by David Crisalli, Reaction Research Society
Some time in October of 1966, I had hitched a ride and gone down to an RRS meeting in Gardena. I was 13 and still in the 8th grade. At that meeting, I met Mr. Dosa for the first time. I met several other RRS members that evening, but Mr. Dosa was the most memorable. He was warmly welcoming, very enthusiastic about rocketry as a field of study, and also excited about having new students like me join the Society.
As I attended more meetings and began to get involved in designing and building rockets, Mr. Dosa was always ready to offer help of all kinds from the loan of technical documents to the manufacturing of parts on the lathe and other tools he had in his garage. I spent many an enjoyable hour with him making steel nozzles, aluminum adapters, and fiberglass nose cones.
At one particular meeting in 1967, Mr. Richard Butterfield showed a 16 mm film of a hydrogen peroxide liquid mono-propellant rocket built and launched by RRS members David Elliot and Lee Rosenthal some 15 years before. I was completely captivated as I watched the two high school students in the film machine parts, fabricate sheet metal components, static test a liquid rocket motor in Mint Canyon, and then successfully launch the rocket in the Mojave Desert. Mr. Dosa saw my interest and enthusiasm and talked to me at some length about liquid rockets after the film. Then he asked if I would like to see the one he was working on. I jumped at the chance.
The RRS meetings in those years were held in an old, small, wooden building on an isolated piece of property owned by a division of Pratt & Whitney in Gardena. It was really a shed but the RRS had been given permission to hold its monthly evening meetings there and store some of its equipment there. On the same piece of property, some 50 or so feet away, was a slightly larger wooden structure. Although larger, it was more of an empty garage and was not as suitable for meetings as the smaller building. When I told Mr. Dosa I would love to see the liquid rocket he was working on, he led me out of the meeting building and across the dark space between the buildings. It was probable nearly 10 PM by this time and there were no lights in the areas around either building.
As Mr. Dosa opened the door into the very dark second building, he told me to wait there until he could turn on the light. “The light” was a single low wattage bulb hanging on a wire from the high ceiling. When the light came on, even in that dim glow from a single bulb, what I saw took my breath away. There, lying horizontally on a plywood table, was a bi-propellant liquid fueled rocket with the upper half of the skin removed. All of the tanks, plumbing, bulkheads, stringers, and longerons were precisely made and beautifully assembled. The rocket was more than 15 feet long and about eight inches in diameter. It was designed, Mr. Dosa explained, to run on 90% hydrogen peroxide and ethyl alcohol. I marveled as each piece of the structure and propellant plumbing was explained to me. The design was also unique in that Mr. Dosa had made the fuselage octagonal rather than round. This left him “corners” inside the rocket skin that he had used to run plumbing and wiring. The beautifully made fiberglass nose cone and boat tail were both round and the structure smoothly transitioned from octagonal to round at both ends. Mr. Dosa, a master at many fabrication techniques, had fashioned incredibly precise sheet aluminum sections that perfectly mated with the octagonal structure on one end and the perfectly round nose and boat tail on the other.
I could have stayed and talked to Mr. Dosa for hours, but it was very late now and my ride was leaving. Needless to say, I was completely stunned by what I had seen that evening and over the next several months and years, I must have made quite a pest of myself often keeping Mr. Dosa on the phone for long periods asking questions and listening to his patient explanations. From our first meeting in 1966 until I left for the Naval Academy in 1972, I met and worked with Mr. Dosa at RRS meetings and at rocket firings in the desert many, many times. Each and every time, it was a great joy to see him, talk to him, and learn from him.
When I left for the Navy in the summer of 1972, “George” as he now had me call him, told me that he had been in the U.S. Navy during World War 2. He had met his lovely wife, Ann, overseas and brought her back home after the war. He wished me the best of luck in the Navy and asked me to stop by and see him whenever I got back to southern California.
After being gone for 18 years, I did find my way back to an RRS meeting and renewed my old acquaintance with George. In the intervening almost two decades, he had changed very little and was still as welcoming, enthusiastic, and as patient an instructor as ever. In the early 1990’s, I volunteered to restart publication of the long dormant RRS News. George was more than a little excited as he was always a huge proponent of documenting all of the projects that RRS members undertook. We began a very enjoyable and several year collaboration writing, editing, and publishing the RRS News more or less, once a quarter.
During that same time frame, a few members of the RRS and I had started teaching a solid propellant class. As part of that class, several of us had written a course handbook. At the beginning of that course book, Niels Anderson and I had written a dedication to George because of his long, tireless mentoring of so many students and RRS members over the years. I include it here because I believe it captures the essence of who George was within the Society…
“Since the days of Dr. Robert Goddard, the United States has always had its share of rocket enthusiasts and experimentalists. In 1943, even before the end of the Second World War, the young students who founded the Reaction Research Society were hard at work experimenting with propulsion systems. As the “Space Age” dawned, the imaginations of millions were fired with the possibility of flight beyond the atmosphere of Earth. But to members of the many amateur rocketry groups forming during those days, flights of the imagination were not enough. Those with the interest, drive, and courage to try, designed and built fantastic rockets that exploded out of their launch towers on towering pillars of fire and smoke. These were not cardboard models with minuscule motors producing ounces of thrust. These were thundering metal machines, many feet long, producing thousands of pounds of thrust, and flying into the clear desert skies at unbelievable speeds.
It was a great time of advancement, adventure, and experimentation. Some of those who built these great, unforgiving machines also became the mentors for hundreds of others who followed. These special few not only pursued their own projects, but stopped to share what they had learned with others. Guiding, advising, encouraging, they were tireless in their belief that there was much to be learned in the pursuit of amateur rocketry and they helped all who came and asked. Amateur rocketry, as a whole, owes a debt of gratitude to the few who trained and directed those of us too young and full of wild enthusiasm for our own good. They taught us many things, fed our enthusiasm for learning, encouraged us through failures, and kept us safe all the while with their knowledge and experience.
This course is dedicated to one such man, Mr. George Dosa. George has been an active rocket propulsion experimentalist for many years. In many ways, he can truly be considered one of the founding fathers of experimental rocketry. George Dosa was the state of California’s first licensed solid propellant rocket pyrotechnic operator. He has been the back-bone of the Reaction Research Society for the last 38 years and still serves today as the Director of Research for the RRS.
George has dedicated his life to the continuance, advancement and testing of experimental rocket propulsion systems. He represents the very essence of the golden years of experimental rocketry and has crusaded to preserve the right of new experimenters to follow this fascinating and technical hobby. Giving generously of his own time, he has contributed greatly to the education and encouragement of others. As a consequence, the Reaction Research Society would like to thank George by dedicating this first in a series of amateur rocketry propulsion classes to him personally and to his efforts in behalf of amateur rocketry over the years. ”
Niels Anderson and David Crisalli, March 1996
George told me once that he had been born 30 years too early…he would have liked to have been that much younger when the age of rocketry began to blossom in the 1950’s and 1960’s. From my standpoint, George was born at exactly the right time. Had he been born later, we might not have met and worked together as we did. George lived for nearly a century and all through that time he was a kind, patient, and enthusiastic teacher, a gentle man with dreams of exploring the heavens. I will miss him greatly and I will say farewell (for now) with an old nautical expression….I wish you fair winds and a following sea, George. In a twinkling of God’s eye, we will meet again.
David E. Crisalli, August 2019
David Crisalli is a lifetime member and former President of the RRS. He also is the owner of Polaris, Inc. in Simi Valley, California, a rocket propulsion testing and consulting company.