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Rocket Trails
November/December 1963 American Modeler

Nov/Dec 1963 American Modeler
November/December 1963 American Modeler Cover - Airplanes and RocketsTable of Contents

These pages from vintage modeling magazines like Flying Aces, Air Trails, American Modeler, American Aircraft Modeler, Young Men, Flying Models, Model Airplane News, R/C Modeler, captured the era. All copyrights acknowledged.

In the same manner that radio control model aircraft are today under scrutiny by government regulating agencies (DHS, FBI, et al), model rocketry suffered various forms of discrimination in its early days of widespread popularity. Per this 1963 article from American Modeler magazine, "The status of model rocketry under the law has often been a questionable one in several sections of the country. Our hobby has been variously labeled as fireworks, handling and discharging explosives, public nuisance (which covers a multitude of sins), disturbance of the peace, a hazard to aircraft in flight, dangerous to persons and property on the ground, and 'dangerous killer.' As the record shows it is none of these." The more things change, the more they stay the same; ignorance is NOT bliss.

Rocket Trails

by Harry (Old Rocketeer) Stine

Dennis Guill, 16, New Canaan, Connecticut - Airplanes and Rockets

Dennis Guill, 16, New Canaan, Connecticut, follows model aloft with tracking telescope at L.G. Hanscom Field, Mass., during NAR meet. (USAF photo)

The status of model rocketry under the law has often been a questionable one in several sections of the country. Our hobby has been variously labeled as fireworks, handling and discharging explosives, public nuisance (which covers a multitude of sins), disturbance of the peace, a hazard to aircraft in flight, dangerous to persons and property on the ground, and "dangerous killer." As the record shows it is none of these.

State and local laws treat model rocketry differently from state to state and even from town to town. The way that civic officials and John Law look upon model rocketry can be generally classified as follows:

1.  Look the other way. Certain places may have laws about fireworks, explosives, public nuisance, etc. Officials there know that some model rocketry is going on and that our little birds are streaking up into the blue. But said officials have other things on their minds like juvenile thugs, murderers, public and/or private scandals and similar items to keep them plenty busy. They are therefore much too occupied to bother the model rocketeers - unless some joker in town blows his silly head off with a home-made bomb. Or until some do-gooder complains about "those wild young men flying dangerous things out in that field a mile from our house." Even though there is no law that sez specifically "no model rockets," the officials can always dig something out of the statute books and use it to bring model rocketry to a halt.

2.  We just heard about it. In this situation, model rocket engines have been sold in local stores for years. People have been happily buying Jetex engines for model airplanes, plus pre-packaged powerplants for their modrocs, and they have been safely flying same all over the place. Then some official happens to see this going on. He remembers that there is a law somewhere that says you can't do it. So he stops you and slaps a general ban on the hobby.

Canard B/G design by Old Rocketeer - Airplanes and Rockets

Canard B/G design by Old Rocketeer features low wing loading and moderate wing sweep. Uses engine casing jerk system to actuate canard surfaces.

Paul Hans' canard B/G was single-staged and prototype of Centuri "Acro-Bat." - Airplanes and Rockets

Paul Hans' canard B/G was single-staged and prototype of Centuri "Acro-Bat." Latest versions of this ship are two-staged.

3.  The Flat No. Such places have laws on the books that say in no uncertain words, "no model rockets because they are dangerous."

4.  Yes, providing ... In this place, you can fly model rockets or otherwise engage in the hobby providing you have a permit to do so. Said permit costs you so many dollars per year. It can be revoked at any time for any cause. It gives you permission to do something, but does not mean that the town or state provides you with safety inspection, flying areas, or anything else. It is a matter of control, they say, so that they will know who is flying or possessing model rockets and so that they will have the ability to yank the permission if something goes wrong.

5.  So What? In this lovely place, there are no laws agin' model rocketry, the officials couldn't care less, and people buy and fly to their hearts' content.

6.  Yes, You May. This is very rare. Said place has on its statute books a law saying that model rocketry is definitely permitted and encouraged providing that certain reasonable safety rules are followed.

In the United States, model rocketeers run up against all of these, a combination of them, or variations on the theme. Often, when you go into the local city hall to ask if you can fly, the official you ask will say NO simply because he doesn't know what you are talking about, and therefore saying NO gets him off the hook; he avoids responsibility by negative action.

In the past year, there has been a great deal of activity on the legal side of model rocketry. I want to report some of these things to give an indication of what we may expect from time to time not only from civic officials but also from legislative bodies.

In 1962, General Counsel Richard Shaffer of the NAR drew up the basis for a permissive, educational state statute on model rocketry which could be used by NAR members and model rocketeers in various states who wished to take some sort of action through the state representatives to get a good law on the books where needed. Dick called upon the extensive technical known-how available in the NAR and came up with what the NAR calls "The Uniform Code of Model Rocketry." This document was designed to served as a guide for NAR Senior Members and other adult citizens in working with their state governments. It was not made available generally to youngsters, who are not taxpayers or voting citizens and therefore do not have much voice in political affairs because of the simple fact that nobody listens to them. Perhaps sad, but very true. And when dealing with such things as these, you have to be quite realistic.

Gordon Mandell, NAR#1441, one of the winners of the North Nassau Zone Science Congress - Airplanes and Rockets

Gordon Mandell, NAR#1441, one of the winners of the North Nassau Zone Science Congress (New York) and participant in the New York. Exposition of Technology '63. Gordon, still in high school, has become one of the nation's experts in the theory and design of B/G.

Meanwhile, the roof caved in in California. The State Fire Marshal's office took a look at the California Fireworks Law which defines a "dangerous firework" as any rocket or any object which "ascends into the air with a discharge of matter." Although they did not stop jet aircraft from taking off at Los Angeles International Airport and did not lift a finger to do anything about Jetex engines, they immediately stopped shipment of all model rocket engines into California, confiscated any model rocket engine they could get their hands on, and called upon the FBI to help them stop shipments. When California model rocketeers went into orbit about this, the Fire Marshal's office stated that they were not at all against model rocketry, and that there were perfectly reasonable rules which existed to permit the hobby.

Notwithstanding the fact that something more than $1,500 per year in licenses was to be required from each model rocket manufacturer who wanted to ship his products into the state, any individual who wanted to fly a model rocket was reportedly required to fulfill the following conditions:

1.  Obtain a Pyrotechnic Operator's License, Second Class.

     Cost: $5.

2.  Post bond or insurance for $25,000.

3.  Obtain a Permit for Public Display of Fireworks costing

     $5 for each rocket.

4.  Have an approved launching ground with a concrete

     bunker or revetment at least 50 yards from the launcher.

When an adult with over a year's' experience in model rocketry applied for an operator's license, it is reported that he was told that he did not have the requisite experience. When he asked where he could get it, he was sent to a local amateur rocket club. Said amateur rocket club told him that they were not flying at all because they had not been able to obtain insurance that satisfied the requirements. So our harried adult checked and found that his personal liability insurance policy was more than adequate. I understand that he went into a local hobby store, bought a Jetex engine with fuel, and then went out and watched a group of model aviators fly with Jetex.

At this writing, the model rockets are grounded in California, the state where Douglas, Lockheed, North American, General Dynamics/Astronautics, and Aerojet are making and testing nearly all the rockets made in the USA for the armed services and NASA. Model rocketeers are unhappy. So are science teachers. And so are a group of adults led by Larry Holliday in Whittier, who are trying to get the whole schmear straightened out. In the meantime, the situation isn't helping things a bit ... a kid got killed in Los Angeles trying to make his own engines ... maybe because he couldn't buy the mild pre-packaged ones we use and advocate.



Posted August 19, 2022
(updated from original post on 6/24/2013)

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Even during the busiest times of my life I have endeavored to maintain some form of model building activity. This site has been created to help me chronicle my journey through a lifelong involvement in model aviation, which all began in Mayo, MD ...

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