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Cub Scouts, Rockets and Me
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By John Partridge

Several years ago when my two boys were old enough to join Cub Scouts, we signed them up and over the next couple years I was gradually drafted to do more and more within the Cub Pack until the den leader for my boys was promoted at his place of employment and could no longer be involved in scouting.  At that time I was convinced to become the den leader because our children were the only ones in their den and there were no other adult volunteers.  Two years ago, our little den had grown to four or five boys. 

When I was growing up, I would often spend several weeks each summer at my grandparents house outside of Pittsburgh, PA and each time I would visit I would spend time at the home of the family that was always doing cool stuff.  They built and flew RC airplanes, made movies on a real motion picture camera and of course, flew rockets.  I never got to watch then launch but whenever I could I would sit on their porch and pour longingly over that year’s Estes catalog.  Once they even gave me one to take home with me and I carefully circled the models that I hoped to own one day but it was not to be.  Our family had a limited income and there wasn’t room for such impractical things.  When I became the Cub Scout den leader I saw my chance to do those things that I never could as a child and to give my children, and the rest of the boys, an opportunity that I never had.  In our scouting magazine I saw regular advertising and even articles about the ongoing relationship between scouting and model rocketry.  I proposed to the rest of the leadership team that our entire Pack build rockets and fly them and everyone thought it was a great idea if I would be in charge.

I did a lot of research online to find good pricing and to learn some of the things that I would need to know.  In the process I discovered EMRR as well as the Rocketry Forum and others.  For our first year I decided to go with the least expensive kits I could find and chose to build the Estes UP Aerospace model (a close cousin of the Estes Gnome).  By buying inexpensive rockets we could ask for ten dollars from each boy and still cover the cost of rockets, launch pads and enough motors for two (or three) launches for each boy.

I built my rockets from the launch kit first (of course) and I built and Estes Amazon and a Crossfire ISX.  I carefully painted the Crossfire in blue and gold and marked it with our pack number and other scout identification.  I then used this rocket to introduce the hole idea to the scouts at the next pack meeting and the project continued to move forward.

Since at that time we had exactly three scouts in our den we were meeting in our home after school and these three boys were the first to build their rockets and the next week we went to the largest backyard we could find and launched them.  Naturally, everyone had a great time and the boys just couldn’t stop at just two launches apiece and could be persuaded to stop only after three or four.

The pack leader had planned a big fall picnic and hayride at his farm and decided that we would simply include the rocket launch in the evening’s activities.  It was difficult to find the time to build rockets for the rest of the pack or to persuade the pack leader that we would need time to build well before the scheduled launch.  This was how we found ourselves trying to build rockets for nearly a dozen boys, two or three at a time, the same evening as the rocket launch.  The result, of course, was predictable.  Many boys only got one launch, it became increasingly difficult to find each rocket as we pressed the launch button farther into the dusk than was prudent.  Also, more than one rocket was badly damaged in the darkness that followed.  What was immediately obvious to everyone was that all the boys had a great time.  What became obvious much later was how many friends they must have been telling as well.

Last fall as the pack leadership team began planning this year’s activities, everyone enthusiastically assumed that we would repeat the rocket launch and make it an annual event.  With the launch on our calendar, I began researching potential models in the spring in order for us to build rockets in a more orderly way over the summer instead of at the rocket launch.  This year as I researched models I looked using a different set of criteria.  While cost was still very important (we live in a rural area in a less than affluent county), I also looked for models that would not require super glue and quite so much active adult participation in the construction process.  I wanted the boys to feel that these were their rockets and to know the satisfaction of building a kit for themselves.  I again looked at many different models but settled on Fliskits’ Triskelion for the Webelos and the Whatchamacallit for the younger boys.  One major factor in my decision was that the Whatchamacallit did not require gluing the fins to the body tube and would therefore require significantly less time and as well as less dexterity and skill on the part of six and seven year old boys.   Alas, as it often does, life intervened.  Each and every den leader, myself included, found that everyone was just far too busy to schedule any meetings over the summer and as a result (as well as some plain old procrastination) I found myself with three rather intense build sessions with the Tiger Cubs, Wolf Cubs and Bear Cubs as well as the regular meeting of my own Webelos who were on their third week of construction and getting ready to take their models home for decorating.  Two days before the launch I also had an emergency build session with the younger Webelos boys (there are two) who needed to finish in a single evening, what my boys required nearly three one hour sessions to complete.

The Webelos build their Triskelions

Webelos build session

Thankfully, I had made a good choice when selecting these models.  The Whatchamacallit performed as advertised and the Wolf and Bear Cubs were able to assemble their rockets in a single build session about an hour and a half long and the youngest boys, the Tiger Cubs, were able to build their kits in the same mount of time with a little parental assistance. 

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I was really worried that the Triskelion kits would take too much time for the last two boys, building as they were only two days before the scheduled launch, especially since it had taken the older Webelos three one hour sessions to finish theirs.  Once again though, the solid design and excellent instruction provided by Fliskits came through in at crunch time.  I’m not sure what made the difference but having only two boys instead of six and having two additional adults (the boys’ fathers) most certainly helped.  Also thanks in part to the wonders of the double glue joint we managed to get these last two boys finished in a single evening session of less than two hours.  All told, it was obvious that the boys had been talking to their friends since the previous year and over the summer break.  When we had originally planned the rocket launch we anticipated we would have twelve to fifteen boys but as we scheduled the build sessions I discovered that I had to make an emergency order and rush ship another dozen rockets.  Jim Flis got the package shipped right away and I received it the same morning of two build sessions.  Even then I ordered more than I needed so I would have a few extra rockets to build with some of the neighborhood kids but still used every single one.  In the end we built nineteen Whachamacallits and eight Triskelions, more than double the number of boys only one year earlier.  I’m sure flying rockets isn’t the only reason that our recruiting efforts this year have been so successful but I’m also sure that building and flying rockets (as well as putting the rockets in our booth at the County Fair) is a significant part of our success.

In the last day or two before the hayride/picnic/rocket launch Randy (the other leader and farm owner) and I kept moving the start time earlier and earlier.  Some of the boys were playing in a peewee football game and had to leave less than an hour after the original planned starting time of five o’clock.  Added to that was the early fall sunset and we were very concerned that the boys would again be unable to launch their rockets before dark.  My boys had a late soccer game that lasted until just before lunch and Randy would be putting up tents and tables and making other preparations all morning so we agreed to meet sometime around one o’clock and set up so we could begin launching by two.  I got there and checked the wind and the field conditions.  At first the wind was blowing pretty hard but it was predicted to slack off later and I’d launched in strong breezes before at a competition held by the Tri-City Skybusters club in Cleveland so I knew that if we had to launch in those conditions, we would just need a whole lot more field to do it in.  We parked next to the field (we had about 35 acres to work with) and tracked out about seventy yards into the field and launched a couple to test the wind.  Recovery seemed adequate so we finished setting up and Randy mowed a path out to the launch site.

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The launch pad and the Black Death during a lull in the action

Arriving first, the older boys, the Webelos, launched first so that they would be available to assist the younger boys in preparing their rockets for launch and leaving me responsible for handing out motors and recording the launches.  In each case we ran a first round of launches on lower impulse motors, 1/2A’s for the Whachamacallits and A8-3’s for the Triskelions.  After each boy had flown on a lower impulse motor, he had the option of repeating at that impulse or bumping things up a notch and using full A’s or B’s respectively.  Naturally, there wasn’t a single boy that didn’t want MORE POWER!  Even with the earlier starting time and spreading the boys out as they arrived, I began to worry about getting all of our flights in before it began to get dark but we finally made it.  After several hours we had launched forty times with 20 boys, one girl and one of my rockets (the Black Death that I built for the Box-o-Parts contest – which landed hard and tore off one wing), many of these flying for the first time.

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The Webelos at the field on launch day

Each boy will receive a certificate of participation in the National Association of Rocketry’s 50,000 for the 50th program that the NAR is running during their 50th anniversary.  We are finding that many of the youngest boys are younger brothers to boys that built and flew rockets last year and this year for the first time, interest is growing among the Boy Scouts (some of whom flew with us last year) to build a kit and work toward their Space Exploration merit badge.  Even the parents and other scout leaders are showing an increased interest in rocketry.  Certainly, getting this program started has required an investment of time and money on my part and I’m also sure that the fees paid by the boys don’t completely cover my expenses, but at the same time I’m enjoying this a lot and the joy of discovery and looks of accomplishment on the boys’ faces are worth every penny.  Maybe, just maybe, the time I have invested will give few of these boys a hobby for life.  I know they’ve given me one.

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