By Lou Poccia
(May 10, 2011)
At some point everyone who truly loves their hobby dreams of using it to earn money. Well, I am no different. The thing is, just how do you earn money from rocketry? Many start businesses to sell model rocket kits, motors, or support equipment but there are so many people doing this.
What about going into the space transport business? You could provide zero g flights for university research programs or orbit commercial satellites. Yeah! That’s what everyone wants to do, compete with NASA. Just how do you get the cash to do this?
So, I kept thinking and thinking about this. I asked myself, “just what is it that rockets do?” The answer was obvious. They lift payloads into the sky. So, what kind of commercial payloads could they carry? What would someone pay for that could be carried in a rocket? The answer was just as obvious, ADVERTISING. Yes! That’s it. My rockets would carry advertising and I would charge customers for the service. Now, I had an idea that I could take to the bank, maybe.
Then, I began experimenting. Actually, carrying payloads was something I did when I first started flying small model rockets in the mid – 1960s. In fact, while I was studying to become a high school science teacher I worked on a project to develop a series of rocket experiments to teach physics. It was the most fun I had ever had in school.
Now, all I needed to do was convert my experience developing high school science payloads into a commercial venture. Well, every “rocket scientist” needs an assistant so I recruited my brother Mario. In fact, he was already helping me with the science experiments so the commercial research project was just the next best thing. You see, he too, was flying rockets since the mid – 1960s and he loves rockets.
Our first project was a large green, seven – foot tall rocket to fly as a stunt for Saint Patrick’s Day. We actually flew it live on the radio. Yes! I said radio. When the rocket separated into two sections to release the parachute the shock cord holding the parachute to the booster broke and the radio announcer ran for cover. He shouted into his microphone; “Oh! The humanity!”
It was time to go back to the drawing board. Commercial model rocketry was not going to be as simple as I had first thought. Then, we got the idea to loft a banner and release it into the sky. This seemed to make sense because the rocket would remain the same for every flight but the banner would change. So, we built a smaller four – foot tall rocket that carried a two foot “poly” banner and test flew it. The rocketry was perfect.
It flew straight and true and safely released the banner. However, the banner would twist and turn in the sky and not properly open. We tried a variety of things to make it work but to no avail. I wanted to forget the whole project but my brother continued.
After six months of experimenting Mario re-designed the banner. We tried flying small ones at low altitude then larger ones to higher altitudes. One of our more successful flights was carried out during the summer of 1993. We built a five foot tall rocket that carried a fifteen square foot multi-colored banner. It worked very well and we knew we were on the right track.
Now, all we had to do was scale up. So, we built an eight foot rocket that carried a sixty square foot banner. The flight was awesome. It lifted off with a roar and successfully released the banner. The banner opened full face and gracefully touched down. This was a watershed event for us so we named the rocked “10 -10- 93” to commemorate the date of this successful flight, October 10, 1993.
From additional flight tests and interviews with various business people we came to understand that we needed a very large commercial banner. What we needed was a banner the size of a billboard. We also had to loft this banner high in the sky so it could be seen at a distance. This meant that the rocket would be at least 15 feet TALL. This is a BIG high powered rocket. Just how do we make this work?
We needed to formulate an operations and business model. Safety was paramount. Next, it had to be commercially viable. Finally, we had to create a marketing plan.
The safest way to fly these banners is from a restricted flight field. The whole operation from launch to recovery would take place on this field. Constant monitoring of weather conditions is required and of course security has to be put in place.
Flight operations would be commercially viable if we lofted billboard size banners. We estimated that such banners would be seen from a mile away. This is the “Prime View Area”. A Prime View Area of this size would allow the banners to be seen by a daily viewer total at least equal to the whole population of a metropolitan area. Now, the banners could compete in the market place.
Marketing would mean selling advertising campaigns to businesses. Firms would contract for a specific number of banner displays, over a specific period of time, just like ordering radio spots. Of course, the banners would have to be printed.
These banners offer a number of advantages to advertiser. First, they can be seen from multiple roadways and streets at the same time. One banner can do the work of multiple signs and billboards. Second, they offer a larger audience than local radio spots. In one of our proposals we estimated a single banner displayed at rush hour could be seen by more than 100,000 viewers. Third, they are flexible. Advertisers can change their message by displaying a different banner on each flight and choose to only display during certain hours. Fourth, there is no construction.
Rockets are the simplest and most direct way to display the largest aerial signs possible – no aircraft, no blimps. They are exciting and awesome to watch. They ride high into the sky on a column of smoke and fire and the banners majestically touch down like a sunset over the Grand Canyon. They stand out and get the advertiser noticed and remembered. Isn’t this what advertising is all about?
Rockets are cost effective and easy to fly. Since both the rocket and the banner are reusable, you only purchase a motor reload kit for another flight. As for ease of flight, check the wind, check the sky, count down, and launch! Within a few short seconds your advertiser’s message is dramatically displayed. The equipment is portable and easily maintained.
The dream is now reality. Let’s go.