Monthly Rocket Launches in Highland County Educate and Entertain
After the fireworks and singing of “the rockets’ red glare” during this Independence Day, there will still be a chance to experience some aerial action in the sky. The Valley AeroSpace Team, also known by their acronym of VAST, has been holding rocket launches in Highland County since 2010. They will have a launch this Saturday, July 7, 2018 starting around 10:00 a.m with most rockets taking off between noon and 5:00 p.m. Chuck Neff from Staunton, Virginia is the VAST President and Founder. He spoke with AMR about the events that draw people from around the state and beyond.
“We hold launches, typically once a month, out at the Jack Mountain Village launch site,” says Mr. Neff. “The landowners there, Karl and Terry Mey have been very good to us to let us use their property for this activity. We like to teach kids about rocketry, the STEM side of it, the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics side of rocketry. We launch year-round, whether it’s cold, whether it’s hot. Our launches are open to anybody, to either come bring their own rockets and fly or just to watch. We also have what we call club rockets that any kids who come who want to fly, we will go through the process of showing them how to fly, how to prep it for flight and fly it in a safe manner. A lot of people, they see that these are going off with fire and smoke and that they could be very dangerous, and used improperly, they can be, but we follow strict safety codes and follow procedures that make it one of the safest hobbies out there, believe it or not. Very few people are injured during rocketry, a lot less so than doing RC gliders and even knitting. It is safer than knitting. But kids can come to our site, and either bring rockets they have, or we’ll set ‘em up with a rocket, and typically, once they fly the rocket, we send them home with a kit of their own that they can build with their parents and then bring it back and fly it again at a future launch.
“During the summer months, we start on Saturday around 10 o’clock a.m., and we finish up the day portion about 6:00 p.m., and then we take a supper break, and then we come back anywhere between 8 and 9 o’clock when it’s starting to get dark, and if we have some participation, we actually have a few rocket launches for night launch. All the rockets have lights on ‘em, so you can watch them going up and all the way down. We encourage anybody wantin’ to come watch that to do that as well.”
Rockets range from just a few inches tall to much larger ones, such as Mr. Neff’s scratch-built rocket named Quintex that is fourteen and a half feet tall and weighs sixty-seven pounds. He plans to fly it this Saturday afternoon to around 2,800 feet. Past rockets have gone even higher. Mr. Neff continues, “The highest that we have flown out there is a little over 10,000 feet, and we worked with a rocketry team from Old Dominion University. Their conditions were, of course, perfect. I mean, there was no wind at all. The rocket went up 10,000 feet. You could see the whole way up, and then wait for the minutes it took for it to come back down, and it comes down by parachute and landed just a few hundred yards from where it went up.”
Other than excitement and fun, Mr. Neff explains why the rocket launches are important. He says, “It’s a great way to get kids outside and doing something, getting to understand the process of how a rocket works, what makes it go, how high they can fly. You know, these kids one day, they’re gonna be the ones that are gonna set foot on Mars, and our goal is to always, you know, maybe light that spark inside them that they want to take it further, and we’ve done that. We’ve had kids who have come fly with us who have gone on to college, gotten in to aerospace engineering and some of ‘em are even working for NASA now, so it’s just a great way to get kids excited about learning, which is not the easiest thing to do these days.”
Launches are free to the public, but donations are accepted for outreach to continue getting folks interested in rocketry. VAST conducts presentations at schools as well. For more info, folks can visit www.valleyaerospace.com or call Chuck Neff at 540-280-8908.
VAST President Chuck Neff with “Quintex”