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by Bill Orvis and Jack Hagerty
In the spring of 1992 Jack Toeppen and Bill Orvis were teaching a GATE class at Arroyo Seco elementary school. The class was an after school enrichment class called Flying Things. During the course of this class, they flew everything from balloons to airplanes to, you guessed it, model rockets. At that time, there was only one person in the whole city of Livermore who had a permit to launch model rockets. The city fire marshal used to give a permit to whomever wanted one, but an incident where someone was launching rockets in the flight path of the Livermore airport ended that practice. The city now requires a large liability insurance policy before it will issue a permit and in 1992 only Bob Wong working with the 4H club and the Lawrence Livermore National Lab (Bill's employer) had one.
Luckily, it was not difficult to convince Bob to spend a Saturday morning with the kids so they could launch their rockets. They launched from the gravel area behind the old Livermore police station. While launching, small audience gathered as joggers and strollers out for a morning walk or run, stopped to watch. Of course, this pleased the students to no end as they started showing off their creations.
About half way through the launch, a police officer strolled over from the station and wanted to know what we were up to. As Bill explained who they were and what they were doing, the officer became more and more interested. It seems that he had done this when he was younger and wanted his kids to be able to do the same, but didn't realize that there was anywhere local that it was legal to launch. Bill broke the news to him that it was only legal to launch when you could convince Bob Wong to take a day off of his from his busy schedule and oversee the launch. The officer was Mark Weiss who eventually became the first president of LUNAR.
While Bill got back to launch operations for the line of impatient kids that wanted to get in just one more flight, Mark, Jack and Bob started discussing what could be done to make it easier to fly rockets in the city, and what would spread the responsibility around so that Bob would not have to go to every launch.
At the time Mark was also working with the Police Athletic League (PAL) and other outreach programs as part of his job with the police force (he was a Sergeant at the time). During that same period (1991-92), Jack Hagerty was getting back into the hobby after an 18 year absence. He went to his first NARAM (Las Vegas, 1992) and while there, talked to NAR Secretary Chris Tavares about what it would take to start a NAR section in Livermore. During the same summer, Mark was thinking that there was enough interest in rocketry that Livermore could have an ongoing program rather than just special classes a couple of times a year. Mark's idea was to organize it under the Kiwanis umbrella (another one of his activities) to cover basic expenses and insurance.
Mark is a better organizer than Jack and as he (Jack) was filling out NAR paperwork to start a section, Mark was building a sawhorse launcher and controller box. He set up the first demo launch for September 1992 and put announcements in the local newspapers. Jack saw the newspaper article and was thrilled that someone else was doing some legwork, too, and showed up at the launch with the Titan IIIB-Agena he’d built for NARAM to impress the crowd. He impressed them all right. It CATO'd in front of everyone!
The first business meeting was held in October in the City Council chambers to try and pull a club together. All present were assigned membership numbers. Since Mark had organized the demo launch (plus he had all the contacts) we let him be president and take LUNAR #001. Jack was declared VP and given LUNAR #002. A second launch was organized in November, just to keep the momentum going, but things weren’t really organized enough to start holding regular launches until the spring of '93. We stumbled our way through the rest of that year building equipment and developing procedures. The equipment was all designed and built by Warren Massey (LUNAR #007), and it's still in use; although the controller was replaced with an expanded unit in 1997 (the original one is still in use as a backup).
For the first several months, the club was called the “Kiwanis Youth Program Model Rocket Club”, which is more than a bit awkward. The very first club newsletter, dated “Winter 1993” and put together by Mark Weiss, announced a name and logo contest. The winner, chosen by the combined Kiwanis and rocket club board members, was submitted by club secretary Joe Ciccone (LUNAR #004). The winning logo, though, was entered by Lynn Kissel, LUNAR #009. He had submitted it as part of his name entry, which was “LARC” for “Livermore Area Rocket Club.”
The Robertson Park Years
LUNAR’s original launch field was Gardella Greens, a small city park next to the police station (only a few hundred feet from where Bill Orvis was launching for his GATE classes). That was only used through the spring of 1993 because the city started construction of the new police station on the land. Mark contacted LARPD (Livermore Area Rec. and Park District) and got permission to use a large grass field about a half mile to the west. Called simply the “Turf Field”, it was part of a large complex called Robertson Park that also included the Rodeo grounds and the city corporation yard.
The very first launch at Robertson, though, was not a club launch. The city of Livermore hosts a large 4th of July party every year on the site, and for 1993, they asked LUNAR to put on some sort of demonstration. Since the Turf Field was packed with hundreds of people, the actual launching took place on the adjacent soccer field (separated, thankfully, by a large cyclone fence). We had prepared a whole formal program on the range of model rocketry from “A” to “H” but our PA system consisted of a police bull horn, so most of the crowd just watched the models fly unaware that it was an actual program.
The first club launch at Robertson was July 1993, and from that point forward there was at least one launch every single month (two per month in the summer of ’94) with the exception of weather cancellations and September 2001. Over 20,000 models were flown from the site over the next 13 years, but encroaching housing changed what had been a wide-open area into an island space completely surrounded by houses. Our original permit allowed rockets up to 320 Ns (“H” level), but to accommodate the neighbors, we did two voluntary reductions in the allowed total impulse (from “H” to “F” in 2001 and from “F” to “D” in 2006). The first reduction came with an altitude restriction from our FAA sanctioned 4,000 feet to 1,500 feet. The second one lowered it further to 1,200 feet.
The Robertson era came to a close in June 2007 with a huge launch that included an auction raffle and BBQ. The very last rocket flown was Jack Hagerty’s Estes Alpha on an A8-3, the very same rocket and motor size that lead off the 4th of July demo in 1993.
After the first reduction in impulse and altitude in 2001, the number of flights at LUNAR launches dropped off sharply. It was clear that fliers with larger models needed a place to fly, and Bill Orvis once again rode to the rescue. His ancestral home is a cattle ranch east of Stockton that has been in his family for generations. He flew rockets there as a kid, and thought it would be ideal. A little sweet-talking of his folks allowed us to do a demo launch in January 2004 (a demo for his parents, that is) with regular club launches starting the next month.
Snow Ranch (named for the original owner, not because it snows there) quickly became a popular HP launching venue. The original FAA waiver was to 10,000 feet, but that was raised to 15,000 after two years. With club experience only up through “H” impulse levels, we worked our way up the impulse level one per launch or so, starting with “I” at the first launch and ending at “K” by the end of the first season (May). We reviewed our performance over the dry summer months (no launching, obviously) and were ready to move up to “L” when flying resumed in November.
Currently, launches at Snow Ranch are held from November or December (depending on when the rains start) through April or May (depending on when the grass gets too dry). The waiver is to 15,000 feet, and flights up through “L” impulse are allowed. Prior LUNAR board approval is required for “M” flights.
In 2008 LUNAR got permission to have low power launches on Moffett field at NASA Ames. Launches are held year round at Moffett field. The launches are limited to G engines and a maximum altitude of 1000 feet. The launches are on the airfield's apron near hanger 1. Hanger 1 is the old derigable hanger that is visible from highway 101.
Club Meeting Sites
Progression of launch sites
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