Washington Aerospace Club
National Association of Rocketry Section 578
Tripoli Rocketry Association Prefecture 41

Fire in the Sky

The History of Fire In The Sky
    by Scott Binder

FITS officially started in 2000, after we (Scott and Rose Binder) had a launch in 1999 on the farm in Lowden, WA to see if there was any interest. We had about 30 people show up, so we advertised it as an official NAR launch in 2000, and had about 50 people show up. Each year, it grew dramatically - 190 people in 2001, 225 in 2002, and over 350 people in 2003. So, officially, FITS 2004 is the 4th launch, but unofficially, it's the 5th year for the event.

Washington High Power was formed in 2001 to be the official sponsor of the event, and held monthly launches that year. In 2002, about 4 launches were held, and in 2003, FITS was the only event held by Washington High Power.

Fire in the Sky was named by Liz Quigg in 2000, after we realized a launch of this size needed a name! Most people have now come to know the launch simply as FITS.

There were over 900 launches at last year's event, which was a two-day (editor's note: turned into a four-day) launch in Lowden. The event featured a concessions company, and live entertainment by the band Trespasser.

After neighboring houses began being built within safe limits for the launch in Lowden, the decision was made to cancel future FITS launches until a suitable site could be located - enter Washington Aerospace Club, who are the sponsoring club of FITS 2004, with the blessings of the Binder family.

In Search of a New Launch Site
    by Robert Nech

I joined Washington Aerospace Club in late 2002 and learned about the Fire In The Sky launches held annually in Lowden, Washington and that this was going to be the last year for it being held there.

I started looking at the FAA sectional airspace map for areas that I thought might be candidates for possible areas of searching. I traveled to many parts of Western Washington looking and looking but two problems existed. Too many trees and the airspace was too busy to allow anything for a waiver of 10,000 feet. I kept asking members of WAC if this or that was possible and they said no. So I began looking at Eastern Washington.

I discovered that the north central part of Washington near Chelan had very few airways over it. I noticed that the town of Waterville had an airport that might serve as a launch site. Several Tripoli clubs fly from small airports around the nation. I asked Jim Wilkerson about the airspace in this area. He was of the opinion that a decent wavier could be acquired. Andrew MacMillen also mentioned this area as a possibility during our discussions on the club email list.

I sent an email to the airport manager and received a reply from Pat Haley the Port of Douglas County director in Wenatchee. I told him about who we were and what we wanted to do.

Kris Hull and I traveled to Wenatchee on our way to FITS2003 to visit Pat in Wenatchee and make a stop in Waterville to get an idea of the layout of the land. He was very excited about our search for a new launch site and suggested Mansfield airport since they shut it down once a year on a weekend for motorcycle drag races. We left and headed to Waterville. I realized that Waterville would not work since the airport was so close to town and that it also had a major crop dusting facility next to it. The airport manager was pretty excited about the idea of a rocket launch there. I knew that the airport at Mansfield was right next to town so I decided to skip it and head on to FITS.

After FITS2003 I became busy with work and put my search on hold. Then in the middle of the summer Scott Bowers mentioned to me that there might be a launch site southwest of Olympia. He worked on it and worked on it but was lost due to some guys igniting fireworks on their property, scaring their horses which resulted in injuries that cost the family a bit of money.

I had saved a previous email earlier in the year by someone on the email list that posted one about the Port of Moses Lake being a competitor in a bid to be a launch and landing site for the VentureStar project. This was cancelled in March of 2001.

I contacted a representative at the Port of Moses Lake and proposed my launch site search to them. They were very gung ho about it and said that they had 30,000 acres of land northwest of the their airport that might work. I took this info and gave it to Kent Newman to follow up on. In the end it did not work out due to the air patterns over that piece of land.

Fast forward to mid-January 2004 and I realize that we still don't have launch site for FITS. Gotta change that quick. I had this feeling that the area around Mansfield should be the place and third time is a charm. I searched out a website for the town of Mansfield and contacted their web designer/administor, Adam Foged. We emailed back and forth with my pitch to have a launch there. I gave him the WAC and NAR websites and sent him a fair amount of pictures from previous launches. He posted a news article about us and our search for a new launch site on the town website.

The next day I received a call from the mayor of Mansfield, Tom Snell. I immediately sent this news to Kent Newman to follow up with the mayor. Tom was very interested in hosting us because he viewed the Rocket Challenge on the Discovery Channel back in November. Kent Newman worked out the airspace with FAA, Navy and Air Force. The reason for contacting the Navy is due to their training routes in that area for their bombers that fly at 400 knots 350 feet about the ground. Additionally, the Air Force practices low level cargo drops in the Mansfield area. A waiver was approved by the FAA for 17,000 feet AGL with windows to 25,000 feet. This was much better than I expected because we could only fly up to 10,000 feet in Lowden.

About 5 or 6 weeks before Memorial Day weekend a test launch was done there just west of Mansfield at the old snowmobile track. The current (2004) president of WAC, Jim Pommert, had this to say about that test launch:

"In addition to Scott Bowers, Jim Wilkerson, Bill Munds, and John Hawkins three other fliers put up rockets. Paul Hawkins had the first flight of the launch, Kent Newman put up a few flights and I also got a couple birds in the air. The final addition is just one of completeness. WAC was busy getting launches planned for the proposed site at Mansfield when Robert proposed that we carry on the Fire in the Sky name for a Memorial Day launch. The name might have disappeared otherwise."

I also asked Jim how he comtributed to making Mansfield a reality since he is the current president of our organization.

"I found great people willing to do all the work, and do it well! That was really the most important thing that I did. Scott and Kent and John and Andrew and all the rest did a whole lot of work in a very short time to pull this thing off. My part was just to stay out of their way and pass information around as it became available."

Beyond that I made a couple preliminary trips to Mansfield before the test launch including a meeting with Tom Snell, the mayor. But that was of minor importance and was done mostly so that we could get an announcement out on NWrocketry ASAP before the launch. And I made a couple trips to WHIP country to purchase/ pickup old WHIP launch equipment. So not much really."

FITS2004 was a success and look forward to many more of them.

I would like to thank the following people who helped make Mansfield the premier launch site of the PacNW.

  1. Kris Hull - for going out there with me to initially investigate the general area and talk with people.
  2. Pat Haley - for suggesting Mansfield as a possible launch site.
  3. Adam Foged - for posting a news article on their website about our launch site search.
  4. Mayor Tom Snell - for responding to our search and going way out of his way to make FITS 2004 a success.
  5. The residents of Mansfield - for their support.
  6. Kent Newman - for his excellent diplomatic skills talking with the Mansfield leaders, coordinating flight space with the Air Force and Navy and obtaining FAA clearance.
  7. Kent Newman, Jim Wilkerson, Scott Bowers, John Hawkins, Paul Hawkins, and Bill Munds for bring their rockets out to the test launch to prove the viability of Mansfield as a launch site.
  8. Scott Binder - for allowing us to carry on the Fire In The Sky name, creating the FITS2004 logo, and vinyl graphic signage for the launch.
  9. Andrew MacMillen - for putting all the FITS2004 info together on the WAC website.
  10. Jim Pommert - for coordinating everything successfully.

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