Project HALO Status Report

Sky Launch 1, Attempt 2 -- Weather Delay in Hampstead

Held on Saturday, May 3, 1997 in Hampstead, North Carolina

The following text was taken, with permission, from an article by Tim Pickens, Rocket Systems Lead, which was published in the May-June 1997 issue of the Southeastern Space Supporter, newsletter of HAL5.

A few weeks after our first attempt, it was time to go through the same preparation as we had before to pack for another attempt.  I thought that before we load the rocket into the truck, I’d better ask Al Wright to pressure check the rocket for leaks.  I was really concerned that the solid black powder plug that retains the nitrous flow could have taken on some humidity from the last trip and become very weak.

Al discovered that this was indeed the case, and a serious leak was present.  It would take about four hours to replace the plug with a new one.  It was about 7 PM when this was discovered -- and we wanted to leave the next morning.  The whole rocket from the payload down would have to be removed!  It was a dreaded task, but the team dove right in and did an outstanding job.  There is always a last minute gotcha in everything that we do.  I thought that we would really be ready this time.

Visit to a Small Town

Because of the prevailing winds changing, our next launch would be in a small town called Hampstead, along the coast of North Carolina.  Clay Sawyer and I went up a day early in order to get a jump on everything.  We would be less rushed this time around; we would get there and check out the new field and decide how everything would be arranged.  We decided to stay in a “roach motel” to save money.  We were all broke from our last go around, so it didn’t matter what the motel looked like.

Or so we thought!  The only room with a phone was reserved for some rocket nut named “Ronnie” who needed a phone for his Internet in order to tell the world that the “Rockoon Buffoons” had made it to Space.  Clay and I paid $4 extra to get the room with the better bathroom.

I checked in and headed straight for the room.  Clay beat me into the room because I had to go back to the office because I had a call.  It felt like I had my own phone because the manager let me walk around outside while I talked to our fearless leader back in Huntsville about the incoming weather.  You see, Clay and I hadn’t called home to see what the weather was doing, so we were out of touch!  This is a common occurrence for me in my daily life.

Night of the Twisters

Greg was on the phone telling me to get me and the rocket home ASAP!  The worst weather in 10 years was coming through and tornadoes were popping up everywhere.  There was no way that we were going to beat the storm of all storms before it hit Huntsville.  I couldn’t believe this was happening.  It was so nice and pleasant outside.  I thought that maybe this would all blow over and a launch could be done on Sunday or Monday; but the local fishermen told me that if we could launch a balloon in 15 to 20 mph winds, then it might be a good time to launch.

For those of you out there that aren’t familiar with launching balloons; you can’t even begin thinking about filling one of big balloons if the wind is slightly blowing.  Boy, was I hating balloons once again!  I thought that we would have already launched the rocket if it had been a ground launch.  I swallowed real hard and remembered that if we did launch from the ground, we would do good to hit 35,000 feet; a long way from the desired 50 nautical miles.  Clay and I decided that the next morning would be a good time to go out and scope out the new field and then head home.  We would first have to spend the night in the hotel-motel.

Tim and Clay’s Bogus Journey

After returning to my room that night, I noticed that Clay had laid claim to the only bed that was not going uphill by placing his sleeping bag on it.  I quickly checked under the sheets for whatever and it looked OK.  I went to cut on the air conditioner -- and there were no knobs.  I went to cut on the TV -- and there were no knobs.  I went to the front door -- and there was a knob (that was a close one!).  I went to brush my teeth, but the water taste exceeded the minty fresh taste of my toothpaste.  It smelled terrible; I was not going to take a shower because the smell of it was worst than the taste.  I decided that I would not reveal the secrets of this motel to the others as punishment for our long journey traveled for nothing.

The following morning we went out to view the field.  We stood there and said, “Well, here it is -- a field.”  I once again thought how much I hate the balloon aspects of our project, but it was a necessary evil to what we were trying to do.  Some good did come of the trip.  We did meet several local townsfolk, including owner Cary Bruton, HAM operator Bob Brandenhof, and Topsail Voice editor Steve Unger, who offered to store our U-Haul for us.  We also met a team of reporters from ABC News.  After meeting up with Gene and Gladys Young, Clay and I returned home and just barely missed the storms.

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