car. Nobody did. So at the end of the day I went up and kicked it. (just kidding) (Tony did donate a really cool putt-putt course to the camp!)

We did manage to put a few rockets up on the roofs of the buildings. The maintenance staff was great. They insisted on immediate retrieval even though we told them it was no big deal and we have enough rockets to replace those.

Of course, just when we had the recovery area figured out, a rolling Model T car show comes through! Just what I wanted to see, a multi-thousand dollar car rolling underneath an in-bound rocket. Yea, I almost hit one.

Overall, we gave away a lot of rockets, had some fun flights, and seen lots of smiles. Although we aren't allowed to share pictures of the campers (privacy rules), I hope I have provided you with a good image of what we experienced.

Perhaps this was a little less about rockets and a little more about people. Without the cooperation of friends, families, vendors, and community, these kids would not have had as good of a time on this day. The sun did truly shine. .

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