Video: Norfolk teacher builds 300mph rocket in his garage

Rod Stevenson with his V2 rocket at the Ormiston Victory Academy and his level 3 certificate. Picture: Denise Bradley Rod Stevenson with his V2 rocket at the Ormiston Victory Academy and his level 3 certificate. Picture: Denise Bradley

Saturday, May 17, 2014
10:01 AM

When his newest rocket blasted more than 2,500ft into the sky, rocket Rod was over the moon.

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Rocket factfile

V2 rockets were used by the Germans in the late Second World War.

They could travel faster than the speed of sound, so there would be no noise before they hit.

A total of 30 hit Norwich during the Second World War - as along with London it was within range of the launch sites on the continent.

Rod Stevenson’s one-fifth scale V2 weighed in at more than five stone when built, including fuel and the parachute.

It is powered by the chemical compound ammonium perchlorate - which is used in space shuttle boosters.

The mini-V2 is 10ft-tall, can do 0-250mph in less than 20ft and reach 300.8mph.

His V2 soared to 2,541ft when launched this month.

It was built from wood, cardboard and fibreglass.

For Costessey science teacher Rod Stevenson had landed the highest qualification that UK rocket-fanatics can achieve with his latest Stevenson’s rocket.

The 56-year-old, who works at Ormiston Victory Academy, built a 300mph V2 rocket for the feat - one fifth the size of the real thing.

He had to find a field in Cambridgeshire well away from flight paths and notify the Civil Aviation Authority before launch - for fear the rocket could knock a plane out of the sky.

And after a nervous countdown, the V2 soared to 2,541ft and Mr Stevenson achieved the level three qualification from the UK Rocketry Association.

Rod Stevenson with his V2 rocket, and two of his students, Will Blackmore, 12, and Kimberley Quinnell, 12, at the Ormiston Victory Academy. Picture: Denise BradleyRod Stevenson with his V2 rocket, and two of his students, Will Blackmore, 12, and Kimberley Quinnell, 12, at the Ormiston Victory Academy. Picture: Denise Bradley

Based on the size of motor in the rocket, it is the highest rocket qualification that can be achieved in the UK and only a handful of people have done so.

“There was a great deal of pride as it lifted off,” said Mr Stevenson. “When the parachutes came out it was even better!

“I’ve seen rockets of that size and bigger make big holes in the ground as something’s gone wrong.

“It was a great deal of joy and relief that mine didn’t.”

Rod Stevenson with his V2 rocket at the Ormiston Victory Academy. Picture: Denise BradleyRod Stevenson with his V2 rocket at the Ormiston Victory Academy. Picture: Denise Bradley

Norfolk’s own rocketman ignited his enthusiasm for explosives around 15 years ago.

“I had just qualified as a teacher after years in the IT industry,” he recalled. “I saw a magazine advert that said ‘build rockets and enthuse your pupils’ so I rang them.”

He constructs the high-speed contraptions in his garage, where he keeps a collection of 14 rockets - including one capable of reaching space.

Building the V2 took Mr Stevenson four weeks, working every evening and most weekends and costing almost £2,000.

“Don’t tell my wife,” he joked.

Students know him as rocket Rod, but he has taken time out from his inspirational rocket lessons so they do not lose their out-of-this-world novelty value - with a view to start afresh next year.

He is a member of the East Anglian Rocketry Society (EARS) - the biggest rocketry group in the UK - and has previously been on a weeklong placement with NASA.

He works as a science, maths and IT teacher three days per week, and spends the rest of his time building his own business - touring schools to teach children and teachers about rockets and outer space.

He said everyone had a launch that did not quite go to plan.

Recalling his own such moment, he said: “The parachute didn’t deploy and it came down sideways and blew a fin off.

“But a couple of hours with glue and it was flying again.

“If you can’t afford to crash it, don’t fly it.”

And he said health and safety is not an issue, with a tome of guidelines.

“You make sure you’re a long way away before you press the button,” he smiled. “And we’ve plenty of insurance.”

He said his next challenge is to drag race his V2 against another of a similar size and build.

For details about Mr Stevenson’s rocket lessons, see www.spaceschool.org.uk

Do you have a Costessey story? Email samuel.russell@archant.co.uk

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