November 01, 2004

Launch Report - BattlePark - October, 2004

As usual, the people hosting BattlePark ran a great event. Since this isn't the biggie launch of the year for them (that happens in the Spring), the crowd was a bit smaller and things were more relaxed.

Culpeper is a little better than an hour's drive from my place, and the last 40 miles is on smaller roads going through the Virginia countryside. It's a beautiful trip any time of year, but especially in the fall as the trees turn.

(continued in the extended entry)

The launch itself is held on the property of a generous family who allow a hunt club and various hobby groups use of their farmland. We get to use it in the spring and late fall by scheduling around the growing season. This year a little bit of feed corn was set in, but mostly it was soybeans. Harvesting had already happened, so the soybeans were only about knee tall and not too awful bad to walk through. The areas of corn were cut back to the ground, so that's where the launch range was set up.

When my alarm went off Saturday morning, I looked out the window and saw thick fog, so I went back to bed for an hour. It was still a little foggy when I left, and by the time I reached the field, it was completely socked in again. I visited with friends and got a couple of rockets ready to fly, and by 11:30 or so the fog had lifted and we had a beautiful afternoon.

My first flight of the day was the Hot Jets on an E18-7 White Lightning, one of my favorite reloadable motors. The liftoff was perfect, and although a tad underpowered she still made a nice flight. A 4 second delay would be better for this rocket. She was recovered undamaged, pretty close to the pads.

Now I wanted to fly my Watch the Birdie. This original design started off as a short stubby 4 inch diameter rocket, and she flew three times in that configuration. I modified her by adding a 24 inch length of body tube above the fins. By doing this stretch, I'd have room to fit in the longer hybrid motors and still have room for an electronics bay and parachute. Unfortunately, as I was getting her assembled, it became apparent that my electronics bay design wasn't going to work the way I wanted it to. I fiddled with it for a bit, but once I got frustrated with it I decided to set it aside for a while and calm down. There's nothing dumber or more unsafe than a rocketeer who's determined to fly a rocket come hell or high water.

Instead, I grabbed another rocket, this time Rachael's Barenaked Lady. I had another reloadable motor ready for this lightweight bird, an Aerotech E11-3 BlackJack. She lifted off beautifully with this long-burning motor, ascending arrow straight and leaving a thick black smoke trail behind. The chute popped right at the top and she was recovered downwind a couple hundred yards away. Flight number ten for her.

I'd figured out what needed to be done to launch the Birdie, but was going to have to take care of it at home that evening.

I did have another rocket ready to go though: my original Level 1 certification rocket, an upscaled Centuri Groove Tube. This tube fin rocket is another that I'm going to have to modify to handle hybrid motors, but for her eighth flight I had one last standard solid motor to fly. I built an Aerotech H123 White Lightning motor and got her on the pad.

Tube fin rockets fly straight and are way cool to watch, especially big ones like this one. Another beautiful liftoff atop a long yellow flame and white smoke, and even after the thrust ended you could see the last of the fuel grain burning brightly inside. The parachute came out perfectly and she got applause for the flight. All that was left was recovery.

The wind had been picking up, and I should have used a smaller parachute. I considered it, but the next smaller chute I had was too small, so I went with her normal 45" size and figured I'd have a long walk to retrieve her. What happened was that she moved much faster horizontally than vertically. I was still hustling up a hill of cut soybeans when I lost sight over the crest. I had a good line on her, so I wasn't too worried. Even in the fields, it's hard to lose a red, white and blue rocket with a neon orange chute.

As the crow flies, it was almost certainly less than a mile, but it felt like much more as I waded up that hill. Coming to an electric fence at the end of the soybeans, I went along it for quite a ways in each direction, trying to spot my rocket in the meadow beyond. No such luck. Now I was wondering if it had drifted over the road into the fields beyond, so I headed in that direction. Once along the road, I kept checking the fields on both sides, noting spots to search more thoroughly on my way back if I had to.

Then I spotted the chute. On the same side of the road, right alongside a creek (pronounced "crick", and what is it with me and water?), draped over a fallen tree. There were also about 100 cows in the pasture with it. Not knowing for sure if any bulls were there, I headed for the farmhouse and barns (this is a huge farm run by a couple of brothers) to ask permission. I tracked 'em down and got the ok, then skidded and slid through some very muddy meadow to recover my rocket. Undamaged too.

I got a ride back to the launch area with some other rocketeers who had hung their rocket in a tall tree at the same farm. I saw it land and showed them where it wound up, but it was too high to recover without tools or help.

I'd been gone for quite a while, so that was pretty much the end of my day. I guzzled some badly-needed water and talked to friends and made plans to return the next day.

Sunday morning dawned bright and clear. Absolutely georgous! The only bummer was a forcast for occasional gusty winds.

Since it was Halloween, I'd added my blood-dripping battleaxe rocket Pacifyer to my rockets for the day. But when I opened my rocket box, somehow she'd snapped a fin. Fixable, but she wasn't going to fly that day.

First up then, would be this little black rocket called the FY2K. I built it in 1999 specifically for Econojet motors, and this would be her eleventh flight. Econojets are loud and smokey single use motors, and really get this rocket moving off the pad. The FY2K made another perfect flight on an F23-7 engine, and recovered undamaged downwind.

The wind was stronger on Sunday than Saturday, especially the upper-level winds.

My hybrid-support guru, Doug Pratt, was busy helping another guy make a flight, so I went ahead and prepped the Hot Jets for another flight. I'd built another motor the previous evening, this time stepping up in power to an F24. The boost and coast was beautiful (she spins slowly as she goes up), but when the chute ejected it became tangled and never opened. Luckily, she fell in a flat spin and the fall was somewhat cushioned by the soybean plants. One fin broke in the best possible way, meaning she can be fixed in about 10 minutes using nothing but an xacto knife and some epoxy. No problemo.

Since she drifted halfway up that same freakin' hill again (without a chute!), I grabbed the camera and after picking up the Hot Jets, shlepped the rest of the way to the top to take some panoramic pictures of the area.

Back at the truck, it's Birdie time. The new and improved altimeter bay design works well, and everything goes together easily. The only hitch was that I forgot to install the vent hose, but three screws and five minutes work took care of that little oopsie. Meanwhile, Doug is setting up a rail for me to launch from, and I hauled my nitrous tank (20lbs of happy gas!) and ground support equipment out to the pad. Once that was all set up we readied the rocket, snapped some pictures of me standing there looking happy, and we were good to go.

I was gonna try for liftoff pictures, so Doug did the honors at the launch controller. As soon as he pressed the 'fill' button to load the nitrous into the motor tank, a very... ah, indelicate, noise indicated a problem. Apparently the fill hose inside the motor had come loose. It's an easy fix, but time consuming, since the electronics had to be disarmed, the rocket taken down from the pad, haul it back to the truck and remove the motor. Disassemble the motor and fix the fill hose, then do all of it again in reverse to get ready to fly. Since I have another launch this coming weekend, I didn't feel any pressure to hustle through this to get it done. We scrubbed the hybrid launch plans for the day.

I did make one more flight before leaving for the day. I launched my Saturn III on a cluster of four A10-3T mini-motors. All four motors lit, and the recovery was fine, although once again she drifted a good ways up that stupid hill.

Among the memorable flights I saw (and one I missed while wading through cow-flop), was a rocket built of carbon-fibre veil that flew on a K-sized hybrid. Awesome flight. The one I missed seeing was Ben's M-powered flight, although I definitely heard that one! There were several other K's and J's flown, and I think I overheard someone say that they were making their first mile-high flight. I also had the honor of being a witness for a Level 1 and a Level 2 certification flight. Both perfect, just the way you want it. There were also a couple of spectacular CATO's (Catastrophe At Take Off), including one where the rocket made it maybe 200 feet up before ejecting the chute at speed and descending slowly with flames coming out of both ends.

It was a great weekend, and off in the distance you could hear a loud horn sound occasionally. The horn signaled another shot by a monstrous breech-loading pumpkin-chuckin' cannon. Those guys were launching ten pound pumpkins all weekend long. I'd guess the barrel was 40 feet or more long.

On the way home Sunday afternoon I missed my turn (I do that about a third of the time) and wound up taking even smaller back-country roads home. With the foilage near peak, that wasn't a problem at all, and I got home in plenty of time to unload the truck before the little tricksters started prowling the neighborhood.

So yeah, I had fun. How was your weekend?

Posted by Ted at November 1, 2004 04:23 AM
Category: Rocketry

The farm is owned by the ******* family who graciously allow you to shoot rockets, Bull Run Hunt to ride to the hounds, Skyline RC Flyers to fly their radio controlled planes, and the Cedar Mountain 4H to conduct their events. It is not "the property of a hunt club, which also leases it out as farmland". I suggest you correct your article.

Posted by: David Evans at December 28, 2004 02:58 PM

Hey David, thanks for the correction. I knew the family name, but since I didn't have their permission to use it online, I wasn't going to mention it. I also took it out of your comment. They really are good people and very generous with their land.

Posted by: Ted at December 28, 2004 04:45 PM
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