Today at the Rocketbelt Convention, Hugh Neeson spoke about Bell Aircraft and Wendell Moore's career working on rocket planes, such as the X-2, before he came up with the Rocket Belt and its children.
Robert Roach, who was involved with Wendell Moore and his team in the early days of rocket belt development, told fascinating stories about tether tests, dealings with the Army, public demonstration flights, and film shoots.
Bell scrupulously referred to rocket belt "operators" rather than "pilots," because they didn't want the Army thinking you had to be a pilot to operate the thing. As part of one contract, they recruited volunteers from Buffalo area high schools to fly-- I mean operate-- the Rocket Belt, to show that any bright young man could be trained to handle it.
In fact, Harold Graham didn't have a pilot's license at the time he became the first person to operate the Belt in an untethered flight. So many of the guys he worked with were pilots that he decided to become one, too. He's still flying.
Harold Graham turned up wearing the black rubber suit he wore while operating the first Bell Rocket Belt. This was the sort firemen used to deal with harsh chemicals. It's in pretty terrible shape these days, with much of the rubberizing having flaked off the fabric, but it was an impressive entrance. He told stories, some illustrated with props such as a Rocketeer doll, and showed a film Tom Lennon had made for a progress report to the Army in 1961. Each step, some awkward, in the testing program was documented.
In an astonishing finish, Mr. Graham produced a baritone ukulele. He sang a song he had written himself about "My Rocket Belt Days." Brought down the house, I tell you.
In the afternoon, former Bell "operators" Peter Kedzierski and Bill Suitor (who is the most experienced rocketbelter) spoke. More on their stories another time.
Left to right: Eric Scott, Nelson Tyler, John Spencer, Bill Suitor, Peter Kedzierski, and Harold Graham lined up for a "reunion" photo, though I believe some of them had never met before. Right to left, they are in order according to earliest rocket belt flight. By this time, Mr. Graham had removed his rubber suit.
Eric Scott, of the Go Fast rocketbelt team, soared over the street in front of the museum.
Eric Scott just before touchdown. Sensible people are covering their ears. I, however, am working the camera with both hands, enduring the roar. It's not any worse than a Tevatron magnet quench, really.
Upon landing, he opened a valve to dump remaining hydrogen peroxide onto the pavement, and an assistant ran up with a bucket of water and splased it over the peroxide. Then the mob of TV cameramen and photographers closed in. He disappeared from view for a while. Eventualy, things cleared up. He was kind enough to pose with me.
Go Fast, by the way, is an energy drink. It is the only energy drink that has arranged for me to witness a rocket belt flight. At the moment, it is my FAVORITE energy drink. I wonder what it tastes like.
There will be another flight tomorrow on Third Street, immediately north of the big Seneca Casino.
Get to downtown Niagara Falls by 3:30 PM and you can see it.