Lucky To Be Alive

Considering some of the things I did when a teenager, I now consider myself lucky to be alive.

Back in the 1960s, I had a friend at school named Phil R. and he lived in Ruislip Street, West Leederville, Western Australia. I have completely lost touch with him since those school days. But we had a mutual interest in Rocketry and Explosives and Chemistry and Physics and the like.
From memory, he was about six months older than me. But I digress....

So when chatting in the school playgrounds, I casually mentioned making of some good gunpowder. We got talking and I told him I could get plenty of Potassium Nitrate and Ammonium Nitrate.
Phil had been interested in small model aircraft, such as those powered by small diesel or ethanol fueled moel plane engines. I had a small one powered by a .5 Cubic Inch Cox Glo-plug engine. He had some with bigger diesel engines.

Anyway, we got talking about rockets. So we started planning a small rocket project.
We built a small copper pipe based rocket, using 3/4" cu tube, and soldered some small vanes around the base. The rocket had a pointed nose which we created by hacksawing some notches into the top end of the pipe, and folding in the copper tube to make a rough point.

Now for the fuel. We needed solid fuel for our design. We knew the rough ratios of the fuel components, secret stuff, sugar and sulphur, and met at Phil's home after school one day. Both Phil's parents would be at work, so we had the house to ourselves.
Step 1: (  note: do not ever try this, it is extremely dangerous)  Light the gas stove, and put our mix of fuel into an aluminium saucepan from his Mum's cabinet, and heat it to melting point whilst stiring.
Yes, we actually did this, being thirteen or fourteen years old at the time. We succeeded in getting our nice liquified mix of the three ingredients without burning down the house. Next we poured the hot molten fuel into our rocket casing. All good thus far.

We waited for the fuel to solidify in the rocket, and took it to the laneway at the back of the property. There we had some bricks set up as our launch pad.
With the rocket in place on the bricks, our next task was to light it. We decided that a match was too short to use for safety, so taped a few to a short bamboo stem.
We lit the matches, and applied it to the base of the rocket.

Well, that was the last we ever saw of our rocket. With a resounding whoosh... it was gone, and we watched as it soared out of sight. The rate at which it left the launch pad left us frightened. We never did try and build another.

Posted in Growing Up.