Mt. Pleasant area model rocket maker ignites online, mail-order business
By A.J. Panian
Published: Wednesday, May 1, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Walt Senoski's massive model rocket collection includes one called the “Pterosaur” — a crimson-colored glider he long ago named after the prehistoric, flying reptile known for its wide wing span and long neck.
When people witness the aerodynamic device as it is launched skyward with only a frosty white afterburn left in its wake, Senoski said, they rarely question his choice of moniker.
“When you hear those oohs and ahhs, you know they're hooked and you know you've got a good one,” said Senoski, 77, his eyes gleaming like a toddler headed to the toy store.
“This Pterosaur is more than 25 years old, and it's been on more than 100 flights. I've traveled everywhere with it,” he said.
Senoski once even appeared with the device on Good Morning America while flying it at a meet with the Pearl River Rocket Club in Pearl River, N.Y.
“It can climb to 1,200 feet. It's also been in a lot of crashes, but it's still around,” he said.
So is Senoski, along with an ever-growing fleet of “Kopter Rotor Recovery Rockets,” three patented brands of model flying crafts he is selling again via mail order out of his Mt. Pleasant Township home, where he lives with his wife, Judy.
“I saw these things in the garage, and I just didn't know what it all involved,” said Judy Senoski regarding her husband's rocket collection. “It's something about my husband I didn't know.”
For nearly two decades, Senoski had shelved what he calls his favorite hobby and, more notably, a prior source of income, due to various issues concerning finances and his health.
All that changed when Senoski got a telephone call last fall from Art Nestor.
In 1986, Nestor founded Pittsburgh Space Command, Sect. No. 473 of the National Association of Rocketry.
It is billed as “the oldest and largest sport rocketry organization in the world,” according to its website, nar.org.
A 60-year-old resident of Zelienople, Nestor served for several years as the president of the association's Pittsburgh chapter before assuming the duties of editor of the group's bimonthly newsletter, Team Pittsburgh.
While searching for a feature for the publications January/February 2013 edition, Nestor learned of Senoski from Francis Graham, professor emeritus in physics at Kent State University.
Graham, who was first introduced to Senoski's rockets in the early 1970s, harbors a self-admitted, lifelong fixation on “unusual flying machines” the likes of those produced by him.
“They might have not been practical for military or commercial use, but the physics of them were always a matter of interest to me,” Graham said.
Senoski's creations are unique in that the mechanism which guides the rocket safely back to earth following flights are a cord-attached, motorized system of rotating blades which interrupt enough air flow enough to slow the descent of the model crafts.
“It was, in fact, the idea of a little copter-recovered, model rocket, when typically was rockets were recovered with a parachute,” Graham said. “Walt, most definitely, was a pioneer in trying to launch new ideas, getting people to move away from conventionality. I remembered him when at Kent State and Art picked that up right away.”
After that, all it took was quick online research before Nestor found himself talking the tricks of the model rocketry trade with the pioneer himself.
“One thing I like about Walt is he's all Pittsburgh ... he's a Pittsburgh original,” Nestor said. “He created several rocket designs that are very valuable to our hobby.”
In the days, weeks and months since Nestor conducted his autumn interview with Senoski, the two have turned into fast friends.
“He brought back a lot of memories in that interview, and it was that interview that inspired me to start selling rockets again,” Senoski said. “And they're selling.”
The two of them, along with Judy Senoski, even attended a rocketry flight meet at a 1,000-acre Weber Farm near Grove City in Mercer County.
Since then, Senoski said the flood of memories unearthed by the interview drove him to start making his custom model rockets again.
He said he has sold 12 of the large gliders to customers as far north as Canada and to all points across America, from California to Ohio, Nevada to South Carolina and Colorado.
“It takes three days to build the big ones ... all winter long I was building these,” Senoski said. “I want to get radio-controlled units in these flyers. That's where I'd like to go with it.”
Judy Senoski has brought her husband into the cyber-age by setting up a website for his wares — www.kopterrockets.com.
“I'm the assembler, bookkeeper and the inspector ... he even made me the vice president,” Judy quipped.
The Senoskis and Nestor returned Sunday to the Grove City launch site in what is becoming a tradition.
In addition, they all plan to embark in late July for the NARAM-55 — the 2013 National Association of Rocketry Annual Meet to be held in Aurora, Ohio.
Senoski said his return in to the world of sport model rocketry has rejuvenated him.
“I'm 77 years old, and when I started doing this I was in my late 20s, early 30s, and here I am, like a kid again,” Senoski said. “If any rocket clubs have an interest, I'd be willing to put on a model rocket demonstration launch.”
A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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