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Local teen launches homemade rockets
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Seventeen-year-old Jacob Griffin’s hobby is a blast, literally. He is a rocket enthusiast who launches rockets thousands of feet in the air.
Griffin first became interested in rockets when he was in third grade after watching the movie “October Sky” with his grandfather.
“There was a humongous rocket they shot at the end of the movie,” said Jacob. “I thought that was so cool. I wanted to learn how to do that.”
Jacob decided to do some Internet research and learn how to shoot rockets himself. He figured if he saved up his money, he could pursue this new hobby.
He started with smaller rockets until his freshman year in high school when he started building and launching high-powered rockets.
“You can get on YouTube and watch videos all day and think that looks cool, that sounds cool,” said Jacob. “But when you actually get out there and you have those really big motors that shake the ground, that shake your chest and you can really feel it, it’s an adrenaline rush.”
Jacob spent 13 hours straight to build a yellow, fiberglass rocket he says is his favorite. He said that’s the least amount of time he has ever spent on a rocket.
“It’s a game of patience. If you have the patience to sit down and build one, you will have a really nice-looking rocket that you can show off at the launches,” he said.
Jacob has rockets over eight feet long. He is presently working on one that is 24 feet long. He says with the right motors, his newest rocket can climb 20,000 feet and do mach 1.6 with 6,000 pounds of thrust. The rocket motors are about two feet long and are about as round as his hand.
The motors and propellant to send his rocket to 20,000 feet can cost as much as $2,500. This does not include the cost of designing the rocket, which will cost around $500.
Most of the rockets Jacob launches cost $50 to $100. The hobby can be engaging regardless of your price range, Jacob says.
“You can start with the little finger-sized rockets that are maybe $1 or $2 to maybe $5 apiece, and can go on up to maybe $3,000 or $4,000 worth of motors.”
 Jacob pays for his hobby by being a soccer referee and working at Short Mountain Bible Camp. He says his grandparents provide the majority of his hobby money.
“They like to see me do this and succeed,” he says. His grandparents, along with his parents and his friends attend his launches.
Most of Jacob’s launches are held at Mid Tenn Turf in Summitville. Mid Tenn Turf allows the Huntsville Area Rocketry Association club to launch on one flat square mile of its sod farm. People come from as far away as Nashville and Huntsville to fly their rockets during these launches.
“Every time I go to a launch, I learn something new,” said Jacob. “The older men tell me what I should try or do differently if something goes wrong. It’s very rare I go to a launch and I haven’t learned something new.”
He has had rockets crash and had to dig them out of the ground with a shovel they go into the ground so far.
The rockets have flight computers. The program will tell it to let out a parachute. The rocket comes down around 60 mph. The parachute will let it come down at about 10 or 12 mph so it will not hurt anyone’s property.
The larger rockets have enough force they could go through an overhead flying airplane. Thus, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) must OK an area for rocket launching. Jacob says the FAA will give his club a two-hour clearance and not airplanes to fly overhead during a launch.
Southern Thunder will hold a regional launch in Summitville on June 23-24. There is no fee to watch the launches. There is a $20 per person fee to shoot anything low power.
Jacob says he and Ryan Mellons are the only teenagers in this area to have high-power certification from the National Association of Rocketry. Jacob’s certification is in the junior division because he is under 18.
Information on rocketry can be found at www.nar.org  Anyone can become a member and support the organization and fly small rockets or can become certified to fly high-powered ones.
Jacob’s future plans are to attend the University of Alabama in Huntsville to study aerospace engineering. He likes flight dynamics and seeing how rockets work. He hopes to build NASA rocket motors someday.