AFTER THE STORM!
It started three years ago, when a group of Australian’s visited the USA and asked the question… Would you like to come to a launch in Australia? Fast forward to March 2015 and the greatest rocket launch in the Southern Hemisphere ripped into the skies in sunny, south west Queensland, Australia.
With less than a couple of weeks until the event, international guests started to arrive in the land down under. Some were holidaying, some were working, but all were here in preparation for Australian Rocketry’s Thunda Down Under 2015 (ARTDU 2015). The teams at Australian Rocketry Pty Ltd, the Australian Model Rocket Society Inc. (AMRS) and Queensland Rocketry Society Inc. (QRS) worked tirelessly on many tasks prior to ARTDU 2015. From manufacturing equipment to the importation of propellant, meetings with regulators and logistics of international and interstate participants, everyone completed the various tasks and overcame any challenges that were faced.
With the various regulators and government bodies satisfied with the proposed activities at ARTDU 2015, a handful of volunteers made the journey to the launch site four days out from the event. With the threat of rain looming, there were last minute discussions about moving the camp site to another area of the farm. This fortunately did not eventuate and everyone sprung into action to prepare the camping areas that would soon be filled with hundreds of people. Uneven ground was graded thanks to the land owners machinery, giant marquees were erected as the backup plan for the Banquet Under the Stars!, a dozen 1000L bins were scattered around the site and long drops (toilets) were created, ready for the influx of ARTDU 2015 participants.
As the sun set on each day leading up to the event, more and more people arrived in cars, campers, caravans, motorbikes, trucks and even aeroplanes. With the Kiwi’s (New Zealanders) arriving in bulk quantities, they promptly released their unique kites high into the skies. Coupled with Chris Jacob’s banjo softly playing in the background, the feeling of a true rocketry festival was quickly realised. With tents and RV’s scattered across the site, local, interstate and international guests instantaneously formed new friendships that will undoubtedly last a life time.
People flocked to the registration area to grab their souvenir lanyards, wristbands, t-shirts and individual roll of toilet paper (issued to every registered individual). Both prior to and at ARTDU 2015, Dianne sifted through the hundreds of registrations to make sure everyone was ready for the big event.
One day out from the start of ARTDU 2015, an earth shaking convoy appeared from a cloud of dust on the long straight roads leading to the camp site. As the convoy came closer, the impressive sight of the full scale V2 loaded on trucks and trailers created an eerie stillness as the entire camp site stopped to watch. The world record rocket had arrived and was surely going to be one of the most anticipated elements of the event.
With crystal clear skies and the gorgeous sun rising high into the southern sky, ARTDU 2015 had finally arrived! Maybe it was from partying too hard the night before, or the excitement of the first day, however Thursday morning (12/03/2015) started a bit slow with lots of preparation for what was destined to be the biggest rocket launch ever seen this side of the equator. George and Peter Katz were the very first flight at ARTDU 2015 with their Polaron G2 water rocket, soaring to over 1,000 feet.
Due to unfortunate circumstances, Bryce and Joe Chanes were unable to bring their high altitude dart to Australia. Fortunately, this cloud had a silver lining as Bryce stepped up as the lead LCO for the event. Bringing his Californian charm, spectators were thoroughly entertained by this seasoned microphone operator.
As Rocket Radio 101.1FM broadcast all of the action across the 70,000 acres, rockets of all sizes started to flow through the RSO tent and onto the range. Thursday was filled with exciting flights up to ‘M’ impulse including five successful certifications (1 x Level 1, 1 x Level 2 and 3 x Level 3).
As the launch day came to a close, the Rocket Fuel Bar kicked off the after hour activities as rocketeers and spectators alike remembered the first day over a few cold ones. Kevin, Kim and Kris Daniels were kept busy serving drinks to the thirsty patrons. The Starlight Cinema had a practise run showing some of the highlights of other rocket events thanks to the guys at Liberty Launch Systems. It was exciting watching many of the Australian and international participants on the videos who were now present at ARTDU 2015. Many stories were told and shared with the opportunity to reflect on how we all came together at this truly international launch.
With the ‘warmup’ day out of the way, Friday the 13th (13/03/2015) kicked off with some big flights. Mathias Gaertnar from Germany flew the first ‘O’ motor of the event in his Sun Seeker minimum diameter rocket on a CTI O3400 IMAX. Whilst the V2 slowly started to take shape in the background, a full spectrum of ‘A’ through to ‘O’ motors took to the skies with David Bell flying his recent L3 certification ½ Scale Patriot on a cluster of a central CTI M840 and 4 outboard CTI J354’s. Evan More and his ‘odd-roc’ Bucky Ball was one of most exciting flights on a Gorilla J450 Black Lightning.
Friday saw a number of local school groups in attendance to take in the activities at the event. After getting up close and personal with a number of rockets, Dave Reneke along with Dustin and Cliff had their safe solar viewing telescopes setup for the crowds to view in real time, sun spots and solar flares. Friday had six successful certifications (4 x Level 2 and 2 x Level 3).
Late into the afternoon, as the nosecone of the V2 descended onto the airframe as if it were the final piece of an enormous puzzle, chatter spread through the launch and camp sites that special international guests Homer and Linda Hickam had arrived with their travel companion ‘Albert the Alligator’.
As the sun sank onto the horizon, spectacular storm cells brewed in the distance, offering an exciting exhibition of lighting and rain. The storm which was situated dozens of kilometres away, pushed around the site allowing for an incredible sun set that simply had to be witnessed in person.
In preparation for the feature presentation of ‘October Sky’ on the Starlight Cinema, the outdoor dining and party area transitioned into a movie theatre of epic proportions. Seating over 200 people, everyone settled in with bags of popcorn which were sold to raise funds for The Prince Charles Hospital Foundation. Homer addressed the audience with an interesting narrative of how the movie came about and the relationship with the bestselling novel ‘Rocket Boys’.
As October Sky started, onlookers sank into their chairs as they became mesmerized in probably the greatest rocketry movie of all time. Suddenly and without warning, the earlier storm cells produced a powerful wind and dust storm that penetrated the camp site with ferocious intent. Winds of over 70kmh (43mph) smashed through marquees, tents, tables, chairs and of course… the Starlight Cinema. Many people, including the farmers jumped up to secure the 4½ metre (15 foot) screen that was acting like a giant sail, whilst others scurried to stop other possessions from flying away. In a bizarre moment, some onlookers remained glued to the screen, oblivious to the menacing dust storm.
Groups of participants headed to the flight line to remove gazebo covers and secure whatever they could whilst the Rocketry Victoria team reinforced the tie downs for the 14 metre (46 foot) tall construction that challenged the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
With everything on site secured and unable to continue the movie, the ‘storm party’ kicked on until the early hours of the morning with dozens of adrenalin filled rocket fanatics taking to the Rocket Fuel Bar to kick back with a heart pumping soundtrack thanks to Rocket Radio 101.1FM.
Like a bad dream, Saturday (14/03/2015) saw everyone awake to yet another perfect blue sky morning with the sun beaming its light across the thousands of acres of perfect rocket launching fields. As weary bodies ventured from the various accommodation arrangements, the realisation of the evening’s events started to settle in.
In what seemed to be an endless burst of energy, gazebos were erected once more and the night before was quickly forgotten. In all of its glory, the V2 stood proudly in the empty field awaiting its final configurations whilst flyers continued to prep rockets for what was to be the biggest day of the event.
The Southern Cross Rocketry Fly It Take It program commenced with dozens of enthusiastic participants lining up to choose their rocket and head to the launch pads. The pioneers of this fantastic program Tom and Maria Ha from the NAR proudly supplied a number of marvellous rockets. Many others also contributed which made for a successful program and a huge thanks goes out to everyone involved. Stephen Lubliner graciously helped the participants prepare their rockets as they took their first steps into the wonderful journey of rocketry.
One Mach breaking flight after another, the sky was filled with exhilarating launches. As the anticipation of the world’s largest model rocket launch grew, there were a few other special flights that needed to be launched first. Ari Piirainen loaded up his Oz Area 51 with the biggest and baddest sparky motor known to mankind, the Gorilla O2645 Black Lightning. The original Rocket Boy, Homer Hickam took control of the launch controller and after a minor delay, the titanium fuelled beast tore into the sky with domination. A perfect boost, coast and recovery was achieved and most impressively the landing which was literally metres from Ari’s very own camp site which made for a very easy collection.
Al Bychek, brought his Sky Cruiser from the USA and managed 20,685 feet on a CTI M1060CL securing the highest altitude flown in Australia by an American. Tony Davies from New Zealand flew his Escape Velocity on an AT N3300R to 33,200 feet and now holds the highest flight in Australia by an international flyer.
With a number of challenges to acquire Australian VISAs in a timely manner, everyone present was amazed to see a maxi taxi arrived on Saturday afternoon with the Indian contingent. Pratham Ambla and his students, after flights from India and a six hour taxi ride, still managed to come to ARTDU 2015 and witness the action packed event. With such short notice, they travelled back to Brisbane via taxi and returned in the same manner on Sunday.
Next was the highly anticipated ‘O’ impulse record attempt by Nic Lottering on Mad Max II. Powered by a CTI O3400 IMAX, this sub-minimum diameter, composite vehicle had been masterfully designed to take even the most punishing of motors. With a top speed of Mach 3.52 and reaching an altitude of 65,748 feet above ground level, Nic successfully claimed the ‘O’ impulse record and now undeniably holds the speed and altitude record in Australia.
Confirmation came across the airways that the final checks had been completed for the V2 and launch site was completely shut down for the up close and personal view of the gigantic rocket. Hundreds of people made the journey to the launch pad to witness this awe inspiring display. As the masses arrived, ARTDU 2015’s official photographer Leigh Metzroth from MetzyPix snapped the group photo. Cran fired up the Victa Airtourer from the local airstrip and headed for an aerial view of the crowd.
The moment had arrived, with all eyes pointed down range, the initiation process commenced. With meticulous execution, recovery air bags were filled and fill lines cut. Bryce commenced the 10 count and the crowd joined in. With one quick press of the launch button, the CTI O25,000 VMAX instantly lit and the V2 majestically lifted into the sky. After a perfect boost and as the monster rocket reached apogee, all of the deployment charges fired and the three pieces separated. In what seemed to be slow motion, the man rated parachutes ballooned and entire rocket descended gently back to earth. A deafening cheer was heard across the flight line and Karl Hemphill and his team from Rocketry Victoria expressed mixed emotions of relief and joy.
The excitement of the V2 left everyone on a major high, but there were still dozens of launches to go. This included the highly anticipated Crazy Jim sparky drag race. After a last minute scratching of my own rocket due to a non-responsive altimeter, Jim Hendricksen, Dave Couzens, Simon Liebke, Dave Bell and Jason Batey were all racked up and ready to launch. The expected customary bantering was in full swing and clearly everyone was going to be the winner. The Wilson F/X Armageddon switch was activated and the entire range became live. First off the mark was Crazy Jim’s Punisher which had a clear advantage with genuine NASA engineered componentry (well maybe not exactly correct, but Homer did identify the crucial components of the rocket. See the picture). 33,147Ns of titanium showered down as the remainder of the rockets launched in this incredible battle.
Saturday had four successful certifications (1 x Level 1, 1 x Level 2 and 2 x Level 3) and two world records.
As the glorious evening set in, any signs of cloud disappeared and the shimmering of Southern stars could be seen in every direction. The perfect back drop for the Banquet Under the Stars! To kick off proceedings, Master of Ceremonies, Petar Nikolic greeted patrons who took their seats ready for a dining experience like no other. Gillian and her crafty caterers, who had been providing lunch and dinner for the entire event, served an amazing feast from the Igloo. This included a variety of roast meats, salads, vegetable stacks and condiments, followed up by a delicious traditional Aussie dessert, the Pavlova.
Jeff Cheales (President, Queensland Rocketry Society Inc. – host club of ARTDU 2015), Dave Couzens (Chancellor, Australian Model Rocket Society Inc.) and myself (Blake Nikolic, Director, Australian Rocketry Pty Ltd) addressed the audience to show appreciation to everyone who made this event possible. The addresses included an insightful look into the current situation and future of rocketry in Australia. John Coggan (Land owner) shared a few words, talking about how rocketry has brought an exciting new past time to the farm and the importance of family when running not only a world class event like ARTDU 2015, but everyday life. The QRS used this public opportunity to present the Coggan family with an honorary membership for the continuous support of the club.
Next up was Homer Hickam, who delivered an inspirational talk about rocketry as a young man and what it was like to work for NASA for 19 years. With a captivated audience, Homer narrated stories from his publications including how the Rocket Boys, without access to commercial electronics, motors or even components, flew Auk XXXI to over 31,000 feet on ‘Zincoshine’ fuel. With a shared passion of rocketry and aerospace, Homer highlighted the unique bond that rocketry enthusiasts share and how those in attendance at ARTDU 2015 will have an amazing experience to remember for years to come. Homer’s talk was nothing short of prodigious.
Having been in contact with Homer and Linda for over 8 years, the QRS and AMRS took advantage of this rare opportunity to present Homer and Linda Hickam with honorary memberships for the inspiration and support of the QRS and AMRS.
After a short break, Dave Reneke finished off the evening with an intriguing presentation called “Secrets of the Universe”. With an audio/visual presentation on the Starlight Cinema screen, the audience was fascinated by an astronomical feast about the stars, planets, galaxies and everything in between. Dave and his team carried on late into the evening with night sky viewings of all that the southern skies have to offer.
Sunday (15/03/2015) was the last day of the ARTDU 2015 launch and the rockets just kept coming. In true QLD spirit, George and Peter Katz loaded up their Axion II rocket with four cans of XXXX Gold. The rocket boosted to over 400 feet as it rained down some of QLD’s finest beer.
Jason Batey put his Ultimate Darkstar up on a CTI O3400 IMAX that miraculously found one of the only tree lines on the property. At approximately 50 metres wide, with open space for kilometres on either side, the booster section and main chute crossed the two smallest branches leaving the rocket elevated eight metres in the air. After the event, with a little bit of TLC from a chainsaw, we happily recovered the rocket with only minor scratches.
Nic Lottering loaded up his 10” Raptor with the biggest motor of the event, a Gorilla O5925 Blue Typhoon with a total impulse of 33,047Ns. Sporting a RAAF grey and white paint scheme, this scratch built rocket which design is modelled off the F22 Raptor, punched hard and fast off the pad to 17,200 feet.
Peter Lam went all out with his first ever two-stage rocket. A scratch built Sparrow/Arcas on a CTI N3180RL to CTI M840W. This was the biggest multi-stage rocket of the event which performed flawlessly through all stages of the boost, separation, second stage ignition and recovery.
With winds starting to pick up around lunch time, people started to pack up for an early afternoon. At approximately 1500 hrs, the final flight of Australian Rocketry’s Thunda Down Under 2015 took to the skies. I personally flew a SCR Junior on a SCR-A8-3 to 150 feet. Sunday had three successful certifications (2 x Level 1 and 1 x Level 3).
After four glorious days of rocket launching and 236 flights, a combined total of over 1,000,000 feet and 428,000 Newton seconds (equivalent to a 30% ‘S’ impulse motor) were flown.
The rocket launches at ARTDU 2015 had come to an end, but the party would still continue well into the night. Many people helped pack down the range and the V2 had its final pieces loaded into the truck. The site slowly returned to farming land and an emotional state of excitement and relief sank in with one of the world’s best rocket launches now at its conclusion.
As friends shook hands and said goodbye, plans were already being made for reuniting at other events both in Australia and around the world. The big question on everyone’s lips though, was when is Thunda Down Under going to happen again? Whilst there were times throughout the last three years that were very challenging, I am happy to announce that discussions have commenced about Australian Rocketry’s Thunda Down Under 2018.
As I finally have some time to reflect on everything that has happened in the past few months, it is phenomenal to see the progress of rocketry in Australia. It is because of the participants of ARTDU 2015 that the Australian Model Rocket Society Inc. has now cemented its place on the international rocketry map. On behalf of the entire ARTDU 2015 team and Australian Rocketry Pty Ltd, thank you to everyone that participated and contributed to this phenomenal event.
Bring on Australian Rocketry’s Thunda Down Under 2018!
Australian Rocketry Pty Ltd
PHOTOS AVAILABLE ONLINE!
Thanks to the official photographer Leigh Metzroth from MetzyPix, many of the official photos are now available for purchase online at http://thunda.com.au/photogallery
There are still many photos and videos to sort through, so stay tuned for the release of more media from the event coming soon.
With so many amazing flights over the four days, there were a few notable achievements.
Certifications (in order of successful flight):
Jeff Cheales (QLD) – L3
David Bell (NSW) – L3
Matt Small (QLD) – L3
Bruce Symmans (QLD) – L3
Adam Martin (USA) – L3 (Second international person to certify L3 in Australia)
Andrew Surtees (QLD) – L3
Ken McIntyre (VIC) – L3
David Boyd (VIC) – L3
Matthew Niejalke (QLD) – L2
Peter Broxham (QLD) – L2
Lachlan Stewart (SA) – L2/L1
Marty Lynch (VIC) – L2/L1
Chris Jacobs (NSW) – L2
Terry Hazell (VIC) – L2
Mario Cendo (QLD) – L1
Matthew/Ed Leong (NSW) – L1
Jack/Stuart Hellier (QLD) – L1
The Coggan Family received honorary membership to the Queensland Rocketry Society Inc. for the continuous support of the club.
Homer and Linda Hickam received honorary membership to the Queensland Rocketry Society Inc. and Australian Model Rocket Society Inc. for the inspiration and support of the QRS and AMRS.
Nic Lottering – Mad Max II – CTI O3400 IMAX, at Mach 3.52 and an altitude of 65,748 feet above ground level, claimed the international ‘O’ impulse altitude record and Australian altitude and speed record.
Karl Hemphill and Rocketry Victoria – Victoria-2 (Full Scale V2) – CTI 025,000 VMAX, claiming the record for the worlds largest amateur model rocket.
The success of Australian Rocketry’s Thunda Down Under 2015 wouldn’t have been possible without the contributions of a number of dedicated individuals. There were a number of people and organisations who offered countless hours or support and I would like to personally thank them.
Petar and Dianne Nikolic … the list is way too long and words can simply not describe the thank you owing to these two.
Nic Lottering and Simon Liebke (partners in crime) for being the other 2/3rds of the launch operatives at Westmar. Often daily phone calls with these guys to make sure everything is operational and the occasional reality check.
Dave Couzens, additional to Nic and Simon, there is also often regular phone calls for continual national uniformity and occasional reality checks.
Phillip, Cindy, John and Lyn Coggan (and family) who without this amazing family we would not have thousands of flat open acres with 120,000 feet to fill above.
Gillian and Bill Meppem-Mott for supplying a culinary experience like no other.
Bryce Chanes for your charismatic microphone skills.
Homer and Linda Hickam as our honorable guests and presenters.
Dave Reneke, Dustin Bradford and Cliff Watson for their astronomical wisdom and demonstrations.
Southern Cross Rocketry, Public Missiles Ltd, LOC/Precision, Aerotech, Cesaroni Technology Inc and Gorilla Rocket Motors for their kind donations.
Queensland Rocketry Society Inc. as the host club for the event.
Australian Model Rocket Society Inc. for representing rocketry in Australia and giving Australian’s the opportunity to fly rockets on an international stage.
Margretha Van Aartsen aka ‘The Dunny Master’, who had the ‘crappiest’ job in the world and still made it fun with the quirky little signs throughout the toilets.
Matt Small for collecting the Rocket Fuel Bar cold storage facility.
James Hendricksen, Al Bychek and Barry Lynch for the last minute preparations on various tasks.
Stephen Lubliner, Tom and Maria Ha for your fantastic work with Southern Cross Rocketry’s Fly It Take It.
Everyone who helped setup, pack up and volunteer for various jobs at the event.
Larry Muller and Dean Barnes for the use of their amazing trailer based launch pads.
Jeff Cheales and Warren McKay for helping with registrations and other tasks leading up to the event.
Leigh Metzroth (MetzyPix) for his photography
Shane Miles and Ryan McDonald for their videography
(Everyone else who has contributed photos and videos to the ARTDU 2015 collection)
Bob Utley and Neil McGilvray (Liberty Launch Systems) for the valuable space in Rockets Magazine advertising the event and their never ending support or rocketry in Australia.
The Royal Australian Air Force, Civil Aviation Safety Authority, Air Services Australia and Department of Natural Resources and Mines for their phenomenal support and co-operation with the entire event.
Karl Hemphill and Rocketry Victoria for taking on the worlds largest amateur rocket and flying it at the worlds best rocket launch.
Peter Williams (Expoworks) for a range of audio/visual equipment used.
Kim, Kevin and Kris Daniels for bringing the evenings to life at the Rocket Fuel Bar.
Carly and Adrian Bancilhon, Tom Bullen and Mel Birkenhead, Milton and Debbie Skinner (Ka-Boom Fireworks) for the collection and delivery of rocketry products. This was the most challenging component of the entire event, which would have been crippled without their amazing efforts.
Kayleigh and Kaleb Nikolic for putting up with three years of Thunda Down Under 2015 planning, countless late night phone calls and our house being filled with anything and everything rocketry.
Most importantly, everyone that had faith in the event from the start and who supported the idea and participated in some way at any point in the last three years.
For more information about anything to do with Australian Rocketry’s Thunda Down Under 2015, please visit www.thunda.com.au