Yasothon Rocketfestival – Rocket Shooting

Written by Frank on November 6th, 2010

© 2010 Frank P. Schneidewind


The fiery final of the Bun Bang Fai commenced early on Sunday morning. The large Phaya Thaen Park was the site of this big event. The Rockets did come in various sizes, the larger ones are being called Bang Fai Muen, Bang Fai Saen and Bang Fai Lan. Below picture shows some giant Bang Fai Saen. These missiles are custom made and weigh a few 100 kg each! Most of this weight is black powder or another type of explosive material, as can elsewhere be found in military type missiles. All rockets have solid fuels, liquid fuels are outlawed. A bamboo stick is allowed as a guidance, some of these measure over 15 m (45 ft.). The blue plastic pipe is universally being used, the different types of rockets have different diameters. It takes a crew of about 10 or more to haul them around or mount these missiles onto the launching ramp.



The teams all look forward to their time slot, everything is well prepared and much more on-time than departures at Bankok’s notorious airport for example. It is a hands-on experience for everybody on the teams, and there are starts scheduled in a tight sequence. Rocket festivals (Bang Fai Festivals) are being held in every larger community with a dominant population of Laotians. The entire Northwestern region of Thailand (Isaan) is such an area. The traditional festival in Yasothon is bv far the largest and most colorful of this kind of events. Each rocket will be blessed and decorated with jasmine-garlands to promote the flying path to be a pretty and successful one.

No less than three launching towers have been erected for the Bang Fai Saen Class alone, below picture sequence shows detailed, what happens here. The Bang Fai Saen Class has a bad reputation and was responsible for several deadly accidents in the past. Each missile was numbered and cataloged with the organizing rocket-authority, showing their number and given time-slot on a rocket mounted plaque.

The three Bang Fai Saen ramps dominate the firing range. A careful final check of the rocket’s connections with the giant bamboo pole is being performed, before the actual mounting procedure, the igniter is being inserted last!



The background hosts another sweaty activity. Half the team clings to massive ropes to secure the missile and bring it into position. All relies on manual labor, no power winches can be spotted. Being a rather heavy dude, if compared to the average male here, this was my task to pitch in here, when my team’s start was coming up. No spectators were allowed here, only team members and event personnel. So the photo documentation on the action at the launch towers had to pause for our own missile. But it gave me a good chance to be, where the action was. Accidents have happened before in the past, several ones with fatalities. Hundreds of kilograms of solid rocket fuel per missile demands attention to detail and strict security measures!

Military and Police watched out, in order to prevent happy drunken watchers to get too close to the storage sites or the launching area. One by one the giant missiles were transported by their respective crews to the launching towers and mounted for their trip up. The airspace over Yasothon is completely closed for civil aviation, as these missiles reach ceiling heights on their flights in excess of 10 km or 30.000 feet! That is, by the way, a typical cruising altitude for large commercial, transcontinental aircraft. No Jumbo with 300 passengers on board wants to get a lucky hit by an unguided missile, which reaches immense speeds, due to their low take-off weight and strong thrust/weight-ratio. The missiles gain speed with altitude, as a percentage of the fuel is used. Empty rockets are still a danger to everything living, when they tumble back to earth with their scorched components. Such free falling objects have damaged cars and houses before, which may explain why this festival may not be held in more dense populated areas. The danger zone is well marked and non-permit-holders need to remain behind the razorwires at all times.

 

Smaller classes of rockets, like these Bang Fai Muen are a lot less expensive to make, they also compete as long as they meet the standards for this class. The missile itself, being about a meter long in size, is being mounted on a bamboo pole, still exceeding 5 m overall length and quite capable of soaring several kilometers high.

The funkiest home-made fireworks and missiles were launched from tube type launchers, expect super loud bangs and at times colorful smoke there.

Onlookers here are watching the show from a dangerous close distance, they all need special permits or are member of a rocket team.


Our own missile went a bit astray and wasn’t a crowd-pleaser.

Bang Fai Saen firing is Joe’s favorite pasttime during this time of the year. He is not taking it too seriously, but he is a cool dude!

We’ll meet him again in 2011!

Rows upon rows of other rockets in miniature were fired in between large rocket launches. The wonderful Phaya Thaen Park had plenty of scorched earth after the long and hot dry season. It has a full year to recover from this mega event.

Some other home made fireworks were ready for some extra fun and noisy spectacles. They were fused together and started in a sequence.

Judges roamed the field, but most were hiding in bunkers way off the launching area.

Noise levels and rocket exhaust clouds kept piercing the ears and biting the eyes.

3 Thai TV channels reported live from a safer distance, the broadcast was nationwide.

Starters for the rockets yelled and commanded attention, neighboring ramps had to be cleared of people as well.


Unlucky rocket teams received a mud bath, this is a part of the tradition. You may spend thousands of Baht for your Spa-treatments, but try this for a change!

Garments will not be spared, if you want to wear some and the mud here may really have a lot of magical powers! Participating in the mud-wrestlemania is a privilege for rocketeers. So get seriously drunk for 72 hours, party hard and dance as much as you can. The Yasothon Spa at Phaya Thaen Park on the Sunday of the event is by far the oldest and most exclusive Spa in the entiree Kingdom!

Another great Bun Bang Fai in Yasothon was nearing its end with the last rockets fired. Rest levels of alcohol in our bodies, made us grab a lengthy sleep back at the hotel, before we headed for the long drive back home. Many exciting hours in the shadowless park on the firing day, also took a toll on us, as usual. Make sure to read our part one, covering the giant Street Parade and report two, dealing with the biggest Stage Party in Asia. Look for the “We love Yaso” Rocket Team, if you want to meet us next year.

Oh, sorry – the team’s name in Thai is “Rak Yaso”, if you care to remember.

 

This report is the final part of a trilogy:

Part 1: Yasothon Rocketfestival – Street Parade

Part 2: Yasothon Rocketfestival – Stage Party

All our other photo reports can be be found at: www.siampedia.org

 

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