Valley Aerospace Team Launches Rockets in Monterey
Once a month for the past nine years, a small group of rocketry enthusiasts has gathered in an open field about three miles south of Monterey. On many occasions, this reporter has driven past the signs inviting passers-by to join the fun. I recently succumbed to my curiosity and tracked down the group’s leader to see what this is all about.
My name is Chuck Neff. I’m the president of the Valley Aerospace Team, otherwise known as VAST. I founded the club in 2005, after a love rocketry that my dad and two uncles instilled in me when I was young. So we formed the club and have been launching rockets ever since 2005. Ever since 2010, here in Highland County. And, we’ve loved it over here.
We are a vast organization. We have about 44 members made up of adults and children. We have members in Stafford, in Warrenton, in Luray, Roanoke, Lynchburg, Christiansburg, Staunton, Harrisonburg, Charlottesville and Highland County. We have some members here in Highland County.
What’s your personal attraction to this hobby, Chuck?
I love seeing the kids to come out and launch their own rockets. And if they don’t have a rocket, then you know, we have a tub full of rockets that we help the kids launch. We usually send any kid who comes in as they leave, we send a rocket kit home with them to build and hopefully come back and fly with us. We love to do a lot of outreach. We’ve been all over the state of Virginia, doing rocketry builds and flies and programs – Strasburg, Richmond, down in Wise County. We go to Green Bank every, every year where we’ll be building 100 to about 125 rockets in a three-hour period and then launching them all in an hour. The smiles and the wonderment that you see in a kid’s eyes when they see that rocket, zip upwards – flame and smoke. I love that and the kids, they learn without even realizing it. We’re teaching them how rockets work, what makes them go up how they come down safely. It’s S.T.E.M; science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Rocketry is perfect for that. There aren’t many hobbies that you can get that kind of educational experience out of and rocketry is just great. Kids love it.
Nowadays, there are all kinds of contests with scholarships and everything, you know, just as nice as sports scholarships is to go to a nice University and their competitions for middle school and high school age kids and even university age kids.
I’m looking around and I see all kinds of equipment and some pretty big rockets. Be straight with me, now. You’ve got to have some deep pockets to do this. Am I right?
To get started, no, this this is not an expensive hobby. You can buy a starter kit with motors for under $5. Now can it get expensive? Yes, it can get expensive, but it all depends on what you get into. I love launching all sizes, even the small ones that I have. I have small ones, even the ones that the kids bring, you know when they launch, they get the same look in their eyes is when the big ones go. It’s great. And I love that look. If they are excited about it, they can always go bigger.
We love people to come here and fly with us. We have all the equipment that’s needed. We have all the procedures in place; safety procedures to make it the safest hobby we can. So, we encourage people to come out and fly with us. We will help them with any questions they have in anything, basically anything they don’t have. They can literally start from scratch out here in the field. We even have kits that we give kids when you’re here so it’s extremely inexpensive to start, if they come to a launch.
It sounds like this is a great opportunity for families to have fun together.
Yeah, it’s great coming out here. You’re outdoors. Kids come out, fathers and sons, fathers and daughters, mothers and sons, mothers and daughters, grandparents and grandkids. We’ve had everybody come out here and I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anybody leave unhappy. Or, well, they leave unhappy because it’s time to go. No more rockets, but they can always come back next month and launch some more. It’s just a great hobby to have. I’ve always loved it.
You don’t have to be a kid to take part, but it helps if you still have some kid left in you. If you do, then the Valley Aerospace Team invites you to join them one Saturday at Jack Mountain Village just three miles south of Monterey. Complete information and launch schedules can be found online at valleyaerospace.com.
This is Mickey Frank Thomas for Allegheny Mountain Radio news.