The Huntsville Area Rocketry Association (HARA) was chartered as NAR section 403 in 1979 by Wayne McCain and a few employees from Thiokol (ATK). The NAR charter allowed McCain to conduct a model rocket contest at the old airport with the AIAA and other aerospace industry sponsors. This city wide contest was a great success and continued as an annual civic event, and for years HARA was exclusively a competition rocketry club. Vince Huegele became president in 1986, by which time HARA had grown to about 20 active members. The club began having regular meetings and launches and started to publish ‘MAX-Q’, a bimonthly newsletter which chronicled the club’s activities as well as sharing insightful rocket building tips. HARA entered its first NAR competition in 1987, becoming the reserve national champions. In 1988 HARA hosted NARAM-30 and won the first place championship. HARA finished the eighties by moving from a focus on competition to lofting student experiments with the new high power rockets that were emerging on the market.
Club president Vince Huegele and HARA’s founding leader Wayne McCain pioneered educational engagement programs in 1990, forming the Sub-Orbital Academic Research (SOAR) project. In its first year, SOAR flew several high school and college payloads on some of the first high powered amateur rockets. As SOAR was completed with four flights, Greg Warren continued a similar mission, directing the Student Experiment Payload (SEP) Program. Also in the early nineties HARA counseled an Explorer Post hosted by MSFC that taught students to build large models through the NASA systems engineering process. Meanwhile, the annual October citywide contest and exhibition that HARA had started as an AIAA titled event continued under the name of the Rocket City Classic. In the late nineties the Classic had turned into the Rocket City Blastoff, a large two day launch at the Ardmore site. HARA also hosted a ‘Space Week’ citywide launch in the spring for several years that attracted middle school teams. The nineties also saw HARA member’s sport flying incorporate many of the new high power motors with bigger rockets. After ten years of serving as president, Huegele moved to the NAR advisor position and Brian Day was elected to lead HARA.
HARA’s meetings have been at many places. The first location was at the USSRC cafeteria, which was not that accommodating so the club moved the meetings to the Huntsville public library. The HPL began to charge for the room, causing HARA to move to the HATS office. That went well for years, but once it closed HARA began to meet at Hobbytown, awkwardly sharing space with board gamers. When TARC began, HARA approached USSRC to use the ERC. They agreed and HARA conducted classes and meetings there since 2005 until Covid-19. HARA has supported TARC every year beginning with the Richland High School (Tennessee) team that finished 6th nationally. A total of 17 teams have gone to the finals from the Huntsville area with six of them finishing in the top 11 places.
Before the sports fields were built at the old airport (now called John Hunt Park), it was a totally open area with parking and very convenient for launching rockets. HARA enjoyed launching from there for years (1984-92) and it was the site for NARAM-30. As the area became congested and the rockets got bigger, the club used a larger field in Athens (1993-97). When that landowner discontinued permission, HARA found a great field in Ardmore which worked for five years (1998-2002).
In 1999 a Georgia section had agreed to host the NSL, but they lost their field a few months before the Memorial Day launch date. They approached HARA to co-host the event by providing the field in Ardmore. Details were quickly worked out and HARA saved the day, allowing the launch to proceed as scheduled but relocated to north Alabama. NSL had two days of great flying and logged 793 flights but the Monday of the launch was washed out by heavy rain.
Eventually the Ardmore landowner was bought out by dove hunters who disallowed flying on the property. When MC2 gained access to the sod farm in Manchester, HARA began having its monthly launches there with them in 2003. This site became very popular with regional HP flyers. There was an interest in recreating a Rocket City Blastoff style two day launch to be held in Manchester in the spring, and so Southern Thunder was born. It was almost named ‘Rednecks and Rockets.’ The first Southern Thunder was in May, 2004 and had over 200 flights including two ‘M’ launches. It was moved to a June date in 2006.
NASA started Student Launch Initiative (SLI) in 2000 and the first launch was in 2001. Three high schools and two colleges launched HPRs carrying science payloads to a one mile target altitude. HARA was formally engaged by MSFC to conduct the flight operations and provide range equipment because of the club’s extensive experience in amateur rocketry. Brian Day was HARA President at start of the program, followed by Chuck Pierce as the program grew. HARA members served as RSO’s who inspected and approved the rockets for flight. Joe Robinson followed Chuck as president; at the same time, SLI added USLI to include universities. Joe also designed and built a new club firing control system that served the club for twenty years.
As NASA’s Student Launch Programs grew, HARA worked with the NASA to evolve the program to incorporate improvements based on lessons learned from the previous years. By 2009, SLI had grown beyond HARA’s ability to safely manage full launch support. HARA, led by President Ray Cole, helped NASA work out an agreement with NAR for providing the range crew and equipment. The new plan preserved the program and has worked successfully.
Daniel Cavender became President in 2013 and started initiatives to help build the club’s membership. Monthly club meetings were reorganized to incorporate technical presentations, guest speakers, and workshops, all designed to offer members knowledge and hands-on training in rocket design and fabrication.
NAR had been impressed with Southern Thunder each year and pursued HARA to host a National Sport Launch. In 2016 Southern Thunder took a break and became the NSL. It was well attended and enjoyed by many rocketeers.
John Jenkins took over as president in mid 2017 from Dan and in 2018 HARA unfortunately lost use of the Manchester field it had enjoyed for fifteen years. Flying was interrupted for about a year until the club found a new field in Woodville, AL. Allen Owens became president in 2020, just in time for the Covid-19 pandemic, which forced HARA to begin meeting virtually although launching at Woodville continued with a new wireless firing system. Doug Aguilar was elected president in 2022.
We have plenty of History left in us, and we want you to be a part of that. It is an exciting time to be involved with HARA.