Reflections on Hellfire XX

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Desert Rat Rocketeer
TRF Supporter
Mar 23, 2011
Reaction score
Goodyear, AZ
My wife Sharon (Hardline) brought this launch to my attention on July 8th. I had heard of it, but discounted it due to the 10 hr. drive it takes to get there, but when Sharon wants to do something rocket related, it's a done deal for me. All I have to do is make it happen. With three weeks to prep, I had plenty of time to get our fleet in shape. We have about fifty rockets, from Estes 18mm to my new 6" Ultimate Darkstar 98mm.
After posting up on the "Hellfire" thread! we started planning. The list of rockets grew to over 30, then got trimmed back as we went through them. Some of our smaller rockets hadn't been flown for several years, and my mission to upgrade them to current standards took a lot of work. Since several people with UROC assured us that these could be flown with a good chance of recovery, I was determined to fly as many as we could on Thursday, the first day of the launch. I had volunteered for range duty Thursday am, so I knew Sharon would have more opportunity to fly, but we both had six LPR/MPR rockets ready. Friday we would move up to our smaller HPR rockets, with my minimum diameter Blackhawk 54 for the finale. Since Saturday was forecast to be busy, we would only have a few (BIG) leftovers. We had decided to call it good if we got good weather for three days, and only stay for Sunday if we were weathered out on any of the earlier days. Sharon runs her own business, so whenever she isn't in the office, nothing gets done. (no income)

Two weeks later, I had most of the rockets ready to some degree. Smaller rockets had motors installed, chutes packed with dog barf, or new nomex pads, which I sew to fit each model. Sixteen dual deploy rockets with some redundant meant that we had a total of 23 altimeters and 46 ematches loaded. Some would wait until just before leaving to install the batteries, since we use magnetic switches extensively, and they will eventually drain a battery if you leave them in too long. Motors were built and installed, chutes were packed and upgrades were complete. Sharon did the prep on all her rockets, and managed to finish her "Super Jart", and built a 75mm K510 for it's first flight. She also snuck an extra rocket in so she had 16 to my 15 rockets ready.
Most of the HPR rockets didn't need much, we had been flying them regularly at Eagle Eye with TRA/PHX. that launch has a 50,000 ft. waiver, but the desert plants make it hard to recover small rockets. I had decided to leave behind my carbon fiber Mongoose 75, only had one motor left for it, and it was scheduled to fly on the M840 at Airfest in September. Not enough waiver at Hellfire, and as I learned later with the Blackhawk, my sim's were off due to the ground elevation on the salt is over 4000 ft. and I had not added that data to my sims.

The weekend prior to departure was pretty intense, loaded rockets laying all over the front room, boxes packed with equipment, lists to check off, you know the drill. Just magnify it by two since we are both avid fliers and you have some idea what it's like.

I also started packing "Lil mule" our small utility trailer, and "Grosser" our GMC truck needed an oil change. I do all the maintenance on all our vehicles, so I went over this 17 year old truck, replaced one of the batteries, installed four new shocks, and a pair of tires before it got a clean bill of health. Tuesday, I finished up packing the truck and trailer. Managed to get all 31 rockets packed into the queen sized bed in the back of Grosser, along with a half ton of other stuff. The trailer was packed with tables and tents, my tower for the MD rocket and everything else that wouldn't fit in Grosser. Wednesday we hit the road at 5:20 am, just 20 minutes behind schedule. I had to take a shower after finishing up the packing and attaching the trailer to the truck. At 4 am it was 90*, so the final packing made me all sweaty!

First stop was in Kingman, 180 miles and a little over 2.5 hours. Best gas prices on the whole trip there, and when you're driving a 4 WD truck with a 454 cid. big block, you look for the best gas prices. Grosser holds 76 gallons and gets 10 mpg if you keep it under 80, which I really try to do on the secondary roads we usually travel on. Once the tanks were topped off, we were good to go all the way to Wendover, NV. Good driving conditions and with the bit in my teeth, we pulled into the Rainbow Casino around 2:30 pm our time, which is an hour later there. 640 miles in 9 hours and change.
We checked in and drove around to the closest door to our room, which was on the 4th (no smoking) floor. Found a cart and lugged our stuff up to the room. Pleasantly surprised by a really nice room, with the only downside being two queen beds, we usually get a king. Since we had not eaten all day, with a few snacks while driving, we immediately departed to the "Salt Flats Cafe". It's the little restaurant next to the gas station where you get off I-80 to go out to the Bonneville race course. When we got there, we had the place to ourselves, and were probably the only english speaking people in the place. Good Mexican food though, and efficient service. We continued our adventure by driving to the end of the pavement, all we saw was a vast expanse of salt. No signs, no markers and one other guy with a little travel trailer who looked as lost as we were. Turns out he was going to the launch also, and his name was Scott Henry. He had attended some of the previous launches years ago, but was hesitant to just drive out on the lakebed with no markers. Shortly thereafter, another guy showed up and said he would lead the way, so off we went. I had heard the horror stories about getting stuck out there, but since we were following a minivan in a truck with 4 wd and mud tires, there was a pretty good chance he would get stuck first, right? Didn't happen, and we eventually arrived at the launch site. There were a few members of UROC setting stuff up. They had the flightline staked out, and a line spray painted on the salt to show us where we could set up. They had the LCO area setup and some of the launch system extension cords run out, with markings for the different LPR/HPR lines. Someone was putting up the stakes and signs to guide us to and from the site. We met Ken and Heather Park, who had been out there all day setting up with no shade. They looked pretty beat, but managed to show us where we could set up our camp. Joe Hepworth introduced himself, and invited us to set up next to him. There were a few reserved spaces for UROC members, and we were right next to them. We staked down a tarp and parked our trailer right next to it, then headed back to the casino. Bright and early, we were back out on the salt setting up "Comforts Condo".
We got out just as the sun came up, and the moon was still up:

Here is the "Hellfire" version of our camp:

It didn't take long and we had neighbors:

I jumped right in and helped set up the pads, got familiar with their launch control system and how they ran things. Ended up trading with Randall, a senior member at UROC, he got to be RSO and I did the first stint as LCO. The new Wilson controller was the slickest system I had ever used, made my job easy. Meanwhile, Sharon was off and running with her low power rockets. She started with her Eliminator on an E9 and got her Blue Ninja up on a D12 while I announced the flights. Both flew well and were easy to recover. Light wind and anything that landed within a half mile was clearly visible.

Once I got off as LCO, I started with my Apogee "Rip Roar" two stage, flying on a E12/E9-6. Came off the rod well and staged perfectly, but the main on the sustainer failed to deploy, so I had my first saltstake. Recovered the booster with no damage, but the sustainer was a total write-off. Not a good start for me, but didn't stop me from putting up my Executioner on a G75 metalstorm while Sharon was having ignitor problems with her Hi-flier XL. I don't think she ever got that F24 to light, and switched to her Maxi-Alpha. It flew well on F39 but the old plastic fins were brittle from age, and one cracked in flight. I flew my "Rag-a-bond" which was a patched up Estes Vagabond with dozens of flights under it's belt. It flies good on the single use F27 redline, and was another easy recovery. Sharon was up next with her Great Big Daddy, a stretched version that flew on a G75 metalstorm, one of our favorite 29mm motors. I loaded up "Tommy 2", our second "D" region Tomahawk with her "Daddy" while Randall set up one of his "Dizzy Dog" rockets on the same rack:

Tommy always flies on the F35, the only load for the 24/60 casing. We both had good fights and easy recoveries. The UROC gang had it right, it's almost impossible to lose a rocket out there, you can see for miles! We took a break and had lunch, then I pulled out my dual deploy Argent. It has a RRC2+ built into the transition and .38 shells for ejection cups. Flies to about 2000 ft. on the SU H115 Dark matter load. It has about 6 flights on that motor, and performs perfectly with it. Sharon finished up her Estes fleet with another "oldie but goodie", the Magician on an E12-6. We were hitting almost every round of launches, and rapidly running out of low power rockets. Next up, Sharon switched over to her fiberglass "Wild Child" flying on an H54 long burn. We still don't know how high it goes, it's a motor deploy and the one time we put an altimeter in it, the dang thing didn't work. It sims to 5500 ft. and got every bit of that and maybe some more, but landed in easy sight of the flight line. I flew my L-1 rocket, the much loved and much rebuilt "Duke Nukem", an LOC Nuke Pro Maxx. Another Dark Matter load, the H178 went up and everything worked like clockwork with the main opening at 700 ft. It's a DD rocket with a Stratologger
SL-100, one of my first altimeters. Just a note here, we don't move altimeters around in our rockets, we build an avbay and put an altimeter in, and that's where it stays. Very little wear and tear on the wiring that way. I use small terminal blocks on all my avbay bulkheads, so the internal wiring is always hooked up and ready to go. Just add ematches and black powder and you're flying!
Sharon found one last Estes rocket, her L-1 Leviathan and flew it on the same motor she got her L-1 with, an H54. I think we both got off on the same round with these, and it took a bit longer to recover them. We were slowing down, with only a couple of rockets left. My last flight was a scratch built 29mm MD Apogee Aspire clone. Built with blue tube and fiberglass fins, it sims to over 6000 ft. on the G118 blue streak, I call it the "Kick Asspire". I added an Estes altimeter to the N/C to see if I could finally document a "Mile high" flight on an aspire, something I had been trying to do for the last 10 years with no success. I followed this flight with my binoculars, got the apogee event and a crick in my neck trying to watch it descend for about 10 minutes. It landed right behind the 250 ft. high power pads, much to the surprise of the people racking their rockets. The range had been open for a while, and they were just finishing up loading the next round. I recovered it before the range closed, only to find the wire clip holding a piece of the altimeter housing to the N/C. Lost in flight, another failed attempt at recording altitude for an Aspire.
Sharon finished up her day with "Drunk V-2". I will let her tell the story, but the short version is it was built on Wildman's front porch at Airfest last year. She flew it on another H54 long burn, and it arched over for a long recovery to finish our first day at Hellfire. My first impression of this launch was very positive. Ken and Heather were the perfect hosts for this event. With the help of other UROC members, the launch ran smoothly, and the assortment of rockets were amazing. We met lots of nice folks, flew a bunch of rockets and were invited to join Joe Hepworth and Bob and his wife Young for dinner. Joe was an excellent next door neighbor, and we shared lots of good info. while launching rockets. Bob was next to him and had a great assortment of rockets.
I'm about done for today, I will try to post up more tomorrow, but our schedule is pretty hectic trying to catch up with work after this most excellent launch.

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Wayne & Sharon,

It was good to fly with you at Hellfire-20 and thanks for coming and helping to fill our skies with your rockets! Congratulations on winning the highest altitude. We hope to see you again next year. Thanks for making the long trip from GoodYear. Thanks to you and Joe for explaining to me the Wildman philosophy of making kits so rugged that they will take the largest motor that will fit in them.

Bob & Young
Both of you were excellent neighbors, and I also enjoyed sharing this adventure with you. This launch is permanently on our calendar.
Friday was another early start for us, and we were out on the salt at the crack of dawn:

We bought a broom at the Smith's, in the hopes that we could keep our tarp a little cleaner, so the first order of the day was to sweep the salt off everything.
The plan was to move up the alphabet with motors, and Sharon took a big jump up for the wake up call. She flew her Super Jart on a 75mm K510. This was the first flight for this rocket, and it was a little wobbly off the rail:
Click on the pic for video.

A little more thrust might fix that.
I was up next with my Darkstar Jr. on an I366 redline. Couldn't get good video due to the bright conditions, but the flight went well up to 4136 ft. We drove out to pick up Sharon's Jart and picked up Jr. later. I grabbed "Reduke" when we got back and put my backup Nuke Pro Max up on an I327 Dark Matter. It was a bit much for this cardboard rocket, but it held together all the way up to 6379 ft. Sharon flew her "Wild Thang" next, on an I285. This rocket has been repaired after a couple of hard landings, and flew quite well. It might get repainted in the near future. These two rockets landed close enough to be recovered on foot. Next up was my only short, fat rocket, a RW "Lil' Rascal". It is also my only cable cutter dual deploy, and I'm always pleasantly surprised when it works, which it did, after flying to 4357 ft. We stopped for lunch and spent some time with a couple of the vendors. Bought a 54mm rear closure from Moto Joe, and a yellow spray bottle from Ken P. They work amazingly well, not only to cool off, but I'm using it to clean salt off the rockets now. By the time we got back to flying, it was pretty late. Only enough time for one more rocket. Sharon chose her "Jimbo Jart" named after Crazy Jim Hendricsen, who designed it. It flew on a K454 to about 6200 ft. I had moved my tower out to the 500 ft. line so I could fly my Blackhawk 54 on an L640 dual thrust. "Silver Streak" exceeded all expectations and both my sims when it flew to 22,535 ft. We drove out quite a ways for that recovery, even found some mud where it landed, so I had to walk out to retrieve it. One of the contests UROC was having was for highest altitude, so I downloaded the Stratologger and submitted it. There was some confusion about the call in waiver and that's when I learned about my mistake with my sims. The Bonneville salt flats are over 4000 ft. msl. I had not entered that data into my sims. This makes a big difference, but fortunately I didn't bust the waiver.
We took down the tents and retired to the casino and dinner with friends.

I'm still cleaning up, and trying to get the regular work done here. Grosser is still dropping chunks of salt on the driveway, so I know he will need more attention soon. All the rockets are clean, but I have about 20 motor casings still to do....

Told ya you were going to love it..

I MUST get back to flying Hellfire next year, it was too painful to miss this time around.

Great reports, pics, and all. Thanks for posting (and for showing us all how it's done). Congrats on the highest alt flight.

I would have to say this was the BEST and funnest Hellfire I have been to. Really for me the highlight was the awesome people I already know and meeting Wayne and Sharon. The Dark Star drag race was one of the coolest things I have ever done. I was scoping the Apogee Aspire kit this morning while thinking about races... Now if we could just get stealth6 and Aksrockets back next year, it would be even better!
Hopefully next year I can get down there, since I have family there. The wife can visit her cousins and I can go play with my toys :)
Hellfire is always a Great launch. I didn't enter the altitude contest but I did fly the scratch built ARKTURUS twice for the beauty contest and wore an old t-shirt from the 2000 Hellfire launch for Saturday's launch. Already penciled in for next year.