I miss you, Dave

Today is a good day to remember my best friend from junior high and high school, Dave Gregorek. He died 40 years ago in May, and today is the 40th anniversary of the last model rocketry contest he competed in, NARAM 11. After he died his dad gathered up his rockets, put the finishing touches on a few that he had not quite completed, and headed off to Colorado. There he entered Dave’s rockets posthumously. 

Dave was strong in many of the competition categories… he did well with payloads, often winning egg loft and “space guppy” contests. He was a terrific craftsman, and so did really well in the scale model competitions. But his best event, year in and year out, was parachute duration, which occurred today near Johnstown Pennsylvania… in a farm field just a few miles from where Flight 93 went down. 

The trick with parachute duration is to build a rocket that is very light, that will go very high, but will remain directly above the launch area until the chute deploys so that it can be tracked reliably. The parachute must open fully, be highly visible … and to avoid disqualification the entire rocket including parachute, body, and nose cone must be recovered. The time from launch to touchdown is measured, and the longest time wins.

I’ve thought about the Naram 11 event often, because in my mind’s eye it represents the last scene of a movie screenplay I hope to write about Dave some day. Forty years ago, Dr. Gregorek, Pat Daulton, and George Pantalos were there, hoping that Dave’s last effort would set a new world record in parachute duration. Three attempts are allowed in the event, and on their final attempt, my friends watched exultantly as Dave’s silk-bodied rocket rose straight and true … and the chute deployed perfectly. They followed it with binocs, and set off on foot, trying to keep up as they crossed fields and roads beneath the floating rocket. Pat was a cross country runner, and George played tennis, so they were both in excellent shape to keep up. Unfortunately, on this particular day a thermal caught the chute, and they watched helplessly as the wind took Dave’s bird higher and higher. Dr. G told me the three of them finally just stopped and saluted, as Dave’s rocket kept rising, and disappeared into a cloud.

Today at Naram 51, no doubt a new generation of model rocket builders are trying to learn the same skills Dave mastered before his untimely death. I hope some of them, or their fathers, take a moment to remember my best friend, and all that he contributed to those of us who knew him.

I’m still standing there, looking at the sky, and saluting you, Dave. I miss you.

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