The Guinness Book of World Records organization verified that the heaviest firework rocket had been launched from Hawthorne on Sept. 27, 2014, with a weight of 213 pounds and 14 ounces. This had been verified and substantiated by witnesses, along with a year of Guinness Book paperwork and registration items, which joined in the 2,000 other entries striving to enter in the 2014 records.
This event happened with the persevering talents of Dave Ferguson, from Hawthorne and a crew of six others called “The BFR Guys.” Jim Utterback, a Hawthorne resident and member of the “Biggest, Finest Rocket Guys” spent hours of time and investment building this rocket, alongside the other five members who reside in California and Reno. They combined their efforts to see it launch when the Western Pyrotechnic Association (WPA) came to Hawthorne in 2014.
The framed certificate arrived recently with an official seal and the words “Officially Amazing” written across the bottom. Ferguson agreed with the statement, as he and the BFR group had been breaking the world record for years before realizing it.
As members of the WPA, the weight factor they were using was information shared among the 300 pyrotechnic memberships. It was the publication director of the WPA who researched the Guinness Record, finding that Portugal was holding the record with a rocket of just 29 pounds. At that point, he contacted Ferguson who then began a lengthy process with the Guinness organization.
The Guinness World Records are known for the odd and the extremes, while also including the endurance and amazing achievements found within the world. Forming its beginnings in 1955, this somewhat wild concept started from an Irish bet. Sir Hugh Beaver, the managing director of Guinness Breweries argued with friends on a hunting trip that he could name the fastest bird in Europe. Once a feisty discussion led to no proof, he and his pub buddies decided to begin a pursuit to secure records, with validated proof, rather than debate irrational opinions of fleeting substance.
And so, the Guinness Book began to fill a niche, using fact-finding missions and documentation to define endless records of infinite accomplishments. How could they ever predict that books would be printed, with annual updates, in 31 languages and that those books would be one of the most frequently stolen books from libraries across the United States? How could they anticipate becoming the primary international authority on cataloguing and verifying facts for world records, and that the 2016 edition would be their 62nd publication?
As the bestselling copy written book of all time, the Guinness Book of World Records covers everything. From the most tattooed person in the world, to the heaviest, privately-made firework rocket ever shot, Guinness has it well documented. Ferguson confirmed that working with the WPA has been instrumental in securing proper placement of launches, assuring all aspects of insurance and safety concerns and it has been an umbrella in seeking out the necessary explosives needed to make such a feat occur.
The weight alone dictates that the rocket is built upon a moveable launch trailer, which uses guide runs and angles the rocket to the appropriate direction. There are two options in lighting a rocket, which is a lit fuse, or an e-switch, which means electronic ignition, occurs. For this particular launch, they used a fuse in their design.
In explaining the vast weight of the rocket, Ferguson shared that just the top shell alone on their 2014 firework rocket weighed 55 pounds, creating a 400 yard starburst that filled the sky that night of Sept. 27.
The launch went up about 815 feet before lighting the atmosphere, as it has to disperse low enough to create a flash impression for spectators to see. Ferguson and the BFR group come from a varied background. After retiring in 1998 from Intel, where he was designing computer chips and working in the “geek field” for many years, Ferguson was reading a lot and became fascinated with the science of rockets. He had always loved fireworks and was intrigued as a kid by building radios or taking things apart then putting them back together, so building a rocket was a natural progression.
As he found friends with like-interest, they were soon testing and experimenting with some serious calculations. For this design they had to build it strong enough not to break in flight, but give the rocket enough weight to create the explosion they were seeking. He disclosed that in two years they will beat their own record, coming in with a rocket that will weigh over 400 pounds.
As much as they are hoping it could be launched in Hawthorne again, there are other areas such as Moapa Valley seeking to bring the WPA to their open desert terrain. The WPA sponsors a convention in Lake Havasu once a year, drawing over 20,000 people to their display.