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Meet Norfolk's very own rocket man

PUBLISHED: 17:54 21 May 2010 | UPDATED: 16:41 01 July 2010

Rod Stevenson

Rod Stevenson

Rob Garratt

Three, two, one… BOOM - move aside Elton John, and make way for Norfolk's very own Rocket Man. Meet explosives enthusiast Rod Stevenson, a 51-year-old science teacher, and head of the East Anglian Rocketry Society.

Three, two, one… BOOM - move aside Elton John, and make way for Norfolk's very own Rocket Man.

Meet explosives enthusiast Rod Stevenson, a 51-year-old science teacher, and head of the East Anglian Rocketry Society - or EARS for short.

Every month Mr Stevenson, or Rocket Rod as he likes to be known, meets up with scores of other rocketeers to, well, blow things up.

It's safe to say there's fireworks when this bunch get together - taking over a nearby rape field they let off around a rocket a minute, towering great things up to 15ft high, which go zooming off at the speed of sound, around two miles in the sky.

But Mr Stevenson would be the first to admit it costs a bomb, with one rocket worth up to £400 a pop, or bang.

The high-tech devices even come packed with their own parachutes, which fire electronically after the miniature-Apollos have finished their breakneck upwards fights, at speeds of up to 800mph. Some even feature electronic trackers to help recover the craft wherever they fall to earth.

The plastic and fibreglass contraptions are put together in Mr Stevenson's garage workshop, a veritable mad professor's haven crammed with tools and rocket parts.

But they rise so high the organisation even needs to get permission from the Civil Aviation Authority prior to launch - with fears that aircraft hidden by low cloud cover could be brought down by the club's devices.

Father-of-two Mr Stevenson has been in charge of Ears, a group of around 50 rocket-makers, for three years now after falling under their explosive spell 13 years ago.

“I made a tiny rocket of about two or three inches,” explains the Rocket Man, “and they just sort of got bigger and bigger.

“There's a buzz whenever they go off, even the very small ones, there's a buzz when you press the launch button - you don't know what's going to happen, where it will go, and whether it will come back down.”

It started as a way to inspire his pupils in Chemistry and Physics, and he still regularly uses rocket launches in his lessons at Norwich's Costessey High School.

Now it has grown into a lifestyle, and he even offers lessons to other teachers in how to use rockets in the classroom, as well as editing new internet posts about amateur rocketeering.

In 2003 Mr Stevenson was given the chance of a lifetime when he was awarded a weeklong placement with NASA, an organisation which was set up in the same year as his birth, 1958.

Mr Stevenson, who lives near Dereham with wife Melanie, a speech and language therapist, added: “They are real models that actually do something, not just sit on the mantelpiece shelf.

“They are the fastest models you can build legally in Britain, and from my point of view it's a brilliant way to get kids interested in science and engineering.”

Ears hold launches on the first Sunday of every month in Elsworth, near Cambridge. For more information about getting involved or attending as a spectator, visit www.ears.org.uk.

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