'Large and dangerous rocketships' are fun and learning combined for enthusiasts

A time-honored hobby wants to survive in technology age
Posted at 5:17 PM, Oct 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-30 18:29:28-04

LORAIN COUNTY, Ohio — Driving west out of Cleveland, the city skyline fades into leafy treetops, angled rooflines morph to rounded silo covers and backyards become farmland. It's a typical and expected transition in any state. The farther away a person gets from the city center, the quieter the world becomes.

Except when driving past John Born's farm in Lorain County.

"Sounds like a jet engine taking off on the bigger ones," he said.

Born's family purchased the piece of land that butts up against the interstate around the turn of the last century.

He plants beans and corn and raises dairy cows and goats. And on a few Saturdays, if the weather is right, he plays host to a small group of model rocketry enthusiasts.

"I started in the hobby when I was fourteen," said Chris Pearson, an original rocket man. "I thought it was the most exciting thing in the world."

Enamored by the hobby at a young age, Pearson has been building, selling and creating rockets of all sizes since 1968.

"And with the exception of a short hiatus for college, I've been in it ever since," he said, standing in his basement surrounded by more than 3 dozen rockets.

Pearson is part of the Northern Ohio chapter of the Tripoli Rocketry Association. The group runs the launch days in Born's fields.

Over the last several months, good weather meant more flying time for the group.

Rocketry was a popular hobby for decades. Now, the group standing in the field gets a little smaller and a little older every year.

"So I'm just hoping that we get the younger people involved in rocketry," Pearson said. "It's important to get young people involved today just for the continuation of the hobby."

And on one Saturday in June, hope hopped out of the car.

"I like watching them fly," said 8-year-old Eva Taran. Sitting in a folding chair along the edge of a dirt track that runs down the middle of Born's fields, Eva watched dozens of other rockets leave the launchpads. She was there with her mom and dad, Peter.

The father-daughter duo have been building rockets since Eva and the rockets were the same size. Before group launches, the two spend time in their basement constructing wings, motors, and parachutes together.

"We spent a lot of work on it," Eva said looking at her completed rocket.

One they were working on together weighed about six pounds.

"So, when we go into the basement she'll mix epoxy, and hold stuff and sand fins," Peter Taran said.

There are barriers that could keep future rockets grounded. The hobby can be expensive, finding space to launch rockets can be difficult and there is a certification process to fly larger, more powerful models. Despite that, Taran said this hobby is good for his daughter.

It gives them time together but it's also a gateway to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning. That's why, for a few weekends in the summer, the group gets together to send their hobby handiwork into the sky.

"So to see that on the pad and then to see it all fly and everything worked right, and you get to walk it back undamaged, it's great," Pearson said. "Everyone's happy."

And, every now and then, a hand delivery from Born when a rocket goes too far afield.