You might have seen the liftoff, but here's a video of the day we spent in the desert, awaiting the first (and explosively final) launch of the 1/2 scaled rocket-powered X-Wing fighter. I cried a little when it went down. (Turn up the volume, there's some good dialog drowned out by the din of burning balsa hitting the sand.) Reporting and video by James Lee. I just added more on the event by James: I was going to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Star Wars like anybody else: Hide the fact that I knew it was the 30th anniversary and go about my normal life. Instead, I decided to kick my sex life in the balls by moseying down to Plaster City, CA to see the launching of the homemade X-Wing.
Driving down an hour and half east of San Diego into the desert was a long ride, especially with the manchild in me crying as I passed Sea World and LegoLand. I get there and find myself at Plaster Blaster 6. Think Burning Man, but replace the art and drugs with rockets. It smells like the 4th of July and you got RVs and camps surrounding a launchsite. The atmosphere is kind of Mad Max (without the lovely Tina Turner) and all redneck.
I saw a dozen guys working on the X-Wing. They got permission from LucasFilms, bought a plastic model, and scaled it up. The first guy I run into is a middle-aged man with braces named Mike Brock. He's just one of the 20 people that helped build this 21 foot replica. Andy Woerner, the man in charge, is barking orders to everyone, including his 17 year-old son Alex, to help rig the recovery system.
"I've been doing rocketry for 10-7 years" Alex tells me. I can tell by his farmers tan that the Force is strong with him. I take a peak inside and it's entirely hollow except for a few motors that'll get R2 to spin its head and the wings to close and open. I look inside the cockpit where they keep all their parachutes (donated by army veterans).
Andy Woerner gets on the PA system: "The X-Wing is ready. Please donate. My bank account is empty. I spent 4,000 dollars of my own money. Please empty your wallets in the donation box."
While they're lifting up the model and attaching the wings, Mike Scarpati, one of their sponsors and owner of RMS Lasers, finds me. "I did pro-bono for all the laser routing and cutting: the internal structure, motor tubes, wings... Actually, my wife's a co-owner too, but she's not here, so I'm taking all the credit." He looks at me and whispers, "I also make drones for the government" in a creepy way.
Off to the side are Andy and Steve Peart. "We're brothers, not married," they say for the record. Their Â¼ scale Y-Wing is attracting no attention. The crowd is with the X-wing.
Before long, the x-wing is ready to launch. And I'm ready to scream like a little girl being chased by bees in case things go haywire. The countdown begins with a T-minus 10 seconds. And I'm thinking about how many dollars, manhours and horsepower went into this thing: 1,700 lbs of thrust good for 90 mph, $7,000, 20 people, 8,000 man-hours (650 from Andy) all in the span of 6 months.
X-wing fires off its four red flames, launches in the air, then dips down, and then falls apart like wet tissue paper.
"We knew it was going to happen. The framed hollow body was too hard to make stable. "Success ratio was slim to none. Just happy to see the 4 red lines." says a giddy Andy Woerner.
They scavenge for parts by grabbing the chutes, motor casing and important stuff. The rest is going into a bonfire, so they "don't have to take the damn thing home."
"Lots of souvenirs out there," Andy tells me.
I decided to just come back home with nothing but memories of those oh so impressive 3 seconds.