As dawn broke over the TIMPA site on the morning of Saturday, March 24, the tents and RVs slowly disgorged sleepy-eyed campers into a beautiful, calm morning. The launch pads were ready, the PA system crackled to life, and two critical elements to the success of any rocket launch began preparation: large pots of strong coffee, and rocket motors.
Thus began the start of Desert Heat 2012, the annual two-day rocketry celebration hosted by Tucson's own Southern Arizona Rocketry Association. Volunteers took their places at the registration table, safety check-in, LCO desk, and Rent-a-Rock stations. Carloads of fliers, family supporters, and onlookers joined the campers who had arrived the previous evening. The steady stream of cars continued throughout the morning and early afternoon, providing a crowd estimated at close to a thousand people during its peak. Rockets were assigned pads, and the flying began in earnest. Before the event ended on Sunday at 1:00 p.m., 774 rockets would be launched, a record for a SARA event.
As always, the majority of the flights were model rockets, and SARA wouldn't have it any other way. While the large rockets and unusual projects are always crowd pleasers, they pale in comparison to the real goal of sport rocketry: to engage young minds in the thrill of launching an honest-to-goodness rocket, watching the recovery system deploy, and retrieving the rocket to fly again. Very often, once bitten by the rocketry bug, this cycle would repeat until either daylight or rocket motors ran out.
Thanks to the support of generous sponsors and tireless volunteers, raffle prizes were plentiful. SARA earns the majority of its operating funds from these raffles, and the crowd was generous in its support. As well as helping to keep the launch equipment maintained and the rockets flying, many raffle ticket holders left with a rocketry kit to build. We look forward to seeing them at our upcoming monthly launches.
March is always a tricky month in which to hold a major rocket launch, but the weather cooperated beautifully. Hour after hour, rockets both small and large streaked towards the heavens. At 11:00 a.m., the first of two mass launches was held. 50 lucky kids ran onto the tarmac after the rockets landed, retrieving a rocket in exchange for a bag of prizes. Who knows how much interest will be sparked in those young minds, as they launch seltzer rockets at home and wonder what makes them work?
Two large projects were impossible to miss during Saturday's launches: the Black Widow, and the SARA Crayon. Those who regularly attend SARA launches are quite familiar with the Just Boys, three generations of rocketeers whose ambitions are equaled by their skill. The gargantuan black-and-red rocket rumbled off the pad with a thunderous roar, to a picture perfect flight. But the Widow's bite wasn't through when the parachutes deployed; as it neared the ground, an altimeter released a "cluster bomb" of small capsules with foil streamers. It was a unique visual treat, and a testament to the creativity of the Just Boys.
The SARA Crayon followed the Black Widow's act later in the day. This rocket was built by the Arizona Rocketry Team in Phoenix through countless hours of fabrication and testing. Looking like a 12-foot-tall green Crayon, the Arizona Rocketry Team graciously donated this visually arresting monster for SARA to use in outreach events. What other sport engenders such generosity and selfless donation of time and effort? After its maiden flight at Desert Heat 2012, the Crayon was used only a couple of weeks later in just such an event.
At 5:00 p.m., the rockets ceased flying so the volunteers could get some food from the many food vendors on hand and prepare for the night launch. This was also prime time to do a little rocketry window shopping at What's Up Hobbies and Discount Rocketry. The participation of all of the vendors are the life blood of a successful Desert Heat, and the cash registers rang throughout the day.
An hour or so before the start of the night launch, a steady stream of new cars began arriving at the launch site. Night launches are unusual, and no one does them better than SARA. For reasons that are hard to pin down, the SARA membership has taken to night rockets like ducks to water. Even the largest national launches are hard pressed to compete with SARA when it comes to exhaust flames lighting up the night. With flashing strobes and running LEDs, these rockets pierced the night sky and thrilled all who saw them. Afterwards, the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association hosted a star party, allowing all comers to peer into the night sky and marvel at the universe.
Sunday morning began another fantastic day of launches. The second mass launch was held at 11:00 a.m., allowing another 50 kids to stick their toes into rocketry waters. The timing couldn't have been better, as predicted winds slowly began to build. Still the rockets flew, even though their owners knew that they were facing a long walk as a result. By the time the event ended at 1:00 p.m., an historic weekend of rocketry drew to a close.
An event like Desert Heat 2012 takes an enormous amount of time to plan, and an even larger amount of effort to execute. Despite the weary urge to head home, the volunteers stayed and helped break down and clean up the range. We wanted to be absolutely certain that our generous hosts, TIMPA and the City of Tucson, would be pleased with the way in which the field was left, and pleased they were. As all of those who helped make Desert Heat 2012 a safe and exciting event headed home that evening, they all knew that their effort had been spent well, creating a truly world-class event for all to enjoy.
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