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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Nashua session will ponder how to build a model rocket to go Mach 6

NASHUA – There are flying model rockets that can be sent up a few hundred feet from a parking lot or back field, and then there are the flying model rockets that Jason Nadeau builds.

“I’ve been doing this for 20 years,” said Nadeau, 27, while showing off a few of his creations in The Telegraph’s parking lot. (Just showing them, not flying them – alas.) ...

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NASHUA – There are flying model rockets that can be sent up a few hundred feet from a parking lot or back field, and then there are the flying model rockets that Jason Nadeau builds.

“I’ve been doing this for 20 years,” said Nadeau, 27, while showing off a few of his creations in The Telegraph’s parking lot. (Just showing them, not flying them – alas.)

They include a handmade rocket, about 3 feet tall, that has flown 6,000 feet up, a larger cousin that went up 9,000 feet, and the remnants of another rocket – actually, just the 5-foot aluminum casing of an N-level rocket engine used as part of the rocket body. It flew to an estimated altitude of 100,000 feet at a speed of perhaps Mach 4 over the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, before being shredded by the travails of supersonic travel.

That wasn’t Nadeau’s rocket, but he wants to make use of it – not for a solo launch but as part of an effort to go Mach 6, more than 4,500 mph. That hypersonic speed limit is far beyond anything flown by any amateur.

“I feel that doing it in stages will give us the best shot,” Nadeau said.

On Thursday evening, he will present his idea – plus his 5/16th-scale Patriot missile, which is 9½ feet long and cost about $6,000 to make – at MakeIt Labs in Nashua.

That “open-access workshop,” or makerspace, has equipment he’ll need, such as a lathe, but more importantly, it has lots of members with expertise in electronics needed for altimeters, accelerometers and other equipment, and aeronautics. (“Stability is everything,” Nadeau said.)

The MakeIt Labs members also have lots of enthusiasm, especially when dealing with a difficult engineering project that involve smoke, flame and noise.

The project will probably take 4 or 5 years, he said, and will require several test flights of intermediate-sized rockets.

Nadeau, who works at Kase Printing in Hudson, grew up in Dracut, Mass., where he still lives. He encountered model rockets at age 7 when his father took him to see the flight of a small kit rocket made by the company Estes, and then to follow-up flights put on by the Central Massachusetts Spacemodeling Society.

“There were big flames, dense smoke, it was really loud. I said, ‘Dad, I want to get into this,’ ” he said.

Over the years, he has gotten federal certification to handle bigger and bigger engines – from A engines, barely the size of a battery, to the J engine that he carries for educational purposes, which is about the size of an automobile shock absorber, and up.

Certification involved home visits from federal agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; since the 9/11 terror attacks, regulations on model rockets have become much stricter.

Nadeau can tell stories about run-ins with nervous officials. That includes the policeman who pulled him over at 3 a.m. on the New Jersey Turnpike and made him lay out his entire Patriot missile, including hundreds of feet of cord holding the 14-foot-wide recovery parachute, to show that it wasn’t dangerous.

“By the time I was done, there were six cops there, admiring it. They were posing for pictures, holding it,” he said.

Another time, he said, he launched a rocket from a parking lot that he didn’t know was near a military base, deliberately making it blow up at the top of trajectory.

“I turned around, and there were about 6 Humvees. Guys leaped out with M-16s, in full camouflage gear, and the sergeant shouts, ‘Who’s in charge?’ Everybody pointed at me,” he said.

Again, he said, rocketry’s appeal won the day: A follow-up launch convinced the military that he was legitimate, as well as entertaining everybody.

Aside from his printing job, Nadeau also owns a graphic design firm, Midnight Designs; sells model rocket fuel; and teaches rockets to kids at summer camp.

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or dbrooks@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Brooks on Twitter (@GraniteGeek).