Sunday, October 9, 2016

Model Rocketry on TV


I'm pretty convinced that rocketry is a strong and growing hobby, even if those outside the obsessive community of rocketeers remain unaware of its very existence. It seems that model rockets had a much higher public profile back during the 1960s, '70s and '80s. While the hobby has never disappeared, and today seems to be having a new Golden Age, lay persons have largely forgotten about it.

But both model rocketry and high power rocketry have made several appearances on television recently, mostly in various commercials. It's fun to see when these things sneak into commercials and popular culture.

Here are a few examples I've come across in the last few months.

TD Ameritrade: Moments That Matter

 A girl and her grandfather launch a model rocket at the beginning of this commercial for personal investment services.

Mazda Summer Drive Celebration

This time, a father and son launch a rocket together, and apparently it goes so far they need to chase it down in the car.

Honda Ridgeline: A Car for Everyone

This truck commercial ends in the desert with a high power rocket launch.

Ford Drive 4 UR School

This one is by far my favorite. This commercial for Ford's community fundraising program prominently features a TARC team going through the process of designing, building, and test launching rockets.

The X-Files

Fox' recent miniseries revival of The X-Files had an episode with a flashback sequence in which Agent Fox Mulder launches model rockets with his son. It's a lovely depiction of a sunset launch. There's no video clip to post here, but here are a few stills.

Mulder prepares an Estes Mercury Redstone. It's a challenging build - Fox must have some serious modeling skills.

Freaks and Geeks

Finally, an example which isn't recent, but I wanted to include it here, because it's really great. The 1999-2000 show Freaks and Geeks, created by Paul Feig with Judd Apatow as executive producer, looks at the lives of some high school students - a group of "burnout" kids - the freaks - and a group of socially awkward kids who obsessively love things like Steve Martin movies, playing Dungeons and Dragons, and the high school AV Club. It's a touching comedy that takes a realistic look at the lives of 1980's high school kids without ever getting too mean.

In Episode 7, a new girl comes to school, and befriends Sam, Neil and Bill, the geeks. They invite her out to launch model rockets after school.

I really wish there were a video clip of this online, because it's a really fun scene. It not only faithfully depicts the realism of kids launching model rockets (as the actors are really doing the flying), it also really shows the joy of a launch.

Here is an interesting moment of unrealism which only a sharp-eyed model rocketeer would notice. See how Bill's Mercury Atlas appears to have no fins?

Check out the recovery system. A moment earlier, the shock chord was stuffed into the rocket - but it's not attached to the nose cone. The loop in the nose cone isn't even cut out.

This appears to be a short cut for filmmaking purposes. But the rocket never gets far enough to go unstable - or to come down with no parachute.

...and CATO. Poor Bill!
I had seen Freaks and Geeks years ago, and it was one of my favorite shows. But when I recently re-watched it, I was totally surprised by this scene. The first time I saw the show was years before I got into rocketry myself, so I made no note of it! Check it out, if you can. It's a great show.

* * *

Model rocketry has made a number of appearances in movies and TV over the years, including some notable moments in shows like The Simpsons and The Big Bang Theory. But The Simpsons is a cartoon, and in The Big Bang Theory, you never see a launch - the rockets are just the basis for a few rather unrealistic jokes. It's always nice to see the hobby represented, but I've chosen to focus here on more accurate depictions of model and high power rocket launches. It's more exciting to me to see the real thing.

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  1. I just watch the episode of Freaks n Geeks "Carded and Disxarded" on Netflix. It was a shame to see that beautiful Mercury Atlas go up in flames 🔥 😥

    1. True, but the episode really shows the joy of kids launching rockets.

      Heck, I never did it as a kid, but it reminded me of my first time launching rockets.

      Model rocketry comes up a few times in Freaks and Geeks. I loved the show when I first saw it, but seeing it again after becoming a rocket nut, I had a new appreciation for certain aspects of the show. It was a terrific series that really captured something about what it was like growing up in the late 1970s and early 80s, and what it's like being an awkward high school kid.

      Too bad it didn't last more than a season.