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The Flying Fresnonians
by Bob Fortune, LUNAR #660
A couple of hours south of the Bay Area is California's premiere rocket launching site. The third Sunday of every month sees a caravan of happy rocketeers heading towards Maddox Dairy and the lush, open, mown fields of alfalfa that act as range head and recovery area. Farmer Maddox, located near Caruthers, CA is kind enough to allow us rocketeers a place to fly our craft and we tread lightly as a result. Generally the site moves from month to month from field to field as the alfalfa grows and is mown for the dairy cattle. One month may be near the vineyards that surround the farm, or near a stand of corn or out in the middle of nothing with almost a mile on all four sides as recovery. Fresno is currently under "Winter Flying Hours" from 11 AM to 4 PM. In the spring, summer and fall hours are from 9 AM to whenever. Summers can be HOT so bring protection. In corn season a beeper is a handy rocket accessory to own.
When you show up, forget trying to locate the teeny little sign with a rocket, arrow and "rockets" header. Rather, look for a line of cars along a dirt road as this will be the site. These dirt roads are generally perpendicular to the main thoroughfare and the correct one is easy to spot even if you pass it up the first time, look for a bunch of cars out in the middle of nowhere. The launch site is generally 1/2 to 3/4 of a mile in from the main road. Pull up to the range head, find a place to park, set up your table, chairs, cooler, shade if necessary, rockets and get ready to rumble for this is the place to see some large motored rockets punch holes in the bright blue skies.
Non-members pay $10 to fly while members pay $5. There is no fee per rocket as is the case at LUNAR though a launch card must be filled out prior to checking in your rocket with the RSO. Bring your igniter up to the range head and get a launch card. Test your igniter with the ohmmeter provided and write down the resistance on your launch card. This allows the LCO to check the resistance of your igniter while installed in the rocket on the pad and prevents misfires and recycles. Once your rocket is prepped take it back to the RSO for weigh-in and check-in. If you are flying high power expect to know the CP location of your design and the thrust to weight ratio of the motor you intend to fly. Take care not to install the igniter in the rocket motor until you are out on the pad as this prevents any accidental firing of igniters while in the prep area, a safety practice that LUNAR does not currently observe. It is a bit of a walk back and forth to the pads so bring whatever you need with you when setting up your rocket, masking tape, scotchbrite pad, maybe one of those Leatherman belt tools, maybe one of those itty bitty cans of WD-40. I'm not saying that you will need all this stuff but from my experience it can't hurt and speeds up the launch cycle as well if you can get in and out of the pad area promptly. Once your igniter is connected you can talk to the LCO and have him check the ohms your igniter is showing. Often just look in his direction and he will give you a thumbs up or push the button on the PA system out at the pad area to get his attention. There are 8 high power pads and 8 low power pads. There is also provision for a 1000 foot away pad or rail if you make arrangements in advance. Once you are all set, relax and enjoy the show.
The Fresno site is rated to M and there is a standing 7,500 foot waiver. Some exciting motors and rockets are flown here and the club members are more than willing to give help and advice to fellow rocketeers. Bring food and drink as there is nothing available (except alfalfa) for miles. Generally Ken Finwall from California High Power shows up with his van full of tricks. Jim Flohr from Selma Hobbies also sells motors and kits on site. Carl Bauman, another motor vendor, also shows up on occasion. An ice cream truck also made the rounds once as well. Level One certification flights are a common occurrence as are Level Two attempts. Last month there were 4 L2 attempts with one being successful. It was raining rockets that day. Generally there are over 100 people in attendance with over 50 fliers. Motors range from A (4 flown) to G (33 flown) to K (2 flown) with 29 D's, 17 H's and 6 J's in between as an example of a typical fair weather day. I have only seen one M motor fly at this site though I hope to see more in the near future. Brian Ligget, the prefect (also known as the "minimum diameter human" and Greg Davis, another Fresno member, both hope to certify L3 at SpringFest in March of this year. Both have one attempt each under their belts. Brian stripped a Rocketman chute at LDRS this year on his Lego II L3 rocket and Greg suffered a prang at a southland launch in October. His "Outward Bound" became "Inward Bound" on a K at a recent Fresno launch as evidenced in the enclosed picture. Since this is a Tripoli Prefecture you need to be a member of Tripoli to certify Level 2 unless you have your NAR High Power team with you. NAR high power certification paperwork is readily available on the NAR homepage. Make sure you have your team with you as witnesses unless you are a Tripoli member and have the prefect, Brian, witness your flight.
Recovery is fairly straightforward, just start walking or hop in an available vehicle. Sometimes you can talk one of the many kids present into recovering your rocket. This is often a big thrill for them if it's close enough, beforehand just explain how to install the chute in the airframe when they collect it. For a nominal fee, like a buck or two, you get your rocket back in a thrice if your aim is not so good. I always say flying rockets are like throwing boomerangs, the trick is getting the silly things to come back. Since there is such a wonderful waiver in place you can really put some rockets up there if you have the correct combination of motor, airframe and luck.
The Tripoli Fresno website is a wealth of information. There are many great pictures here from past launches, just click on "Club Launch Archive" to see them. There is also space provided to the club electronics guru, Bob Dahlquist, for his papers on resistor igniters and the article he did for HPR magazine entitled "Wind Caused Instability". Other members of note are Dick Mooradian with his patented 3 sided rocket and of course, me. Carl Reisinger, Chris Ateberry (whose L2 attempt LOC Warlock "Bee-hemoth" augered in big time last launch), and Randy Thieme are LUNAR members and Fresno TRA members as well. Just got word that Randy Thieme certified L2 on a scratch built 5.5" airframe rocket using a J350 this Sunday the 21st of Feb. Way to go Randy!
This place is really a treat! It is a great place to fly rockets though I just wish it was a little bit closer. On second thought, that means I would have to live in Selma or Fresno or Los Banos .....yikes, never mind I'll do the drive. Regardless, it is much closer than Lucerne or Black Rock as far as big sites go so the drive is never really a bother. Bring your VISA or Mastercard, your big boomers, a cooler and spend an enjoyable Sunday in the raisin capital of the universe.
Map and directions
Copyright © 1999 by LUNAR, All rights reserved.
Information date: Mar. 16, 1999 lk