20 years of flying with Kirkby's rocket man

Frank is pictured with his first ever rocket.
Frank is pictured with his first ever rocket.

It’s going to be a long, long time before this rocket man shows any signs of slowing down.

Frank Sharman is a rocket builder from Kirkby who is reflecting on 20 years since a much-publicised attempted to launch a 23-foot specimen, the biggest such model in Britain.
Frank, who now lives on Richmond Road, Kirkby, back then lived in Blidworth where two thousand spectators, BBC and ITV crews came to watch the launch on Blidworth Cricket Pitch. Even though the rocket failed to lift off when the wind broke it moments from ignition, £750 was still raised for a cricketer suffering from cancer.
In the years since, 65-year-old Frank and his crew of 20 wowed crowds from Derby to Newark with his display of rockets even launching rockets at a wedding in the Peak District.
Frank who never tried to launch the 23-foot rocket again said it could blast off the future but ‘it would be a shame to see it destroyed’ if something went wrong.
He said: “It can be stressful at the time of a launch, waiting for something to go wrong.
“Bad weather is always an enemy of the rockets.
“Over the years I have met so many people that I would never have met otherwise, one of those being America’s first black astronaut.”
One memorable moment for Frank was in 1999, when one of his rockets set fire to a hillside in Newstead Abbey.
He said: “It was quite a big fire actually, the side of the hill was black. It came down next to a bush and set fire to grass cuttings.
“We had a man with a fire extinguisher who had to run out and the fire engine we had requested to stand by for the show had gone off to fight another fire.
“Spectators were then running down the hill putting the fire out - but they all had a smile on their face.”
Frank said his biggest disaster was in 2001 when faulty engines made the rockets go off with a ‘bang’
Frank got into making rockets while writing for a balloon and airship magazine in 1997.
He said: “The editor asked me to look into rockets and I thought there is nothing here I can’t build myself as I use to build mini airships. I used to work for the coal board at Thorsby Collery and always worked with wood and metal.”
The rockets originally made from card are now made from foam and are “very messy” to make.
Frank did manage to create a 36-foot rocket for the Ashfield Show in 2000 which never got to fly after health and safety issues grounded it.
One of Frank’s best launches was at the Newark air museum in 2004 where his 15-foot rocket “astounded” people by going up to 300 feet.
Over two days he shot 30 rockets into the air.
He said: “It was the best launch mission. I even borrowed an air cadet to help out and he was brilliant.”
Frank now hopes to spend more time on rockets as he hopes to retire from being a security guard, a job he has had for 20 years.

Frank with a 36ft Titan Rocket in 2000.

Frank with a 36ft Titan Rocket in 2000.