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Bonneville Salt Flats • Two participants in the Utah Rocket Club's Hellfire 18 outing that began Thursday offered decidedly different takes when asked why they enjoy shooting projectiles into the blue skies above the glistening white salt.
"It is rocket science," said Alan Overmoe of Salt Lake City.
"I'm an idiot," responded Mitch Adamson of South Jordan, moments before his "bounce rocket" took off and then bounced on the salt.
Club president Neal Baker of West Jordan said he has been launching model rockets as long as he can remember. He recalls sitting in the open trunk of his parents' car watching them lift off.
"I have never stopped," he said.
Though the club launches from a variety of spots throughout the year, Hellfire on the Salt Flats is the highlight. Baker expects 150 to 200 fliers to visit before the four-day shoot ends Sunday afternoon and said there could be more than 300 people out Saturday, the busiest day.
This 18th edition of the shoot almost didn't take place. Monsoon summer rains made reaching the site questionable, but things began to dry out. Spectators and participants should have no trouble as long as they follow the markers showing the way off Interstate 80, Exit Four, about four miles east of Wendover. No camping is allowed on the salt.
The smaller model rockets do not need to be certified but the more powerful ones must be approved by groups such as the National Association of Rocketry, who had representatives on hand. There are times when rocket launchers even contact the Federal Aviation Administration to clear air space up to 25,000 feet above the Salt Flats for launches.
Many of the rockets use ammonium perchlorate, a solid fuel not all that different from what is used in the space shuttle.
Though some managed to launch Thursday, high winds proved challenging.
Organizers say the Salt Flats are ideal for the activity because they are so, well, flat. That makes retrieving the sometimes expensive creations easier. Some of the more powerful rockets can, and do, get lost.
Overmoe, for example, lost one of his biggest rockets, called Sergeant Pepper, after a launch. He rented a helicopter to scour the flats but didn't find it.
One rocket he definitely does not want to lose is his "Thunder Ute," a large creation decorated with the University of Utah logo and named after the cannon used at Ute football games.
"There is also a BYU rocket," said Overmoe. "But of course it's smaller."
That rocket is owned by John Borget of Provo and is capable of reaching 2,800 feet.
Friday's launch promises to be interesting because it is "experimental day" with some of the more unusual rocketeer inventions on tap. But those who come to watch any of the four days might see rockets with multiple stages and in unusual shapes.
As Overmoe and Borget posed for a photo with their competing Ute and Cougar creations, Jim Yehle of Salt Lake joked that it was time for the rivals "to get out the light saber."
Eleven-year-old Kage Hall of Saratoga Springs was one of the first to launch Thursday. His rocket was in the shape of a king in a chess set. Randall Redd of Salt Lake created an entire rocket chess set a few years ago, built a huge pad and launched all 32 at the same time.
"Everybody thinks of rockets as a big metal flying machine," Hall said. "But you can make them different."
Rocket soar above the salt
P Hellfire 18 runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday and is free to spectators. For a $35 family fee, people can launch their rockets from a provided pad. To reach the Salt Flats site, follow markers off Interstate 80, Exit Four, about four miles east of Wendover.