Jim Cooper builds and flies rockets as a hobby he has enjoyed for a quarter of a century.
Lots of people have hobbies where they can relax and take it easy. Jim Cooper's hobby is more of an adrenaline rush that involves fuel that can explode and contacting the Federal Aviation Administration for permission to do his thing.
Cooper is a rocket man who likes to build and fly model rockets. He has been launching rockets since 1992.
"It's something different. I enjoy getting out of the house. I get to meet a lot of nice people and make new friends," Cooper said.
Cooper, who is 72-years-old, has been doing this for 30 years off-and-on and been a serious rocketeer for 25 years. He has been a certified rocketeer at Level 1 since 1996.
His interest in rockets started 25 years ago when his daughter had a rocket project in School. She got an Estes Rocket kit and Cooper lent a hand to get everything put together. Cooper thought the project was kind of cool and he started working on his own projects. Cooper's son Chuck also got involved through a Pratt County 4-H Club and won the state fair rocket competition three years in a row. That involvement really pushed Cooper into rocketry.
Like any hobby, it can be as expensive as the person wants it to be. One of his rockets cost about $450. On the high end of rocketry, it can get up to $4,000 to build a rocket.
Rocket shooters have to belong to one of two rocket organizations: National Association of Rocketry or Tripoli Rocketry Association. Cooper belongs to both organizations. All rocket associated activities have to meet the established criteria from one of these organizations, Cooper said.
Cooper belongs to the Kloud Busters rocket club and they fly under under Tripoli regulations, most of them dealing with safety.
The club shoots their rockets in a field near Argonia. Cooper has shot rockets ranging from just six inches tall to 29 feet. They get to shoot about once every month except in May and June because of wheat fields.
The launch area is eight miles south and one mile east of Argonia in the middle of a field. They used to shoot at the Argonia airport but it was close to town and there wasn't much room. A man watching the rocketeers found out they were looking for another location to shot and made them an offer.
Cooper said land donor Rick Neiswonger said 'I've got a place if it will work for you.'
Flight times run about two minutes. It takes longer for the rocket to come down with the parachute than it does to go up.
Wind is a factor. Rockets can launch up to 20 mph maximum. The launch planned for February had to be cancelled because of wind. The smaller rockets can't fly through the wind. The bigger rockets can get through the wind but they can drift for miles so recovery can require lots of travel miles.
There is a tracking system on the rockets to help find the rocket once it's back on the ground, Cooper said.
Cooper builds his rockets at his home in a shop. He gets parts from vendors including Wildman Rocketry. He fabricates some of the parts from materials he gets locally. He pours the basic frame of the rocket using a tube normally used to pour concrete. The rocket body is basically a spray foam insulation covered with sanded fiberglass. There is an electronics package in the rocket and Cooper has used a Go Pro camera to record flights.
A recently completed project was the "Mars Lander" that is six feet tall and uses a class M motor that produces 750 pounds of thrust. The rocket can travel from 2,500 feet to 2,800 feet high. Motors have alphabet ratings. An A is the smallest with power doubling on each successive letter.
It took eight years from concept to launch to get the Mars Lander off the ground. Cooper said he had a lot of trouble getting the leg design right and a lot of time was spent on getting the leg issue solved. The Mars Lander actually sat in the corner of his shop for about five years. Finally, he told his friend and fellow rocketeer Jay Bailey, they need to figure out the leg problem and get if flying of throw it away.
For two years, they spent an hour here and an hour there working on the rocked they finally got the leg issue solved. They have successfully flown the rocket twice. They have also put a Go Pro camera on the rocket to record their flight.
Cooper's Mars Lander was built following an Estes Rocket design that was about a foot tall. They up scaled the model six times to get the size they wanted. Changing the scale on an existing model rocket is a common practice.
His biggest rocket was 29 feet tall and was a one fifth scale model of a Saturn Five rocket. It could reach 3,500 feet, weighed 700 pounds and used a 32 feet cargo parachute to being it back to the ground. The parachute alone weighed 100 pounds.
The rockets use a solid fuel made of ammonium perchlorate, aluminum powder and a bonding agent. The burn rate on the fuel is not high enough to be classified as an explosive so rocketeers can use it without running into problems with Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
By Tripoli regulations, there is a remote electronic ignition that starts the fuel in the M model motor burning. Everyone has to be at least 600 feet away from the rocket when it the motor is started.
When the fuel runs out, the rocket has a parachute that brings it safely to the ground. The rocket gets so high, its hard to see. The wind affects rocket on both the trip up and down. Since it's hard to see when it gets done flying, Cooper has to use electronic tracking to locate the rocket when it comes down.
As with big rockets, the rockets Cooper uses have backup systems to assure a safe and successful flight.
Since rockets can get up into airplane airspace, those fights have to be cleared with the Federal Aviation Administration. If a rocket weighs over 3.5 pounds and gets above 1,200 feet it has to have an FAA waiver. Flights have to be at least five miles from an airport.
The Kloud Busters Board has to get a waiver from the FAA and they have to do it a year in advance. When they are ready to fly, they have to give the FAA 48 hours of advanced notice. A board member has to contact Wichita Air Traffic Control and inform them they want to activate their waiver. They also have to call back and tell them when they are done and want to deactivate the waiver.
Kloud Busters has a good relationship with the FAA. A couple of years ago when the club was using a waiver, they got a call from Wichita requesting permission to route their planes through the waiver area to avoid a thunderstorm in the area.
Cooper said Kloud Busters suspended the rocket activity so the planes could fly through the area and around the storm. Once the storm moved on, the waiver was reactivated and the rocket launches continued.
While they didn't have to give permission to fly through the area, Kloud Busters always work hand in hand with the FAA to maintain their good relationship. Besides suspending their shoot, Kloud Busters could also shoot at a lower altitude that didn't interfere with aircraft.
Besides shooting once a month, there is an Air Fest held over four days at the Argonia launch site. Rocketeers attend from 37 states and have attended from Australia, Canada and Denmark.
There is also a rocket challenge called the Argonia Cup for college teams. Teams participating in the last Argonia Cup include Kansas State University, Wichita State University, Oklahoma State University, University of Texas, University of Wyoming, Northwestern University and a team from Missouri.
Cooper said he had a great time with the university students. They were all engineering students and were really understood rocketry.
For more information on Kloud Busters, visit kloudbusters.org.