I had been building and flying model rockets since I was about 9 years old. By the time I was about 12, I had built and
flown every Estes rocket they made including the new D engines. I was getting bored and disgruntled with the altitudes
I could achieve with just the Estes rocket engines. Enejet engines had recently come out that offered alot more power but
were too expensive for me at the time.
What was I to do?
Estes would always send thier Basement Bomber "warning sheet" with every order.This sheet discribed different propellants
that kids were making and getting injured from. I decided that not all people could be blowing themselves up. Some of them
had to be succeeding.
I the back of Popular Mechanics and Popular Science magazines there was always an abundance of advertisements for making
your own rocket motors and, chemical suppliers. I thought, why not? After receiving several catalogs from these ads, I convinced
my folks to sign the permission slip so I could place an order from a company out of Utah called Westech.
A few weeks later I was in business! I had in my possession potassium nitrate, charcoal and sulfur along with tubes,
fireclay and fuse. Oooh!
I made an early decision not to try zinc sulfur and to stay away from perchlorates and chlorates because these were the
most common chemicals I read about in Basement bombers.
I procceeded to mix my first batch of propellant/gunpowder up in my bedroom. I then packed it in a tube with a dowel,
stuck a fuse in it and went outside. What a disappointment! It was hard to light and didn't work as good as a fireworks fountain.
All I got was some smoke and a puddle of dross. After several more attempts, nothing better. Well off to the library to learn
more about gunpowder.
So you have to grind these chemicals to a fine powder before mixing? Then granulate them by wetting and pressing under
tons of pressure. How was I, at 12 years old with a 25 cents allowance, supposed to accomplish that?
Well, I came up with some ideas. Now it was going to get scary! I would powder the chemicals by hitting them with a hammer.
(seperately) Added a small amount of water to just get the mixture to hold together when squeezed, then took the base of a
car jack and put it on a board cut into a disk that fit into a tin can. Now I was in business. Pretty ingenious I thought.
Now to try ramming it into a paper tube again. This time I was a bit more cautious when lighting my motor.
What an improvement, no dross, but still not what I would've called a rocket motor. It did perform about as good as a
fireworks fountain though. But still no thrust.
Maybe it was time to zinc sulfur. After receiving my next order and gathering up some used CO2 cartridges, I was ready
for another try. WOW, were they loud. Better them most firecrackers. But not rocket motors.
Time to try caramel candy propellant. Now this was going to be scary, but I was determained.Since I didn't have a double
boiler and mom wouldn't hear of me using hers for chemicals, I had to try something foolish. My first accident was just around
the corner and I had too much confidence and not enough common sense to see it coming.
I'd have to use a alcohol burner and a pan from my younger sisters Easy bake oven. If you've ever made caramel candy
propellant before, you know where this is going. My first batch was kind of a success, although I couldn't get it into the
paper casing quick enough before it started to harden. Man did this stuff burn good! Looks like I'd have to try again, but
this time heat up a metal pipe in moms oven. That way it would keep the gooey stuff from premuturely hardening. It worked
and I even got to push a stick into it to make a core. Now to screw on the end cap with a hole drilled for the nozzle.
I decided to light this one inside another pipe that I leaned against the picnic table.
Even without fins, this little bugger flew! It went about 200 feet before flipping and flopping all over. I did it! Now
for a bigger one. Back to my bedroom to make several more batches so I could fill a 1 inch pipe. (and still no problems by
not using a dbl boiler)
I was very anxious to get this next one made, so I thought I'd hold the KNO3/sugar mixture closer to the burner this
time. Besides it took forever to make each of the last two batches. What a mistake. It was just starting to melt when I saw
a reddish glow coming from the center and under the goo. It seemed like it took many seconds, but I'm sure it was less then
a single second. This glow increased, the goo started to rise like someone blowing a bubble with bubble gum. I was in aah
watching this. Then it dawned on me what was happening. Phoosh, and it was gone. Well not really. There were nickel sized
pieces of it stuck to everything and still burning! They were on the curtains, They were on the walls, the bed spread, the
carpet, you name it. The room was quicky filling with smoke. Was I in trouble!
Sorry to leave you hanging - I'll finish the story soon