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Rockets over Montana

See CJ 'Turbo' Turner at this years Evel Knievel Days in Butte, Montana - July 26th -  28th 2007 - click HERE for details

A limited edition 8" x 10" print of this picture of CJ 'Turbo' Turner on his rocket powered bike can be purchased for only $10.00 plus s+h.
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   With the spectacular view of the setting sun appearing in his mirrors, the traveler spied a group of people ahead of him in the dark. The figures stood to the side of the road as the car approached in the twilight of the cold, Montana evening. Picked out in his headlights, there were four men, one woman, and two trucks. As the beam of light played over the fourth man, the driver saw that he was sitting astride a bicycle, on his head was a crash helmet and he was wearing a fluorescent yellow jersey. There was something attached to the back of his bike. What was it? As he passed the strangers he glimpsed the object in his rear-view mirror. Surely not, he thought. It looked like a cluster of rockets!

  What the driver didn’t witness as he drove on towards Dillon, was the conclusion of a very exciting day. As the small group stepped back from the roadway, the cyclist peddled furiously down the gentle slope. As he drew level with the photographer crouched near the center of the road, he activated the rocket motors and a long, brilliant flame shot out of the back of his bike. C.J. ‘Turbo’ Turner was back with a bang!

  Earlier that day, my wife and I had met up with Turbo and his support team. His brother, together with an employee of his Colorado construction company Pro/Con, were in Polaris to continue construction of his new log home. This self-confessed adrenalin junky showed us his new mountain bike, a ‘Turner’ suspension bicycle out of California (www.turnerbikes.com). This was no ordinary mountain bike however; this one had been modified for the street, with a low profile and a rack mounted to the seat post. It was on this rack that the rocket motors had been attached, a group of four in line. When primed, wires would run from the rockets via a small electronic control box to an activating switch mounted on the handlebars.

  Very impressive it looked too, sleek, black frame with red front shocks

  Turbo was already well known for his escapades on the snow slopes, with his rocket powered 210cm monoski, but this was the first time he had fitted rockets to a mountain bike. The engineering, electronics and rockets had already been proven, but how they would operate and feel on a bike was something new.

  His interested in rocketry had developed from childhood. "I liked to blow things up, enjoyed firing rockets into the sky, like in the film ‘October Sky’". A self taught creator and engineer he has the backing of his father, a retired engineer from Lockheed. When he failed to win the 1999 ski race in La Grave, France, the Derby de la Meije, because his monoski was at a disadvantage on the flat section of the race, Turbo came back the following year and won the special ‘UFO’ category with the aid of rocket power. His first engine, ‘Ducky One’, was built out of PVC pipe and 4 ‘D’ rocket motors. Witnesses attested to the success of his first run, so he search for bigger and better equipment. He brought in other people with the expertise in electronics and engineering required for such sophisticated machines. The firing circuitry is a closely guarded and patented design. In order to purchase and use the bigger rockets, Turbo has level 2 certification from the National Association of Rocketry (www.nar.org). Rocket motors burn fast and once activated cannot be shut off until their fuel is exhausted.

  Dangerous incidents with air to ground mishaps led to 2nd degree burns, which taught Turbo to wear fireproof Nomex suits on future runs. It was whilst performing for a segment for the TV series ‘Ripley’s Believe It or Not!’ in early 2002 that Turbo had his hairiest moment. Filming on Maverick Mountain near Polaris, the new 38mm rockets had been prepared by the technicians for the inaugural test run. Out of the gate he had a 750-foot course to the finish line, with a 500-foot stop area. He tried to ignite the motors, but nothing happened, that is, nothing until he had crossed the finishing line! Then 3 of the 38mm motors kicked on simultaneously. Turbo was punted like a football towards the trees. He went over a knoll and dropped to the ground and spun around a few times. Luckily, he escaped injury. "You’ve got to know when to fold ‘em" he says with a smile.

  Turbo has a life wish, and carries out the wiring of his rocket motors himself. Meticulously testing and re-testing (and re-testing!) the connections and circuitry to ensure that nothing is left to chance, he dons his protective gear and heads out of the door with his bike in tow. We follow, as do a couple of kids on motorbikes, locals who have been attracted, like so many others, to the sound, sight and smell of the rockets. A short journey down the road takes us to the area that Turbo has deemed suitable for his first practice run. Making sure that everyone is a safe distance from his projected path, he dons his crash helmet and peddles the bike forward. After a short distance he activates the rocket. A brief whoosh of smoke and flame shoot out the back of the bike and Turbo roars past us at a terrific speed. He returns to us with a broad grin and joy at the successful test firing. Now onto bigger and better things!

  Turbo learnt to ski in his backyard in New Hampshire at the age of 5. When he started to ski in Vermont, he hung out with some World Cup skiers such as future Gold medal winner Donna Weinbrecht, and became known for his athleticism with no technique, which earned him his nickname of ‘Turbo’. "I was completely mesmerized by their abilities, and decided to change my life and focus on being an athlete and an excellent skier." He started to compete as an amateur with the US Ski Association as a freestyle mogul specialist, which led to him taking part in the Pro-Mogul Tour. They toured around the US, Canada, Europe, South America and Japan, and Turbo got to meet world famous skiers such as the Italian Slalom Champion Alberto Tomba, who was impressed with Turbo’s ability to beat him on his prototype monoski. He won a trip to Japan in 1991; only the top 16 guys got to go. After three seasons he decided to leave the tour. "I decided that it was a dangerous deal. I mean, it’s crazy, like dragsters out of the gate, down extremely bumpy mogul fields, with huge airs. Fifty percent of people on the mogul tour ended up with serious lower leg injuries. I got out before that happened, still have my legs!"

  He enjoys aggressive, challenging sports such as mountain biking, mountain climbing, water skiing, snow mobiling, motor cross, and the occasional round of golf. Turbo has always been a keen supporter of the monoski. It’s speed, agility, stability and ability to work on powder, steeps and moguls appealed to him.

  "I’d tried snowboarding, but I don’t like dressing terrible or sitting sideways on the hill" he says. The monoski was well suited to being adapted for rockets, since "it also has some safety characteristics which are beneficial."

  In 1995 he was approached to appear in the film ‘Timemaster’. "I was a stunt double, playing a bad guy in a very exciting ski chase. We filmed in Snowbird, then flew to Switzerland and shot the beginning of the chase at the Schilthorn (Piz Gloria in ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’). We jumped off the roof of the building. The film had some great stunts."

  "I have aspirations to become a professional stuntman, to work in the movie industry, or maybe film some TV commercials. I want to take my concept and safely execute professional stunts with the appropriate amount of training. I can teach others to use my licensed copyrighted equipment to attach my devices to their applications, but I’m most interested in doing some stunt work myself, because of my training."

 

   As we sat in the Grasshopper Inn restaurant, Turbo assembled his rocket motor on the table in front of us. Several boxes of components were strewn around him, containing everything this experienced rocket technician would need. We helped hold the bike as he attached the motor to the rack behind the seat, securing it tightly to ensure safe operation when the immense forces of the rocket were fired later.

   It was getting dark, so we headed out to a safe area to fire the rockets. Turbo seemed very relaxed, confident in his equipment and his support, knowing that all the safely precautions had been carried out and everything had been fully tested and calculated. We talked about how to photograph the run, and when I wanted the rockets fired for maximum effect. At no time did I feel in danger, although I knew I would be the nearest person to the rocket flame, apart from Turbo himself of course! I had complete confidence in this man and in his abilities. He had already proved himself to me to be a true professional, a calculated man, not a thrill seeker or risk taker.

   Once we had ensured that there was no danger to the public, Turbo peddled his mountain bike down the gentle slope towards me. About ten yards before he drew level, he activated 2 motors and a brilliant flame flashed out of the rear of the bike. An ear-shattering screech, and Turbo Turner shot past me at a high rate of knots. The flame died, silence reigned, and the first run was over. What a rush! So we did it again!!

   Afterwards, I asked Turbo what it had felt like on the bike. "It was awesome, a tremendous thrust, a short very intense burst that felt very controlled. The acceleration was tremendous; I feel that we can go bigger. No problem."

  "I enjoy the entire process, the creativity, the development of prototypes, the integration of the electronics. Leading up to the point where you’re preparing for your stunt, and the adrenalin rush of getting everything ready, the intensity of it all. And then the successful execution of the stunt and also the reaction of the general public, which is just huge, people love things that burn and produce explosive forces. Like fireworks."

  Turbo sees the possibilities of using rockets on other devices, such as skateboards, snowboards, bikes, luge and sleds. He is seriously investigating the use of jet engines, to enable him to ski uphill, a tremendous advantage on the slopes! Designs are already in hand and he is ready to go forward with a prototype if he can get sufficient financial backing. (Micro-Jet engines are $10,000 a throw!)

My moneys on Turbo achieving his dreams.

 

 See CJ 'Turbo' Turner at this years Evel Knievel Days in Butte, Montana - July 26th - 28th 2007 - click HERE for details

Words and photos ă 2002 D.J.Williams. All rights reserved. Contact David Williams for permission to re-print this article or use any of his photos.


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