The sound of a “five, four, three, two, one” countdown followed by a loud “whoosh” on the Bonneville Salt Flats is a sure sign the Utah Rocket Club’s annual Hellfire Launch is well under way.
The free event, which has drawn 125 rocketeers and dozens of spectators, opened Thursday and runs through Sunday afternoon, near where race cars will soon be on the salt for Speed Week a few miles northeast of Wendover off Exit 4 on Interstate 80.
“Saturday will be a fantastic day,” said Alan Overmoe, press relations director for the club. “We’ll be launching until about 5 p.m.”
Spectators are advised to bring binoculars, hats, chairs, shades, sunscreen and drinking water. Markers on the salt help show the route to the launch site, about five miles off the end of the pavement.
Some of the rockets are huge. One group, for example, will be flying a rocket that is 13 feet tall and weighs about 100 pounds. It is capable of reaching heights of 17,000 feet, so high that the club has to get a waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration so air space can be cleared when it is launched.
Club president Jed Marti said the Bonneville Salt Flats are an ideal place for model rocket enthusiasts, especially this year when most of the flat desert areas the club usually uses for launches are off limits due to high fire danger.
“It’s hard to get anything out here to burn,” he said Friday. “It is a beautiful place when you get out here. You can see for miles in all directions. You have a good view of all of the rockets. It’s good and warm. Sunrise and sunset have been incredible.”
Club member Neil Baker said the group has 95 active members.
“Most of the members of our club have done rocketry as kids or are still kids,” he said. “This is something they really enjoyed as a kids and it’s a continuation of their hobby. For me, it’s the building and designing. But, for a lot of people, it’s the actual launch and seeing their creations fly.”
The unusual nature of the salt flats and the ability to launch rockets thousands of feet into the air draw rocketeers from all over the country. According to Overmoe, rockets range from simple one-footers to 15-footers using complex high-tech systems. When one of the big ones lifts off, spectators standing hundreds of feet away can still feel the heat and the ground shake.
Between launches, spectators can see the rockets or visits with their builders.
For more information, go to www.uroc.org.
When • Runs daily through Sunday. Launches begin about 9 a.m., depending on weather.
Where • Bonneville Salt Flats near Wendover (Take Exit 4 on I-80 and follow easy-to-spot signs.)
Bring • Binoculars, hats, chairs, shade, lots of sunscreen and plenty of drinking water.
Admission • Free
More information • www.uroc.org/