September 01, 2007

Rocketry Videos

EMRR (Essence's Model Rocketry Reviews) has posted the entrants from their rocket video contest. Quite a few are from on-board cameras and are way cool.

I notice that Dick's Rocket Dungeon posted a link to it as well.

Posted by Ted at 06:05 PM | Comments (157) | TrackBack

July 22, 2007

What I Did For Summer Vacation

I promised you a picture of my latest project.


She makes her maiden flight on August 18th. The white part of the airframe is where I had to stretch it to make room for a new, larger altimeter bay. It'll be painted black to match this week. I also plan to stretch the rocket another fourteen inches in the near future to accommodate the "big honkin' motor" that I originally envisioned flying in her.

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July 18, 2007


I've been meaning to post a photo of my latest project, but hadn't gotten around to it. Taking the photo, that is. Probably a good thing, since I discovered last evening that I am going to have to extend the airframe by four inches. Wouldn't want y'all to be seeing this thing all stubby now, right?

So by the end of the week, I'll have pretty pictures for you.

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July 14, 2007

Beautiful Day, But Not For Rockets

I went to the monthly NOVAAR rocket launch this morning, ready to generate some serious thrust. I had two big rockets prepped, but wound up leaving before either could fly due to a family emergency, which turned out to be nothing (and I'm ok with that!).

There's always next month.

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July 13, 2007

Rocket Launch Tomorrow

I've been getting ready for it all week. I'm planning on making a flight using my new Missile Works altimeter and the Contrail hybrid motor, another using a new hemispherical parachute that Liz made for me, and I'll be posting some pictures of my newest rocket.

It's supposed to be beautiful, have a great weekend!

Posted by Ted at 09:23 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 01, 2007

Level 2 Rocket

Friday and Saturday I spent some time doing finishing sanding. Today I shoot the first coat of primer.

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June 20, 2007

Rocket Content

I am now learning the art of making my own electric matches. The point being that you dip the electric match into pyrogen* to create an igniter. The igniter is slipped into the core of a pyrodex pellet which is then placed into the heart of the rocket motor. When the pyrodex pellet is ignited it simultaneously builds the pressure in the combustion chamber, preheats the fuel grain, and burns the fill hose away from the injector which allows the nitrous oxide to make its contribution to the magic of thrust-producing science.

Very. Loud. Science.

*From the Rocketflight Products website comes this description of their Magnelite Igniter pyrogen:

Once ignited the pyrogen burns for approximately one second at a temperature around 5,400 degrees Fahrenheit! Amperage requirement for successful ignition is 5 to 6 amps at 12 volts DC per igniter.

FYI: 5,400 degrees is very close to the temperature of the surface of the sun!

Science, baby!!!

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June 10, 2007

Launch Report - 6/9/2007

Yesterday was our regularly scheduled rocket club launch out at Great Meadow. Besides the usual sport launching (for fun), there was a regional contest event scheduled and the sky was full of rocket gliders, helicopter recovery rockets and more.

I almost didn't go because I'd worked for most of the week on converting one of my high power rockets for hybrid-engine flight. On Friday night about 10pm I ran into "one more problem" and got frustrated. Rather than try to force things, I just decided to not take anything but small model rockets to the launch. Even then, the weather forecast called for pretty stiff winds and I'd heard that there were several cub scout packs due to attend. Not conducive to improving my mood.

What the heck, I went anyway. The winds were brisk, but not insurmountable, the hordes of cub scouts didn't materialize (or they were the smallest horde on the planet), and I had a good time.

Two other rocket-bloggers were there. Dick Stafford flew his usual assortment of unusual rockets, including his legendary "hat of death", his too-new-to-be-legendary-yet "Yamikazi" and a couple of models made completely out of folded paper. Rich (of Vertical Force Rocketry) was there with his family. Hopefully he'll make it out to the launches a little more often this year. It was good to see them again.

There were several high-power flights made, and towards the end of the afternoon a wedding was taking place up the hill at the Summer House. We all got a chuckle after one particularly roaring flight, when we could hear the wedding guests do a collective "holy shit!" Someone imagined that the Bride's mother was probably having a conniption over our activities, and I impersonated the Groom at the alter: "Whoa... huh? Oh yeah, I do."

I remembered the sunblock, stayed hydrated, flew streamers for recovery because of the wind (and still had long walks to recover most everything), and worked a couple of hours as safety check-in dude. As usual, it was big fun.

Here's what I flew:

1. Vampyre - A10-3T - Original design ringfin. Perfection.

2. YJ-113 - A10-3T - This little beastie is a downscale of the Estes Yellow Jacket, and it's about 7" tall. My Level 2 certification rocket is an upscaled version of this same rocket, about 7' tall. Like all Yellow Jackets, there is a tendency to severely over-engine the rocket and this time was no exception. I didn't have a 1/2A engine so I went for the full A and almost lost it due to extreme speed and altitude. I love this design.

3. Groove Tube - C6-5 - Centuri classic tubefin design from the 70's. Big motor, recovered on twin streamers because of the wind, but still had a long walk because of the drift. With all those tube fins, she gets her nose into the wind and acts like a glider.

4. Zen Doggie - B6-4 x3 - I haven't flown this rocket a whole lot over the years because it is sometimes marginally stable. The fins are rather small, and there is a gap between the front fins and rear fins. It looks cool, but I suspect that the gap is causing the air to be too turbulent over the rear fins to be useful, which makes the rocket squirrelly and not too safe. Couple that to the fact that it's a three-engine cluster, and there's a whole lot of weight at the back end, which is exactly where you don't want it. I've added nose-weight and tweaked the design some, and today I decided to try something different. I put a layer of masking tape between the two sets of fins, effectively turning them into one fin surface, thinking that it might solve the stability problem. Oh yeah. The flight was perfectly straight, so I'll be making this a permanent mod. Rich had a great idea about using clear plastic packing tape, so the fins still look split, but behave like a single fin.

5. Sparrow - A10-3T - This was my original "born-again rocketeer" rocket, and I fly it once a year just for old time's sake. It's a tiny Estes kit and it's battered and worn, but she made yet another flight without falling to pieces.

6. DTR-1 - B6-6 - Great flight from this original six-fin design.

7. Dynamic Carrier - B4-4 - I've done this cool Custom Rockets kit up as an alien space ship. She looks great and flies great too. Perfect recovery.

8. Saturn III - A10-3T x4 - four-engined original design, it looks Saturn-ish. All four motors lit, and at ejection it sounds like popcorn as all the ejection charges go off within a split second of each other. Great flight, long drift again.

That was it for me. No damaged rockets, no lost rockets, no sunburn. Good day.

Posted by Ted at 07:30 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

May 23, 2007

Photos from the Team America Rocketry Challenge

A nice slideshow of photos of the Team America Rocketry Challenge, from DoD (just click the "next" button at the bottom to scroll through).

Thanks to Pratt Hobbies blog for the pointer!

Posted by Ted at 04:57 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 21, 2007

Team America Rocketry Challenge 2007

Last Saturday the finals for this year's event were held. A brief recap for those unfamiliar with it:

Sponsored by the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) and the National Organization of Rocketry (NAR), teams of students design, build and fly a rocket to meet specific mission goals. This year the goals were:

1) get as close as possible to an altitude of 850 feet as measured by an onboard electronic altimeter
2) get as close as possible to a flight duration of 45 seconds, measured from the first motion on the launch pad to the touching down of the payload capsule
3) carry aloft a raw egg and return it unbroken

More than 600 teams (6000+ kids) from across the US entered and made qualification flights, and the top 100 teams were selected to fly in the finals. The students have to do the work themselves with minimal supervision from the adults. Teams can come from middle and high schools, private schools, home-school associations, and scout, explorer and 4H clubs.

The prizes consist of scholarship money, money for the sponsoring school or group for scientific educational equipment and materials, and more. The purpose of the challenge is to promote an interest in the aerospace sciences as a career choice.

I talked about previous events here: 2006, more 2006, 2005 recap, more 2005, 2004, 2003 (now where did I hide that?), and 2002.

I was at the field at 6:30am and didn't leave until almost 9pm that night, and most of it was spent on my feet. I'm just going to touch on some factoids and memorable moments.

Every year, we've had uber-cool flyovers by military aircraft as part of the opening ceremony. This year, an F117 stealth fighter opened the show. It's bigger than you'd think, a *lot* quieter than you expect, and the head on profile is almost invisible.

England did their first rocketry challenge contest this year, and their winning team was treated to a trip to the colonies to attend our event. Their first place score would have placed them in 5th here, which is no shame at all. Quite a few people from the British embassy were present as well.

There was a contingent from the German aerospace industries, checking out the event with an eye towards holding their own.

Buzz Aldrin attended again this year. He still looks good, he's still a hero.

Among the many, many, many VIP's, the biggest this year was Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. He gave a really nice non-political speech and has lots of serious-looking security agents swarming around him. I was close enough to nod and say hello but I didn't take the step forward to shake his hand.

The winning team was half and half male/female and had an almost perfect score. Lower is better, and theirs was 1.86 (zero is perfect). As a bonus, Raytheon (I think) is footing the bill to send them to the Paris Air Show next month. Raytheon also chipped in an extra five grand in prize money for each of the top three teams.

The skill-level of these kids is improving to the point of near-perfection. I can only remember three flights that were disqualified for safety reasons, and one of them was borderline. For all I know, that one wasn't DQ'd because our main goal is to let the teams win or lose on their own, not because of nit-picky rules violations.

I heard something like "Three years ago, the cutoff to make the finals was 99 points. This year, it was 38." That, my friends, is massive improvelence.

I got sunburned, as usual. Afterwards, we had a catered steak and rib BBQ, and then broke down the range and put away the equipment. At the end of the day I was dog tired yet feeling good.

Instead of sleeping in the next day, I got up early enough to get to the ballpark to watch the afternoon game. More sun, but I remembered the sunblock this time.

Posted by Ted at 08:36 PM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

May 20, 2007

Help Me! I've Vacationed and I Can't Get Up!

Wife Liz said it best... "whirlwind" vacation. We had a great time, but it wasn't chock full o' rest and relaxation, despite my best intentions.

We saw Steely Dan in concert, and it was disappointing. Technically, they were very good (as expected) and very jazzy and improvisational (as expected), but the show was only about a dozen songs, each one stretched out by long solo runs. Liz is a casual fan and she didn't recognize anything they played until the seventh song, which is criminal when you consider how long they've been on the radio. There was almost nothing that you'd consider their "Greatest Hits". I enjoyed the heck out of it and would've been thrilled to see the show in a club, but when I pay concert prices I expect to hear familiar music done well, not the fifth song on side B of their second album from 1973.

As we were in line to get into the concert, they were patting folks down. At their request I started to empty my pockets, and the guy says, "you don't have any knives, do you?"

I said, "yes I do, my Swiss Army knife", and I pulled it out of my back pocket where it almost always resides.

After consultation with the head of security, I was told that I couldn't bring it into the concert arena. Ok, so I left Liz there - let them deal with her wheelchair clogging traffic, they're the ones causing the problem - and ran back to the parking garage to put my knife in the car. Back to the arena and the fool wants to pat me down again.

This time, I said, "excuse me, but I just ran back to my car and put the knife away. Do you really think I just wandered around for 10 minutes before coming back here to sneak in a knife that I voluntarily told you I had when you asked?"

I think that confused him. He waved me through. I didn't even want to get into the whole "weapon vs. tool" debate. Not the time nor place. Besides, only a wuss would classify a Swiss Army knife as a weapon.

Posted by Ted at 07:47 AM | Comments (55) | TrackBack

April 04, 2007

Launch Report: 3/31/07-4/1/07

Last weekend was a two-day club launch at Great Meadow Equestrian Center in The Plains, Virginia. The weather was beautiful both days, and even though the forecast called for rain on Sunday, it stayed dry and the winds stayed light.

Saturday was definitely the busier day, with upwards of 50 cars there, many filled with students making flights for the upcoming Team America Rocketry Contest. Lots of practice flights and more than a few qualification attempts.

Fifty cars might not sound impressive, but for a rocket club it's an almost unheard number, and it's become our norm. It wasn't too many years ago when a typical club launch was a dozen people. Very relaxed. For NOVAAR, those days are long gone, which is both good and bad.

On Sunday the crowd was lighter, but we were joined by a Cub Scout pack who upped the energy and enthusiasm levels considerably. I volunteered to work a shift at safety check-in both days, and in between socializing I still managed to get in quite a few flights of my own.


1. Snitch - D12-0 / C6-0 - I CHAD-staged (CHeap-And-Dirty) this Estes ready-to-fly UFO saucer. Great flight and recovered very close, but I cracked the plastic after recovery while pulling out the motor. A little epoxy will fix it good as new.

2. Pacifyer - D12-5 - This is my flying blood-dripping battleaxe and as usual it got a lot of attention. Nice quite boost but the ejection sounded very loud and the bottom half of the rocket (with fins) came tumbling down as the rest drifted slowly under the parachute. A "bonus" ejection charge blew out the baffle and scorched everything inside, including burning through the shock cord. Easily fixed.

3. Flying Jenny - B4-2 - The Jenny is a balsa bi-wing rocket glider that originally came out in the 60's or 70's. I love 'em, and this is the third or fourth I've had in my collection. She hasn't flown since last year, and winter can do some strange things to balsa, so I wasn't sure what kind of flight to expect. Straight boost and really high altitude, but not much glide. She went into the (soft) grass nose first and snapped the upper wing off. I found that the tail weight was missing, which probably accounted for the poor glide performance. No problem, I'll just build a new one.

4. Saturn Wannabe - A10-3T x4 - This original design turned in my first "perfect" flight of the day. All four motors in the cluster lit and at apogee it sounded like popcorn as the ejection charges went off. Perfect recovery under chute, and I got it back undamaged.

5. Angel - D12-5 - Sweet flight from this original design ring-fin. Recovered undamaged.

6. Groove Tube - C6-5 - Typical flight profile from this rocket: arrow-straight boost and recovered undamaged. This is a clone of the 70's model tube-fin originally offered by Centuri.

7. Der Red Max - C6-5 - Another clone, this one from Estes. Another great flight and excellent recovery.

After a shaky start I quit breaking everything I flew. The winds were very cooperative, so I was using maximum motors for almost everything (except the Flying Jenny).

Before heading over to do my shift as range crew I talked to Ken Allen of Performance Hobbies. He's been dealing with some very directed harrassment from the BATFE, who're still fighting our hobby every step of the way through the court system. We keep winning the judgements, they keep throwing up new and inane regulations in an effort to maintain their "power". Ken finally quit selling high-power rocket motors because of their actions (including confiscating his phones and computers) and has gotten more into kits and parts. In a wonderful development, his business is thriving even moreso than before, which is the best way I can think of to get back at those government assholes.

Saturday night I got home very tired and very happy with a day well spent.

Sunday morning I woke up to find that tick in my arm.


Another great day watching student teams make practice and qualification flights. Next weekend is the last day to submit results, so these kids are working hard and achieving impressive turnaround times between flights. Once again I put up several of my own.

1. Vampyre - A10-3T - I think this is the oldest rocket in my fleet that I still fly regularly. I designed it to fly on mini-motors and it's very quick and gets super altitude. The ring-fin makes for great stability too, even in windy conditions. Today we notice early on that the ground-level winds are blowing about 10mph, but maybe 100 feet up the air is still. Recovered nicely under a streamer.

2. YJ-218 - C6-7 x2 - Another cluster, this one an upscale of the Estes Yellow Jacket. Both motors lit. Great flight, fine recovery.

3. Edmonds Tinee - 1/4A-3T - This glider needs a 1/2A for altitude, but all I had was the 1/4A. It did glide, but pulled out of it's dive just above head level and made a strafing run on the people around the check-in table. It's light enough not to hurt if it had hit anyone. It landed in the grass about five feet from where I was standing.

4. Alchemy - D12-5 - Folks are noticing that I like ring-fin rockets. This one was an experiment in paint finishes. The aft end is done in that textured granite spray paint, and fades up through hammered silver to chrome at the nose. Flies great and recovered undamaged.

5. Dynamic Carrier - C6-5 - This is an interesting kit design. I finished it as an alien spaceship and she looks pretty cool. Nice flight, but the chute didn't open fully and she came down quickly. No damage because she landed on the soft grass.

6. Honest John - C6-5 - Scale version of the old US tactical nuke. She took a big arc off of the rod, but the chute ejected on time and I recovered her undamaged.

7. Sparrow Upscale - C6-5 - This is a slightly larger version of my very first rocket. It's not all that big, which points up that the original was *tiny*. Nice straight boost and good recovery.

8. Barenaked Lady - E11-3 - Super flight with a big honking motor in a very light rocket , but she drifted a long way because of the extreme altitude. Still got her back and she was fine and ready to fly again.

That was it for my weekend. I flew everything I'd brought, and after helping to take down the range went home very very tired but happy. Plus, I get to do it again next weekend! Yay!!!

Posted by Ted at 08:15 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 30, 2007

Rocket Launch

This weekend and next, our rocketry club will be holding two-day launches. The main reason is so that the students participating in the annual Team America Rocket Contest can have the opportunity to make their qualification launches. With thousands of dollars in scholarship money on the line, not to mention trips to the Farnborough Airshow for the winners, we're giving them every chance to succeed.

Of course, I have a box o' rockets prepped and ready to fly myself, including a UFO-style flying saucer that I'll fly as a two-stage, a couple of small rocket gliders, a couple of clusters, and several others. The trick for me will be to remember the sunscreen, because I traditionally get burnt to a crisp on the first couple of launches of the year.

I'm also hoping to pick up the last of the parts and supplies I need for my new high-power hybrid system, which will inspire me to get back to work on my Level 2 project.

The weather is supposed to be beautiful tomorrow, and I hope the wind cooperates, because I loaded up some maximum motors in most of my rockets.

Enjoy the weekend!

Posted by Ted at 10:05 PM | Comments (120) | TrackBack

February 01, 2007

Rocket Launch Saturday

Unfortunately, I can't make it. Liz and I are headed down to see newlywed daughter Robyn and Henry this weekend. To make up for the lack of smoke, fire and noise, we've got tickets to see a minor league hockey game Saturday night. Go Norfolk Admirals!

Posted by Ted at 07:28 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 02, 2006

Launch Report - 12/2/06

Our rocketry club NOVAAR held its monthly launch today, and I managed to make it out there for a few hours. It was a bit windy and quite cold (or quite windy and a bit cold), so I dressed warmly and decided to help out and not worry about flying anything myself.

I'd heard that at the last launch there were mobs of cub scouts trying to fly their rockets. Today wasn't nearly that bad, but we had a small batch of cub scouts as well as an open meet contest.

The kids did great, and the contest flights were pretty interesting. The events included helicopter recovery (duration: how long can it stay up there), boost glider (duration), spot landing (how close can you drop your rocket under chute to the target), and a new event where rocket gliders carried payloads for duration.

Aside from the contest flights, the most impressive of the day were a father/daughter team who flew a 3-stage Estes Commanche *twice* fully loaded (D12-0 to C6-0 to C6-7) and got everything back both times. Excellent flights, easily topping 2000 ft.

That's the last club launch for the year, although I did learn that next weekend is Culpeper! Battlepark 2006... hmmmm, I wonder what my plans *were* for next Saturday?

Posted by Ted at 07:49 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

November 12, 2006

Rockets don't have to be boring

Normal rockets are often called "three fins and a nosecone". This entry in the most recent EMRR rocket design contest is anything but. Wicked cool.

Posted by Ted at 12:24 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

November 05, 2006

I had to post this

A lot of guys in hobby rocketry volunteer their time doing educational outreach things like talking to students or putting on demonstration launches. Doug Pratt blogs about a recent Q&A he had with some students. You should go read the whole thing (it's short), but I'll give you this much. After explaining that no, he doesn't work for NASA, one of the kids asked Doug how he knew so much about it. Here's his reply:

Im not a scientist or an engineer. I know a lot about this stuff because I love it. Thats all you need.


Posted by Ted at 08:19 AM | Comments (0)

August 20, 2006

Launch Report - 8/19

I had a very nice day launching rockets, in a screwed up, cruddy sort of way.

The weather was beautiful for our regular monthly club launch out at Great Meadow. The wind was occasionally gusty, but it was almost 180 degrees from the normal direction, meaning that it was blowing down the long direction of the field.

Today I was accompanied by my future son-in-law (it's official as of this week), since we men-folk were kicked out of the house whilst the ladies did wedding-dress things.

We slept in and got to the field a bit after 10am - nice crowd already - and almost immediately I was asked to pull a shift as launch control (countdown and button pusher guy). That's always fun and I love helping out, but doing a two-hour shift of this when we were only going to be there about 3 or 4 hours kinda bit rocks.

Next month the Internats (World Rocket Championships) are being held at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Russia, which is their version of Cape Canaveral. Getting in some last minute practice were several members of the team, launching helicopter, streamer and parachute duration models, and making lots of RC rocket glider flights.

After my shift as LCO (not the full two hours - thanks Bart!), I went and prepped my original Level 1 certification rocket, an upscale of the Centuri Groove Tube. Because of the wind, I really stepped down on the size of the chute. After safety check we headed out to the high-power pads.

1. Groove Tube Upscale - H128W-M - Great boost, slightly weathercocking into the wind. Chute just after apogee and then a long walk to recover.

The guys who launched just before me wound up going in the same direction, as both our rockets were over the treeline at the edge of the field. Henry wound up jumping a barb-wire fence and recovered the Groove Tube, and the other guy found his rocket hanging over some high-voltage wires. Bad news, that. Hopefully the power company was able to send someone out right away and get it down. They try to get to them quickly so they don't cause line damage.

At some point in the flight, my Groove Tube kicked the motor casing. Normally, when the ejection charge fires the pressure ejects the chute, but occasionally the motor will be spit out the back instead because it wasn't secure enough. In this case, the chute came out just fine, but it looks like the motor was kicked backwards enough to bend and twist the brass retention clip, and at some point
during descent the motor dropped free without our seeing it.

The rocket is fine, but I'm mildly annoyed because I have one last motor reload kit that will only fit that casing, and I'm not going to buy a new casing for one more flight. Either I'll borrow one or give the reload to someone to use.

After Henry and I spent a while searching for the lost motor casing (hoping for a lucky break because finding it falls within the realm of 'needle in a haystack'), it was time to go. So I made a grand total of one flight all day.

On the plus side, I got to visit with several good friends and helped a couple of kids make their first-ever rocket flights. I also did a blog-meet of sorts with Dick Stafford of Rocket Dungeon fame (check out his launch report here, he was way more successful than I). He always has something wacky and interesting to fly and I had a great time shooting the breeze with him.

So, bottom line on the day: rocket launch = good. Even when things don't go so great.

Posted by Ted at 08:21 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 05, 2006

Short Rocket Video

I have one of these motors, and 3 reload kits to fit.

*grinning like an idiot*

Note: The audio part of that clip, using the limited microphone of the video camera, doesn't come close to capturing the deep, bone-rattling roar of that beast when it ignites.

Posted by Ted at 07:56 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

July 23, 2006

LDRS Video

This year was the silver anniversary of LDRS, which is the annual national launch for high power rocketry. The location changes every year, and this year's event in Amarillo, Texas looks to have been big fun.

I'd already talked about some flights made by local rocketeers that I fly with. Now you can check out the video.

Posted by Ted at 10:30 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

July 04, 2006

Local Boys Done Good

Every year, our rocketry club NOVAAR does a high power rocketry demonstration at a big 4th of July show at Great Meadow. This is what the club does as payment for the use of the facility all year round. The club loves doing it, the crowd loves the rockets, and the Great Meadow folks love it all.

I don't go. Crowds, traffic, heat. I spend a quiet 4th with the family at home.

Meanwhile, down in Amarillo, Texas, at the annual LDRS launch...

As of today, between Virginia and North Carolina flyers, we have burned over 261,900 Ns of propellant! *

The Phoenix Project was a complete success. 20,000’ flight on a Q13,500.

SpinalTap complete success. 22,011’ on a P9911.

Mike McBurnett showed how to earn his L3 with a near 10,000’ flight on a M1297.

Mike Showalter flew his Patriot Missile on a baby N2400.

Ben Russell flew Ringworm on a N2300.

Ron Rickwald flew the Block 3 Standard Arm on a full O.

Dave Morey and Dave Hash placed 1st and 2nd , respectively, in the Bowling Ball flight duration contest.

Check the ROCKETS magazine [online site] for current photo coverage.

We still have one more day to go!

Needles to say, LDRS is rockin’!!


When you're out to impress the rest of the country, this is the way to do it.

*261,900 Newtons equals 58,877.5 pounds of force. Yowza!

Posted by Ted at 09:13 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 03, 2006

Launch Report - 6/3/06

Today was supposed to be a nice day, darn it! It was ok, nothing more than that, but the worst thing was that it was windy all day long. We launch rockets in the rain, we'll launch in the snow and cold, but wind stops us every time. The safety rules say that 20mph is the cutoff point. That's reasonable, because 20mph is a heckuva blow.

Today there were gusts to 17mph (that I heard of), and there were few lulls.

I had several things going on today at the rocket launch. First up, I'd volunteered to help with a CanSat competition. Eight college teams from around the country were making flights with identical high-power rockets, and at apogee their experimental payloads were ejected under parachute. These payloads were GPS units that sent telemetry back to the ground, where it was picked up by a YAGI antenna (I think that's what it's called) and fed into a laptop for recording and analysis.

Eight successful flights, but big... no, huge... HUGE, drift because of the wind. One team recovered their cansat almost three miles downwind.

I helped to prep a couple of the rockets, and later did a shift at the high-power pads doing launch control duties.

I finished that up just in time to grab a quick bite (PBJ, food of the gods) before a coworker of mine arrived with her nieces and nephews. Sammy and William each prepped a rocket with me, while Miranda decided she'd rather not. She claimed not to like loud, noisy things, which is understandable with two brothers, eh?

So we three got rockets ready to fly, pictures were taken, and we went to the launch area. Once the rockets were on the pads, one by one they were launched, after the Launch Control Officer read the important information over the PA system, including the fact that this was Sammy's first launch with NOVAAR and William's first rocket ever.

The flights went well, and afterwards the kids and I went out to the field to recover them (darn wind!). I gave Sammy and William their rockets to keep, which might seem like a nice thing to do, but it's really very selfish of me. See, by giving away two rockets, I'll have to build two more in order to keep my display rack full.

Hopefully they'll be back at another launch soon.

Other than that, not much happened all day. I broke one rocket (my Odin's Spear) when the wind blew it off the table and I didn't see it. Stepped backwards right onto it. I also had a stabilizer snap off of an Edmonds rocket glider, but that's already on the workbench, glue drying from the repair.

Mandatory stats stuff for my records:

1. BolAeroZ - B6-4 - this Shrox plan features an asymetrical fin planform and today there was just too much wind for it. It was only marginally stable, but was high enough not to be dangerous. I suggested that if Sammy and his dad cut the forwardmost fins off, then the rocket would fly much better.

2. Air Guitar - B6-4 - William liked this rocket for the paint job (so did the the LCO), which was patterned after Eddie Van Halen's guitar, hence the name. A very nice flight, recovered safely on a streamer.

3. Groove Tube - B6-4 - This flight was mine, and it was it's usual beautiful boost. Tube fins tend to not be as affected by the wind, at least on the way up. She drifted quite a bit farther than the other two rockets because she went much higher.

And that was it for me for the day. One actual flight made. Darn wind. I still had big fun, because rockets and kids go together like PBJ.

Posted by Ted at 07:59 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 27, 2006

Since I'm in some sort of weird "posting content" mood

Over at Pratt Hobbies blog, Doug has put up a picture of himself and his son Brian. Brian was my co-timer during the Team America finals.

Meanwhile, for the true tech-geek out there, check out this mashup of Google Maps that lets you track the orbital positions of satellites as well as letting you know when and where they'll appear in your sky over the next 48 hours. Tres cool! Kudos to Dick's Rocket Dungeon for the info and pointer.

Posted by Ted at 09:14 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Great Comment

You may or may not have heard about Lordi, the Finnish band that staged a huge upset to win the European version of American Idol*.

No? Over at the Ministry of Minor Perfidy, they have a bunch of pictures of this group along with plenty of background. Fun reading, even if you're not into "Arctic Death Metal bands" (and if not, why not?).

I liked this comment by the lead singer of Lordi:

"We are not Satanists. We are not devil-worshippers. This is entertainment. Underneath [the mask] there’s a boring normal guy, who walks the dogs, goes to the supermarket, watches DVDs, eats candies.

But my favorite part, which resulted in a massive choking fit caused by the ol' soda-through-the-nose effect, was when Mapgirl** wonders aloud in the comments:

Heh heh “eats candies” Candied what? Baby Jesuses?

Worth the click.

*More correctly, American Idol is our copy of Eurovision, since theirs has been held for 50 years. We are but an egg.

**Mapgirl is a long-time commenter at the Ministry (she was already there when I found them) and she has a personal finances blog. You should go say hi.

Posted by Ted at 08:03 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 21, 2006

"You can never have too much shock cord"

Well folks, another rewarding weekend spent watching the future of America has come and gone. The 2006 Team America Rocketry Challenge is over, and if you're so inclined I'll tell you all about it, from my vantage point as one of the volunteers.

First, I'll kick this off with a few factoids that I thought notable:

  • 100 teams of students from 37 states and the District of Columbia made it to the finals this year.

  • Some 7,000 students entered this year's contest.

  • Unlike last year, the vast majority of these teams were first time participants in the finals.

  • Plantation High School in Florida sent *six* teams to the finals!

The weather looked dicey all week, but when Saturday dawned it was cool, the winds were calm and although the sky was completely overcast, the clouds were high enough not to impact the contest flights. As the day went on, the ugly overcast moved out, leaving us with a glorious day in the mid-70's, breezes around 10mph, and a sky half full of fluffy white clouds. Perfect rocket weather.

This year, the contest flight goal had been simplified in an important way. Instead of making two-stage flights and lofting two fresh eggs, the requirement was to design and build a single stage rocket that only had to carry a single egg. The target altitude was lowered to allow single-stage flights, although two-stagers weren't prohibited. The reason for this change was to increase the number of qualified flights. In previous years around 35% of the entered teams were able to make successful flights (even if they didn't make it to the finals). This year, the number was - I believe - closer to 70%. To compensate for the reduced technical difficulty from previous years, the design goals were expanded. Rather than going for either a set altitude or duration in the air, the teams had to go for both a target altitude of 800 feet *and* a duration of 45 seconds from first motion to the first part of the egg capsule touching down. Obviously, a broken egg was a disqualification.

Due in large part to the simplification of the mission, we saw far fewer outright failures (translation: uncontrolled debris raining down out of the sky). There was a real effort made to not disqualify flights because of nitpicky rules interpretations, and I didn't hear of any flights DQ'd for other than gross and/or obvious rules violations.

Once again, the students amused and amazed with their ingenuity. We provided a 1/4" launch rod 6 feet in length, plus a single pair of electrical clips for ignition. Teams that clustered motors had to bring their own clip whips or other method of multiple-engine ignition, and could bring their own launch pads or electrical launch systems. Several did. I saw teams who had built mini-weather stations into launch towers, ranging from simple streamers to indicate wind direction to full setups including anemometers, thermometers and barometers.

One team used a tube launcher (see here for a description of different kinds of launch methods), and several brought rails. One enterprising group of MacGyvers cobbled together a large windbreak from scrounged cardboard boxes, duct tape, string and various pieces of scrap wood (I identified a 1"x2" and a length of broomstick in there). It was hideous, but it worked and was ingenious. Farther down you'll find out what the specific benefit was.

In previous years, I'd been in charge of parking, been part of the recovery teams (long poles to get rockets down out of trees), and handled access to the flying field. All needed tasks, but none that actually let me see the contest flights except from a distance. This year, I was up close and personal. I had the honor of working as part of the timer crew, each rocket being timed by a pair of NAR members using stopwatches to time the duration portion of flight in hundredths of a second. Our lead for the day was Jim Barrowman, author of the "Barrowman equations", which are still used to calculate stability of simple rocket designs. Here's a blip from his NASA bio:

James S. Barrowman served as a project and program manager at the Goddard Space Flight Center for 22 years, managing Attached Shuttle and Space Station Payloads, the Explorers Program, and the Hubble Space Telescope Program. He was awarded NASA's Exceptional Service Medal twice, as well as a Goddard Space Flight Center Award of Merit. He has also been the President of the National Association of Rocketry.

I should add that he's one heckuva nice guy.

So I spent the day talking to students from a quarter of the teams. Each team sent one student to the timer's area to point out which part of the rocket had the egg capsule. Some designs separated into as many as three pieces under separate parachutes.

The accuracy that these students were achieving was amazing. In the first hour we'd already timed a 45.3something, and the other timer teams were seeing similar results. Obviously, the determining factor was going to be the altitudes.

Each rocket carried aloft an altimeter that used barometric pressure to determine the altitude achieved. The altimeter would sound a series of beeps that the judges listened to which gave the results in feet. Later in the day, as the wind picked up, a problem with some rocket designs appeared where the pressure of the wind across the vent hole would create a venturi effect which would reduce the air pressure inside the rocket. This would trigger the sensor, causing it to think it had already reached maximum altitude and it would start to beep an altitude, usually something like 4 feet. The design solution is to not make your vent holes too large, the practical solution was to let each team make "one last check", listening to the altimeter just before starting the countdown. There were a few rockets that had to recycle through the launch queue in order to reset their altimeters.

This year, NASA sweetened the deal for teams that placed from 11th to 25th (out of the money, so to speak). Each school or group gets an invitation for a teacher to attend a workshop on how to include aerospace subjects into the curriculum. The workshops are held in Huntsville, Alabama (home of Space Camp), and NASA is picking up transportation costs for the teachers as well. In addition, each of these teams has been automatically entered into NASA's Student Launch Initiative (SLI) program where they build a high powered rocket designed to achieve one mile in altitude. The group gets a $2500 grant to do that. Plus (yep, there's more), the teams can design and submit a scientific package that may be selected to be launched on an actual NASA research sounding rocket. If their experiment is selected, they get to travel to the launch site and see the launch.

The top ten teams may get that in addition to the prize money, but it wasn't specifically mentioned.

Each of the winning teams went up on the platform to get their trophies, meet the VIP's (including Buzz Aldrin, who still looks great) and get their photos taken. There were some 40 "partner awards" given out by the various aerospace sponsors. This year, besides the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) and NASA, DoD and the Civil Air Patrol were sponsors as well.

The second place team was all girls. More about them in a bit.

The first place team was three guys, and they dedicated the day to two of the original team members who'd been killed in an auto accident not too long ago.

Afterwards, there was a BBQ for all of the students, families, guests and volunteers. I wound up sharing a table with two young ladies from the team that finished in second place. Their parents were there too, and I found out that they were from Toledo, Ohio. I'd been one of the timers for their flight, and I remembered that they were incredibly nervous. Turns out that the team had entered TARC the previous two years without making the finals, but this year they made it and won big. Their rocket was very utilitarian, well constructed and painted plain white with signatures from various people being the only decoration. This team was comprised of three seniors and a junior (who vowed to be back with a new team next year), and one of the graduating ladies already had a scholarship to MIT.

Of course, there was plenty to see besides rocket contest flights. There were lots of booths and tables set up from colleges and organizations, handing out literature and goodies like pens and keychains and pins and stickers and frisbees. The creator of the RocketCAD design and simulation software package had flown in from Germany to attend, and a company from Finland was flying a weather balloon to 750 feet with weather radiosondes located up and down the cable to measure weather conditions at various altitudes. There was a simulator of some sort (I barely got a chance to walk through the displays, and had no chance to stop and look). The Marines from Cherry Point, NC sent two AV8-B Harriers to do a flyover after the National Anthem in the morning, and a recon UAV did a flyover demo during the lunch break, circling the field and (I presume) beaming back pictures to the ground where folks could see them in real time.

Murdoc would've loved the Stryker on display, as well as a Humvee. I did get a chance to talk to the soldier there with them.
He was about a month away from retirement, but was part of the battle that toppled Baghdad. As a platoon sergeant for an artillery company, he was doing recon towards the airport (which was one of the last parts of Baghdad to fall), when his main unit became engaged by Iraqi's with small arms fire. He turned his recon unit around and hit the unsuspecting Iraqi's from behind. Kicked their ass too. I thanked him for his service.

File this next bit under "Small World". When I first joined NOVAAR, the very first person I talked to was Roger. Roger is a nice guy, and his son Doug was often out at the field as well, testing rocket glider designs.

Doug recently received his Masters degree in aerospace engineering from Virginia Tech. When I heard the school, I asked Doug if he'd known Chris Hall, a professor there and long-time resident of the Rocket Jones blogroll as the author of Spacecraft. Sure enough, Professor Hall was on Doug's panel.

One last item, about the title quote. While timing one flight, I remarked upon an exceptionally long shock cord (the bit that keeps the various pieces together under parachute). The student told me that their team mentor always said that "you can never have too much shock cord", and I laughed because I say that too. Their mentor was fellow club member Ivan, and he and I are both known for using the longest length of shock cord that we can fit into a rocket.

Posted by Ted at 07:02 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

May 18, 2006

Team America Rocketry Challenge this weekend

The weekend we've been planning for, and that the student teams have been working towards for almost a year is upon us.

I've talked about the challenge itself, I've talked about the prizes. Here are some of the final details (from the final crew update).

The opening ceremony will include a flyover by a pair of US Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier fighter jets. There will be a large number of display booths by various aerospace corporations and miltary services. The CBS Morning Show will be broadcasting live from the field, and other networks may do this also.

Remember, the winning team will also be treated to a trip to the Farnborough Air Show in England by Raytheon Corporation.

Check out this list of distinguished guests:

Dr. Buzz Aldrin, NASA Astronaut

The Honorable James Finley, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Technology

Dr. William Berry, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Laboratories & Basic Sciences (Acting)

Mr. John Landon, Deputy to the Assistant Secretary for C-3 ISR and IT Acquisition

The Honorable John Young, Director of Defense Research and Engineering

Ms. Patricia Grace Smith, Associate Administrator for Commercial Space, FAA

Mr. Rex Geveden, Associate Administrator, NASA

The Honorable Ronald Sega, Under Secretary of the Air Force

The Honorable Delores Etter, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition

Ms. Lynn Cline, Deputy Associate Administrator for Space Operations Mission Directorate, NASA

Ms. Angie Johnson, Assistant Associate Administrator for Education, NASA

Dr. Mark Lewis, Chief Scientist of the Air Force

Dr. Tony Tether, Director, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)

Dr. James Short, Director, Defense Laboratory Management; Office of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Laboratories & Basic Sciences)

Dr. James Tegnalia, Director, Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA)

Dr. Bernice Alston, Deputy Chief Education Officer, NASA

Ms. Lisa Sutherland, Staff Director, U.S. Senate Committee on Science, Commerce & Transportation

Mr. François Gayet, Secretary General of the Aerospace and Defense Industries Association of Europe

Mr. Graham Gibbs, Counsellor, Space Affairs, Canadian Space Agency, Embassy of Canada

Dr. Tony Sinden, Councillor, Defence Science & Technology, Embassy of the United Kingdom

Mr. Frederic Nordlund, Head, Washington Office, European Space Agency (ESA)

Mr. Kiwao Shibukawa, Director, Washington Office, JAXA

Mr. Andrew Flinn, Underwater Weapon Systems Liaison Officer, Embassy of the United Kingdom

Mr. Andrew Bird, Missile Defence Liaison Officer, Embassy of the United Kingdom

That list gives a good idea of just how serious the government and tech fields take this type of event. The students might not even realize it, but just by making the finals they've generated some interest.

A couple of years ago, a NASA official told the assembled students that according to projections, the first person to land on Mars is in high school right now. It might just be one of these kids.

Posted by Ted at 01:58 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 05, 2006

Commitment, Committed... whatever

My Level 2 rocketry certification process took a huge step forward last night when I ordered the motor casing and reload kit.

Contrail J246 hybrid. 38mm motor case, 36" long. 673 newton/seconds total thrust delivered over 2.8 seconds of burn time.

When all is ready to go (early summer), y'all are invited to the launch.

Posted by Ted at 05:26 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 08, 2006

Launch Report - 4/1 & 2/06

Last weekend our rocket club, NOVAAR, held a two day event out at Great Meadow.

Saturday combined a contest meet with the usual sport flying and a healthy number of Team America teams making test flights. Because the deadline for making qualified flights is on the 10th of April, more than a few (forty, to be precise!) qualifying attempts were made as well.

The day was mostly overcast and the winds were gusty enough to force the range to shut down for short periods throughout the day. They were also blowing in an unaccustomed direction, from the southwest, which meant we had to angle the rocket launches over a fair bit to avoid flying over the spectators and parking lot.

I decided that I was going to fly some rockets this weekend, since what had been happening lately is that I make a flight or two and then get caught up helping out with the range crew and talking to folks and just having a good time doing everything but prepping and launching my own rockets.

I also decided to not bring anything high-power because of the recent crap we've been putting up with from the BATFE.

Being April Fool's day, I brought an oldie out of retirement and flew her early on, before most of the crowd arrived. Good thing too, I guess.

1. Syzygy (aka "3 nosecones and a fin") - 3x A10-3T - "3 fins and a nosecone (3FNC)" is how we describe plain vanilla rockets (three fins being the minimum needed for stability). This cluster rocket is actually three rockets linked together into a triangle shape with shared fins. She's flown successfully before, but because the engines are out and away from the centerline, if all three motors don't light, you have a real problem.

Knowing that, I called for a "head's up" flight, and sure enough only two of the three motors ignited. She arced over and looped a couple of times up in the air before falling to the ground and ejecting two of her bright metallic streamers. Soft grass saved her from being destroyed, but I think I'm going to take some pictures for the logbook and then scrap her out for parts.

Frequent commenter Russ challenged me to a Zinger drag race. The Zinger is a small, lightweight Estes rocket which is truly 3FNC. It's also fun to fly because it really gets up there on a little A motor, goes practically out of sight on a B, and has been described as "aerial pornography" on C motors.

For a drag race, two rockets are launched simultaneously and there are generally three events judged. First off the pad scores a point, highest altitude scores a point, and then usually first to the ground scores a point. Two out of three wins.

Russ and I loaded up our Zingers with A motors and got ready to go. There was a brief delay as he accidentally broke his while prepping it up. He was ready for that though, because he brought three of them! I only had the one, and had only finished painting it the night before.

2. Zinger - A8-5 - Beautiful flight. I definitely beat Russ off the pad, but it was close. He was flying an A8-3 and the extra two seconds delay on my motor did the trick, as I coasted a fair bit higher before ejecting the streamer. We were both using plastic flagging tape for streamers (mine was about 3 foot long), and recovered without damage. Russ had to have been using some soft damn balsa for his fins though, because his Zinger broke two when it touched down.

That's why he built spares though. Next up: B motors. The plan is to launch until we lose them.

3. Zinger - B6-6 - A virtual replay of the first race. I barely beat him off the pad, beat him in altitude, and then lost sight of them both. Walking out in the direction of the expected drift, Russ found his and spotted mine nearby as well. Once again, mine was undamaged and his snapped two more fins! That was his last Zinger, so the C motor race would have to wait for another day.

4. Angel - D12-5 - This scratchbuilt ring-fin is another rocket that hasn't flown for a couple of years, and I don't know why. She looks cool, flies great, and because she's minimum diameter (the body is the same size as the motor), she gets great altitude. She landed close to the pad because she's built like a tank so I could get away with using an 8" parachute for recovery. Not much time in the air to drift, and landing on thick soft grass is a blessing.

I prepped four rockets at the car and took them out to the range. Unfortunately, between TARC flights and contest event flights, things were moving very slowly and I was only able to launch one more rocket for the day.

5. Groove Tube - C6-7 - This one kind of annoyed me. The Groove Tube was a kit produced by Centuri for over 10 years back in the 80's. For some reason, the Safety Check guy was worried about stability and was hesitant to give the ok to launch it. He asked me if it had flown safely before (ignoring the somewhat beat up paint job), and I couldn't hide the sarcasm as I told him that it had never been unstable in the previous thirty-odd flights.

Yep, that got the ok. Another beautiful flight, dang near out of sight, and as the streamer came out and I watched the wind push her along I wondered what I was thinking, putting a C motor in her on such a windy day. Oh well, another long long walk for recovery. Undamaged.

I spent the rest of the day doing a shift as Safety Check and generally enjoying myself, and helped afterwards getting things ready for the overnight (we were going to leave most of the equipment out on the field since we were flying again the next morning).

April second was a much nicer day. The wind wasn't quite a bad, the clouds weren't quite as heavy, and I slept in, not getting to the field until 11am or so (it's about an hour drive from my house).

Once again, the plan was to fly some rockets. I had those three still ready to go from yesterday afternoon. Cool!

1. Honest John - B4-4 - This scale model of the US Army tactical nuclear missile is painted in the orange, white and black test round pattern. Pretty flight and good recovery not too far from the pad. I used a small chute for recovery.

2. Odin's Spear - B4-4 - I need to do a better paint job on this ring-fin kit from Vertical Force Rocketry (over on the sidebar). This was a prototype that Rich gave me to test, and she flies great!!! But I painted her plain boring sorta-yellow, and she deserves better. Recovered undamaged on the very small mylar chute.

3. Vampyre - A10-3T - Another ring-fin, this one another original design of mine. Small, superquick, and gets great altitude. Painted red and black with silver accent stripes, she gets compliments for her looks too. I'm proud of this one and she's been perfect for some 30 or so flights. This one was no exception.

The wind was in a lull, so I pulled out the biggest rocket and motor combo that I'd brought for the weekend.

4. Hot Jets - F24-4 - That's right bubba, it was time for my cheerleader rocket! Beautiful boost, and right at apogee the x-form chute came out. She drifted pretty good, but not as bad as she could have because the chute did something I've never seen before. It began to spin, and as it did it twisted the shroud lines. As the shroud lines twisted it reefed the parachute more and more, causing the rocket to descend faster and the chute to spin faster and close tighter until, about 20 feet off the ground, the chute looked like a balloon. Balloons are good, if they're filled with helium, which this one wasn't, so the rocket dropped straight down to the grass. Undamaged, and I have no idea why the chute acted that way this time, although it was pretty cool to watch and saved me from a much longer walk.

5. YJ-218 - 2x C6-7 - Can't have a launch without a Yellow Jacket flight! This twin-engine cluster made her 25th flight, and it was perfect. Recovered under her custom matching yellow x-form chute (thanks Liz!).

Time for another mid-power flight. The winds were picking up again, so I didn't go maximum motor for the rocket, but considering how light she is, this was plenty.

6. Barenaked Lady - E18-4 - She screamed off the pad, angled into the wind, and went waaaaaaay up there. For some stupid reason, I put a regular sized chute on her and when it ejected, I knew I was in for a long walk to recover. She landed beyond the first set of fences, and when I got to that field I watched a TARC rocket come down gently under chute for a perfect landing. Unfortunately, a gust of wind reinflated the chute and dragged the entire rocket right into the creek. I couldn't get to it in time (and shouldn't touch it anyway, in case it was a qualifying flight), but when the kids arrived a minute later (out of breath from running), I pointed it out to them. One of the kids waded across the spillway and the wind pushed the rocket to him on the other bank. I saw them later and after a brief drying out the rocket was ready to fly again. Yay!

As I was walking back to my car I was passed by an enormous gaggle of Cub Scouts and parents. Unbeknownst to our club, a group of local scouts had built model rockets and were there for an afternoon of flyng (someone told me it was four packs, but it was probably one pack with four large dens).

I hustled to put my rocket away at the car and then scooted right back out to the launch area because I knew they were going to need help. Thirty or forty Cub Scouts (at least), most of which have never flown a rocket before, need close attention. We spent the next couple of hours pointing out how to fix the problems with some rockets during the build process (gluing the launch lug in line with the fins might be more aerodynamic, but it prevents the rod from reaching the lug), as well as providing help inserting igniters and hooking the rockets up (I would demonstrate, then unhook it again so the scout could do it himself). One funny moment came when I discovered the reason we'd seen so many parachutes strip from the rockets, it turned out that the adult who helped that batch of scouts assemble their rockets used hot-melt glue to attach the chutes. The heat of the engine, followed by the ejection charge, caused numerous problems for those kids. There are instructions for a reason, people!

All in all, it was a long, satisfying, tiring, enjoyable weekend. I stayed afterwards to help tear down the range and pack up the equipment and load it into the club trailer. They're going to do it again this afternoon and tomorrow, but we're headed down to visit Mookie, so I can't make it. Looking out the window though, Quack.

Posted by Ted at 09:44 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 01, 2006

Launching Rockets

Lots of wind today, but I still managed five flights. It's a two-day event, so I'll be heading back out to the field tomorrow.

Big fun. Stories later.

Posted by Ted at 10:12 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 31, 2006

Fantasy come true

From Pratt Hobbies, the Surface to Idiot Missile.

Disclaimer: It's a sad but true fact that in today's world it must be explicitely stated that it's a joke. *sigh*

Posted by Ted at 09:58 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 23, 2006

Bummer times two

Jennifer hangs it up.

The guys down at Whitakers, North Carolina lost their flying field. It's not actually lost, it's just been turned into a corn field without prior notice.

Posted by Ted at 04:41 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 18, 2006

Pratt Hobbies Blog (aka "All the cool kids are doing it")

My friend Doug Pratt has started a rocketry blog, and named it, appropriately enough, Pratt Hobbies Blog. It will soon be on the sidebar.

He's off to a great start, including a post about how the BATFE is reacting to their recent smackdown by the Federal courts regarding rocket motors. Short answer: they are not taking it well, and it seems that the retaliation against the hobby has started. Read more over at Doug's blog, and, like most of us, he wanders off onto other topics as the fancy takes him. Check it out.

Posted by Ted at 05:58 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

March 10, 2006

Rocketry Stuff (and a note for Russ)

Because this *is* Rocket Jones ya know.

I've been talking about "certification" and "Level 2" and such, without ever explaining what that means.

A while back I posted a Beginner's FAQ explaining the hobby rocket motor codes, and another post illustrating the size of some of these motors. You can read it for more detail, but I'll try to explain it here without needing to follow that link.

This all applies to the US. Canada, the UK, and probably other countries have their own variations.

Until recently, if you were younger than age 18 then the largest motor you could fly was a "G" motor (up to about 16lbs of thrust). There were ways around that limit, by having an adult purchase and possess the motor and take responsibility for the flight, even though a minor may have done most of the work. The National Association of Rocketry (NAR) has introduced a program where a youngster can legally fly high power motors, basically by standardizing the "sponsor" requirements.

High power motors are defined as "H" power and above, and you need to make a certification flight to prove that you can construct a safe rocket for the power involved. For Level 1, your flight has to be witnessed by two members of your rocketry organization who are also Level 1. Safely flying and recovering the rocket means you can purchase and use "H" and "I" motors (a little better than 140 lbs of thrust).

Level 2 requires the certification flight, but you also have to pass a written test about organization information, government laws and regulations and general rocketry knowledge. That's the level that I'm working towards, and once I get there I can fly "J", "K" and "L" motors (up to 1,150 lbs of thrust).

The top level right now is Level 3, for "M", "N" and "O" motors (and up I suppose, an "O" produces up to 9,208 lbs of thrust). For this, you're assigned two advisors who already have their Level 3 certification, and you must document the construction process and put together a binder showing details about the rocket and simulations of the expected flight. There are also additional safety requirements at this level. Like the others, you must make a flight and recover the rocket undamaged.

So that's the certification process that I keep babbling about.

Russ, I'd be happy to sign off on your Level 1 flight.

As for the Zinger drag race, well, you're on! Someone once described the Zinger as "arial pornography" and I've got to agree. I thought I had an unbuilt kit somewhere but I can't find it, so send me the specs and fin measurements and I'll have one ready for the next launch.

And since the next launch is on April first, I've got a few fun and/or odd April Fool's rockets that'll be ready to go as well. I'm looking forward to this one!

Posted by Ted at 05:58 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 07, 2006

Launch Report - 3/5/2006

Where: Great Meadow Equestrian Center, The Plains, VA
When: 10am - 4pm
Weather: Winds from 10-20mph

Our rocketry club, NOVAAR, had scheduled a two-day launch event for the weekend, but high winds scrubbed Saturday. Sunday was still quite windy, but we had a great time anyway.

I loaded up the car with some small rockets to fly, but wasn't expecting much because of the wind. When I got to the field I was amazed to see probably 50+ cars there.

I caught up with some friends and talked rockets for awhile, then I headed over to the launch control area to see what was up. On the way I passed a whole gaggle of high schooler's who were there with their Science teacher, prepping egg-lofting rockets. At the table I was drafted into helping do pre-flight safety checks because we were about to get swamped by all those students. I stayed busy for better than an hour, checking rockets, asking questions and making suggestions on things to do differently and/or better in the future.

Besides the egg lofters, there were a few high power flights made, including Mitch's Endevour clone on a J350. His rockets are so reliable that they're almost routine.

A young guy named Ben made a couple of memorable flights with a little orange rocket. By little, I mean about the length of your finger, and he stuffed the largest motor he could fit into this little thing, a C6-5. On the first flight, I watched it zoom nearly out of sight and somehow managed to pick it up on the way down and saw it land. It's too small and light for a chute or streamer, it does what we call tumble recovery. I had a line on it on the ground, and Ben and I walked out there and pretty much right up to it in the middle of the field. Unbelievable, because that combination is almost certain "fire-and-forget".

He did it again later, but lost it. After his family left the launch, Ben's orange rocket reappeared on the lost-and-found table. Someone else found it while looking for their rocket. Ben will be getting it back.

I picked several people's brains for ideas and suggestions for my Level 2 rocket. Then I admired Bart's photo album and stories about his successful Level 3 flight. Bart flew out to Arizona to launch with his brother at an event in the desert. His rocket flew on an "M" motor, weighed 40 lbs at take off and achieved an altitude of 7600 feet. It came down perfectly under chute and Bart now has his Level 3 certification so he can fly with the big big boys.

I did make two flights of my own, both small model rockets.

1. Vampyre - A10-3T - this minimum diameter ring-fin always screams off the pad and gives a great flight. Recovered undamaged on a streamer.

2. Groove Tube - B4-4 - a classic Centuri clone, you could see the wind pushing the rocket sideways as it ascended. It drifted a long way even though I used another streamer instead of a parachute.

Our next club launch is April 1 and 2. There will be contest flying (helicopter, chute, streamer and glider recovery models, plus an altitude event), and as always flying for fun is encouraged. I'm planning to be there both days, and I'll have something high power to fly too.

Y'all are invited.

Posted by Ted at 04:53 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 24, 2006

This Just In

There's been a cherry added atop the heap o' prizes for the winners of this year's Team America Rocketry Challenge (I'm quoting the entire press release below):

Raytheon to send TARC Winners to Farnborough International Air Show

Arlington, Va. – A trip to the Farnborough International Air Show near London in July 2006 awaits the Fourth Annual Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC) winners courtesy of AIA member Raytheon Company.

The trip, which will be in addition to the winner’s share of the TARC purse of more than $60,000 in savings bonds and cash, will give the victorious students a hands-on look at applied aerospace engineering, the skill the contest is promoting, AIA President and CEO John Douglass said.

“TARC is a great way to introduce these kids to aerospace through the challenges of engineering a model rocket,” Douglass said. “Taking the winners to Farnborough will show them what these lessons lead to in the real world.”

TARC, the world’s largest rocket contest, pits teams of between three and 15 middle and high school students in a challenge to build and successfully launch a model without breaking a raw-egg payload. The final round of competition is scheduled for May 20 at Great Meadow in The Plains,Va. The goal is to launch the rockets as close as possible to 800 feet in altitude and 45 seconds in flight duration.

“Rewarding the TARC winners with a trip to Farnborough is right in line with Raytheon’s emphasis on promoting math and science education among young people through our MathMovesU initiative,” said Raytheon Executive Vice President for Business Development Thomas M. Culligan. “We hope that this will help motivate the winners and all the competitors to stick with science and math and ultimately pursue a career in aerospace.”

The Farnborough International Air Show is one of the largest and most prestigious aerospace events in the world. It includes flying demonstrations of both civil and military aircraft from around the world as well as static displays from thousands of aerospace companies. Raytheon’s sponsorship will pay for four students and one adult chaperone, including air fare, lodging, a company tour, and a TARC champion recognition dinner.

The winning team will attend the air show on Farnborough’s International Youth Day, a program for 1,000 invited students between ages 15 and 23 aimed at attracting youths who show promise in areas that could lead to aerospace careers. Activities include presentations from test pilots, scientists, and journalists; a build-a-plane project; and test spins in aircraft simulators. In addition to commercial jetliners, business aircraft, and fighter jets, the air show includes special displays on space products and unmanned aerial vehicles.

TARC is sponsored by the Aerospace Industries Association and the National Association of Rocketry, the nation's oldest and largest non-profit organization dedicated to sport rocketry. The contest is co-sponsored in part by 39 AIA member companies, NASA, the Defense Department, and the Civil Air Patrol.

I'll be volunteering to assist again this year, as I have every year since this started. Read about previous events here and here and here.

Posted by Ted at 04:19 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 28, 2005

She ain't Mookie-riffic for nothing!

For Christmas this year, daughter Rachael found a copy of the out-of-print book Retro Rockets: Experimental Rockets 1926-1941. I've already read the first half, which deals mostly with Robert Goddard and his remarkable series of liquid fueled rockets.

One tidbit that really caught my eye though was a brief discussion of German Alfred Maul, who was a civil engineer for the city of Dresden. He patented an early version of a photographic rocket in 1903 and was using an onboard gyroscope for rocket and camera stabilization by 1906. By 1912, he had developed a fully functioning recon rocket that boosted on solid fuel and took photographs from 2000 feet.

[It was] battle tested in the Turkish-Bulgarian War of 1912-1913. Anticipating today's reconnaissance satellites, it produced clear photographs of Turkish emplacements for the German-allied Bulgarian Army.

Some of these photographs still exists today.

Recon by rocket had advantages over using balloons, but the arrival of the airplane soon rendered the idea obsolete.

If you're into rockets or space technology, the Saturn Press books are excellent references.

And for some amazing modern-day rocket photography, check out Ray Dunakin's work, which I linked to here.

Posted by Ted at 04:33 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

November 07, 2005

Chicken Soup for the Rocket Geek's Soul

Ok, I did some math and have details about this weekend's high-excitement rocket launch.

The motor was a Contrail Systems L1222 "sparky" (none of us know if it really was, by the way, we were kinda too busy to notice). The motor itself is about 3" in diameter, it's 54" long, of which the bottom 12" is the combustion chamber where all the flamey zoomy stuff happens. The oxidizer tank holds 3200cc's of nitrous oxide, which comes out to .85 of a gallon. Doug estimated that about half of that had been vented when the ignition happened.

The burn time for that motor is listed at 3.1 seconds, but I would guess that it ran out of nitrous (oxidizer), and hence the oxygen need to burn, long before that, so the thrust would've fallen way off from the specs.

But at ignition, well, there was plenty of oxidizer for that, and that sucker lit up with a peak thrust of 2892 newtons/second, which works out to 650 pounds of thrust right off the pad.

I've heard it said more than once at a rocket launch: even our failures are entertaining to watch.

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November 05, 2005

Launch Report - Up Close and Personal Edition

Today was an absolutely beautiful day for flying rockets: 70's, sunny, very little wind. Lucky for us, it was also day two of the three-day BattlePark 2005 launch held in Culpeper, Virginia.

I only flew two rockets myself, but there's a story to be told, and we all know how much I love that. So first, the details, then the good stuff.

My first flight was my Centuri Groove Tube upscale. 2.6" diameter tube-fin design, launched on an H165-Redline motor. Typical great boost from this rocket, and she arced over at apogee and just after going nose down the chute ejected. Recovered about 150 yards from the pads, undamaged.

Second flight, Barenaked Lady on an F24 with a seven second delay. This rocket is ultra-light, and the F24 seriously overpowers the rocket, which is fun as hell and why I do it. Waaaaaaaaay up there in a hurry and recovered about 100 yards away undamaged.

So that was all I flew. I had a few other rockets, but I had a great time anyway, picking a friend's brain for altimeter bay ideas (his always work, and I've never been completely satisfied with my designs), and shooting the breeze with fliers I haven't seen in awhile (frequent commenter Russ was there).

"I've done everything I know how to do, so if this doesn't work then we'll learn something." -- Doug Pratt

Later in the afternoon, Doug Pratt readied the rocket he's going to eventually fly for his Level 3 certification. Twelve foot tall, six inch diameter, all fiberglass, he was going to use a hybrid L-something motor.

They had the rocket on the pad (very big motor, so it was loaded on the "away" cell, much farther than normal), and I headed out to ask if there was anything I could do to help. Doug said something about giving them good luck with the flight.

Ha! That'll teach him.

Filling the nitrous tank for the motor seemed to take an unusually long time, and after the countdown there was no ignition. Ivan (another friend) started to vent the nitrous back out of the motor, and while that was going on Doug, Ivan and I walked back to the pad to see what was wrong. There was smoke coming from the pad, and we saw that the igniter wires were smoking. This put us all on guard, and we started visually checking the setup.

Doug switched off the power to the pad, making it safe. Moving over to the base of the rocket, he lifted the ignition wires and the motor instantly ignited! I was farthest away of the three of us, maybe 10-12 feet. Ivan dived away, Doug wound up with all the hair on one arm singed off, and I twisted and turned my back to the roar of this big honkin' motor going on right next to us.

Summary so far: big motor, too close, accidental ignition.

We were busy making sure that Ivan was ok (he hit the ground and rolled) when people started yelling "heads up!" at us. I confess that I had two thoughts before looking up:

1. Uh oh, the chute didn't open and it's coming in ballistic.

2. This was a weird motor ignition, so the sucker coming down on top of us is probably on fire.

When I did look up, I was relieved to see it descending normally under chute. Even better, it was going to miss us. Then came the second bit of excitement.


Ivan started yelling, and we ran about thirty feet downrange to start stomping out a brush fire caused by... well, we're not sure what caused the fire. The motor ignition, certainly, but why or how... no idea. Anyway, the three of us were stomping and stepping, holding the fire at bay more or less, until folks with water buckets made their way out to where we were and saved the day.

Ok, failure analysis. While the rocket was being loaded, the igniter wire insulation were chafed or otherwise broken. This caused the ignition wires to short out when they touched bare wire to the metal launch pad. That was problem number 1.

Next, when the ignition button was pressed to light the motor, the short prevented the current from reaching the business end of the igniter, but the relay in the circuit welded itself open. What that means is that although Doug shut off power to the pad, the relay had enough juice in it to fire the igniter, which happened as soon as Doug moved the wires, which unshorted them.

Whoosh! A helluva lot closer than I ever want to be ever again.

Nobody was hurt (beyond that singed arm hair), which was the main thing. The relay box is being disected this evening to figure out why it stuck open and how to prevent it from ever happening again.

Just to give you an idea of the power of the motor: even with only half a tank of nitrous to work with, the motor lofted the forty-plus pound rocket over four hundred feet into the air.

Hanging out with Doug always makes for an interesting day. Afterwards, we hit Country BBQ for some excellent ribs and fixin's and then I headed home; happy, tired, and with another cool story to add to my collection.

Posted by Ted at 09:49 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

November 03, 2005

Cool Christmas Present

Pratt Hobbies has a new T-Shirt for that cool kid in your life.


Posted by Ted at 04:18 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 31, 2005

Fall BattlePark 2005 Rocket Launch

November 5th and 6th in Culpeper, Virginia. 10am-5pm. Spectators welcome and it's free. We're cleared through the FAA for flights up to 15,000 feet.

I'll be there, look for the red Mazda pickup. If you need more info, feel free to ask in the comments or via email. If you do decide to come out, please check that link or check back here, and I'll post whatever go/no go information I have if the weather's dicey.

This will be the first BattlePark for me sans kids, which is going to be kind of strange (I've got a seat open if someone would like to ride with). We've camped out there before, and other times we've just made day trips of it. Either way, it's big fun.

Posted by Ted at 04:23 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

October 07, 2005

Launch Report

All right, this is way late, but since I use Rocket Jones as my online flight log, you get to read it or skip it.

This launch was one of our monthly club launches, sponsored by NOVAAR. Held at Great Meadow Equestrian Center on 9/11/2005, the weather was beautiful and the wind ranged from near calm to quite brisk. The biggest problem was that it was blowing diagonally across the field, directly towards the biggest patch of woods bordering the field.

I pulled a shift as Launch Controller, and also made several flights of my own.

1. Angel - D12-5 - This ring-fin hadn't flown for a couple of years, but she made an excellent comeback flight.

2. Snitch - D12-0 / C6-0 - I chad-staged this plastic flying saucer from Estes. Great flight, and it always gets a lot of attention with the big motor hanging out from underneath.

3. Pacifyer - D12-5 - Arrow-straight boost and good recovery for my flying blood-dripping battleaxe.

4. YJ-218 - C6-7x2 - Perfect ignition of both engines. Great flight.

5. Phoenix - H180 White Lightning, medium delay - Loud and smokey, and after the motor burnout you could hear her fins whistling as she coasted to apogee. She suffered the only damage of the day, when she landed on one lower fin and the body tube partially delaminated. Easy fix, and the fin is still rock solid.

6. Barenaked Lady - F24-7 - This flight was just plain stupid. I put a big honkin' motor in a large but very lightweight rocket. She screamed off the pad, arced ever so slightly into the wind, and landed less than 50 yards away. Only on low-wind days. Sweet!

7. Odin's Spear - B6-6 - Another excellent flight from Vertical Force's first kit offering. Rich was kind enough to give me one of the new kits in the package for helping to test the prototype. It's numbered too. Cool!

So that was it for my flights. Another excellent rocket flying day that are far too far apart.

Posted by Ted at 04:58 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

October 06, 2005

Paging Al Unser III

Rocket racing. Real rockets, real pilots.

A private group of rocketeers has banded together to create the Rocket Racing League with aims at blurring the line between competitive racing and human spaceflight. Their vision: A fleet of at least 10 stock rocket planes flown by crack pilots through a three-dimensional track 5,000 feet above the Earth.

"Imagine not one, but 10 of these fire-breathing dragons flying around a race course." -- Peter Diamandis

One of these visionaries is Peter Diamandis, who also founded the $10 million Ansari X Prize suborbital competition for private piloted spacecraft.

The liquid oxygen/kerosene fuel mix is expected to have a burn time of about four minutes, which would force pilots to repeatedly shut down their engines and glide, then restart as needed to surpass opponents, explained Searfoss, who will demonstrate the method during the upcoming prototype demonstration.

Because of their fuel type, X-Racers should also generate a 20-foot flame easily visible from the ground, which will be vital for spectators, Diamandis said.

These people aren't crazy, they're looking to foster greater interest among the population for civilian spaceflight.

Better duck, NASCAR.

Thanks to Chris Hall at Spacecraft for the pointer. He's got some interesting background tie-in information too.

Posted by Ted at 05:41 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

September 19, 2005

Rocket Pictures

I'll put my launch report from last weekend's club launch up in the next couple of days, but Rich already has pictures up, including some very nice shots of rockets in flight. There are also one of me prepping the Barenaked Lady, and two very nice pics of it under thrust.

Posted by Ted at 05:54 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 11, 2005

Rocket Launch Today

I'm going about my normal life, but what happened on this day will never be far from my mind.

I also didn't do a specific countdown like I have the last two years. Click this link to see my previous Countdown to 9/11 images.

Have a great day.

Posted by Ted at 07:03 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 28, 2005

My Rocket Binder

I am fanatical about being organized when it comes to my rocketry. I make checklists for anything more complicated than your standard Estes rocket, and my standard kit for a day at the field includes boxes within boxes, organized so that I know where everything is and can get to it without fuss or confusion.

binder cover1a.JPG

I even have a checklist to make sure I don't forget anything when I'm packing my truck for the launch.

I also have a binder full of useful rocketry stuff that goes with me every time. Inside are my checklists, a roster of my larger rockets showing weight, chute sizes, expected altitudes on various motors and other important things I need to know when flying high power. There are wiring diagrams for my altimeter bays, enlarged photocopies of the various motor assembly instructions (the originals are small and hard to read), specs for my launch control box and hybrid system, and anything else I might find handy, all collected up into one book.

The picture shows the new cover for my binder (click for bigger). We took the picture a couple of years ago at Battle Park in Culpeper, Virginia.

Posted by Ted at 01:36 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 22, 2005


Rich got his Level 1 Rocketry Certification on Saturday.

That means two things:

1. He can fly high power rockets now (H and I motors).
2. His wallet is gonna be empty.

Posted by Ted at 11:34 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 18, 2005

Rocket Pictures

Almost two years ago, I put up a post about some of the unusual rockets that the kids and I have built and flown. In it, I said this:

I just realized I don't have pictures posted of another odd-roc we did, named Invader Zim's Song of Doom. She used a funnel for drag stability instead of fins, and the nosecone was a green plastic easter egg with silver alien eyes made from duct tape. This one had problems from the outset. Not with the going up part, but with the coming down part. As in parachutes not wanting to work correctly. She finally destroyed herself by becoming a lawn dart, and we have the video tape to cringe over anytime we want to watch it. Embarrassing.

I finally did find a picture of the Invader Zim's Song of Doom rocket. This is pre-decal, which were basically just "doom, doom, doom, doom..." winding up, down and all over the silly thing.

This next one is one of my early scratchbuilt mid-to-high power rockets, the Bootlegger. She's still in fairly good shape, but semi-retired after making many great flights. I made the logo in PowerPoint and printed it onto decal paper using a laser printer.

This rocket is called Watch the Birdie, and she was an experiment in finishing techniques. I used black primer followed up by an ultra-flat black cover coat, and around the rocket nozzle area I used heat-resistant barbeque paint. The flash adds a shine that really isn't there in real life, this thing is suck-all-available-light-into-it black. And for those who think all I do is big rockets, look closely at the picture and you'll notice that I built two. The little one is 3 inches tall and fully flyable.

Last one. The picture is small, but it's the only picture I have of this rocket, taken just before liftoff. Several years ago, Estes released a neat kit called the Prowler. It was a big rocket, being more than four feet long, and very customizable. What happened when I was building mine was that the glue siezed up before I got the tubes joined together and wound up with about a one half inch gap. It was strong enough to not matter, so I filled the gap with rocket bondo and got ready to paint it. Since this rocket was one half inch longer than the regular version, it must obviously have been crafted by the peace loving people of the workers paradise of the USSR as a defense against the inferior (by one half inch!) rocket built by the war mongering capitalist running dog lackeys. So after a red, silver and black paintjob (and the one yellow fin), in bold cyrillic letters she was christened the Prowlski.

I flew her on big motors for her size and weight. I lost her three different times, but since I had my name and number on the rocket, the first two times I got phone calls from the person who found it. The third time was in the early fall in a farm field (it wasn't cotton, corn or tobacco so I'm guessing soybeans), and even though I saw about where it landed I spent about an hour looking without finding it. I picked up the remains in the spring, because the farmer collected lost rockets as he did his harvesting, but this one went through the machine and was an almost total loss. I got the motor casing back undamaged (the expensive part - yay!).

I still have a couple of Prowler's in the box, I probably should build another one.

Posted by Ted at 04:18 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 17, 2005

Rocket Launch this weekend

Hosted by the Northern Virginia Association of Rocketry. Held at Great Meadow Equestrian Center, in The Plains, Virginia. Starts at 9am, flying until 5pm. Normal FAA waiver to 4500 feet altitude, J motor maximum. Spectatin' and model rocketry free, high power is $5.00 for the day. Performance Hobbies of Washington DC will be onsite for all your rocketry needs.

I know Doug Pratt is planning on flying a biggun' on a HyperTech (or is that a SkyRipper?) J-330 hybrid motor (with nitrous injection). If I get the altimeter bay rebuilt in time I'll be putting up "Ain't Misbehavin'" on a RATTworks I-80 hybrid (now where did I put that picture?). I'm also going to launch my scale Phoenix (another picture here) on an Aerotech H-128 White Lightning. Plus my usual box o' little fun stuff.

You're invited.

Posted by Ted at 05:55 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

July 28, 2005

Short notice but wicked cool

Got a last-minute email from a rocketry bud letting me know that at 9pm last night on the SciFi channel, the show MasterBlasters would be focusing on rocketry.

I'd never seen the show before, but what it seems to be is a set team of generalists (engineers, fabricators, etc), known as the MasterBlasters, go up against a team of "experts" to accomplish a given task for the episode. For last nights' experts, the rocketry guys were led by Erik Gates, who is a legend in high-power rocketry. The rest of his team included his brother Dirk, plus some of their friends who've helped on other big Gates Brother's projects (great photos of their work are available here). You may have seen the Gates Brothers on the show MythBusters, when they assisted in the episode where they strapped rockets to the top of a car.

Back to MasterBlasters. Inspired by the movie Wizard of Oz, each team was given a kid's playhouse made of wood. These weren't flimsy little structures, they were basically mini-houses with an attached porch and full roof, maybe six or eight feet to a side and about that tall as well. The challenge was to launch the house with four rocket motors to the greatest possible altitude, the house had to spin at least three times on the way up (tornado!), at the top the wicked witch on her broom had to be released to fall seperately, and the house - with Dorothy (and her little doggie too!) on the front porch - had to be returned to ground safely.

Quite a task.

I won't give spoilers, because it's quite fun to watch the final results. I found it interesting that, as is usually the case in these kinds of shows, the two teams came up with radically different solutions to the problem. The rocketeers basically used the house itself as the nosecone of their rocket, whereas the Masterblasters built a mast containing their rocket motors to drag the structure behind. It worked very much like the escape tower functioned on the US manned capsules (and I talked about the escape towers here and here with my posts about the Little Joe series of rockets).

Fun episode. If you get a chance, see it. I'll be checking back to see what other kind of fun the MasterBlasters get into in future shows.

Posted by Ted at 11:34 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 23, 2005

Google is your friend (part whatever)

I was commenting on a post below and suggested a google of "RATO packs". Being the curious george sort, I went ahead and took my own advice and lo and behold, lookie what I found:

(caption from 3rd photo down on the page)

Prowler just lifting off from STO launch using RATO pack with AeroTech™ M2500 motor and Aero Pack RA98 retainer.

The M2500 of which they speak is a popular Level 3 certification motor. That's right, we hobbty rocketeers get to play with military-grade propellants, or maybe it's the military that gets to play with consumer-grade rocketry motors.

Posted by Ted at 09:17 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 20, 2005

TARC 2006 Rules Announced

This just in:

This year’s contest challenges secondary school students to design, build and fly a model rocket that carries one raw egg to an altitude as close to 800 feet as possible and stays airborne for as close to 45 seconds as possible and returns the egg to the ground safely.

Hmmmm, altitude and duration. Very interesting...

Because of the need for altimeter's in the rocket (altitude measurement), they're limiting the number of entries to the first 750 teams. The National Finals are scheduled for May 20, 2006, at Great Meadow, The Plains, Virginia. Sponsors include 39 major aerospace companies. More information is available at

Posted by Ted at 07:23 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Rockets and other things that fly

Rich attended our last club rocket launch (I couldn't make it, dang) and posted a mini-launch report. One of the flyers there is a rather unique individual who does unholy things with aerodynamics (translation: way fun). Rich has links up to the guy's site showing some of the unusual things he flies, as well as his typical nifty photo album full o' rockets and the folks who fly them.

Posted by Ted at 09:58 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 26, 2005

Titan IV Project

I've been following the progress of a team of hobby rocketeers who've developed a scale version of the Titan IV heavy lift booster. Like the real thing, this rocket would sport a pair of side booster rockets that would be jettisoned midway through the ascent.

This is a big rocket that they're sending up. For example, here's some of the data from their preliminary simulations as they calculate the best timing to deploy the chutes on the dropaway boosters.

Each booster is 9" dia, 8' tall weighing about 20 lbs at burnout. Boosters are connected fore and aft and will be released by blowing charges at both connection points. Vehicle will be traveling 404 mph at 2600' at time of release (6 seconds into the flight) CG on the booster will be slightly forward of center (maybe 12")

I suspect the large surface area and low weight will cause the booster to slow rapidly, compared to the main rocket weighing about 90 lbs, carrying much more inertia.

This weekend was the scheduled maiden flight from the field down at Whitakers, North Carolina. I don't have a link to the liftoff pictures yet, but here's one of the Titan IV on the pad as they prep before flight.

Word is, the launch was spectacular.

Posted by Ted at 02:10 PM | Comments (1)

June 06, 2005

More Real Rocket Science

I humbly admit to a small role in getting young people involved in aerospace engineering by acting as a mentor during the Team America Rocket Challenges (TARC) of the last three years.

I've also spent time talking to students who're building and launching CanSat payloads (real electronic payloads fit into a space the size of a coke can). Almost every month at our scheduled club rocket launches, we get several teams testing new designs for both TARC and CanSats.

Some of those kids have gone on to participate in NASA's Student Launch Initiative (SLI) program.

Some of the kids involved have gone on to college and are now working towards a career in aerospace. When they do, they get to do things like the Virginia Tech Sounding Rocket Project.

The mission is being sponsored by NASA's Sounding Rocket Operations Contract (NSROC) in Wallops Island, Virginia. NSROC has provided Virginia Tech with manufacturing of most payload components, a rocket motor, as well as official engineering analysis of the design. As part of the process, the students have attended 4 professional meetings at the NASA Wallops facility and have gotten the opportunity to collaborate with NSROC engineers on how to improve the design of the payload. The launch will take place on Wallops Island in mid-May of 2005.

Jealous? You bet I am.

The payload weighs approximately 190 pounds and is about 10.3 feet in length. The Orion motor will carry this payload to an altitude of nearly 60 miles above the surface of the Earth in approximately 150 seconds. After apogee, the payload will reenter, a parachute will deploy, and the payload will splash down in the ocean. A recovery team will then retrieve the payload from the water, and then will be brought back to NSROC's facility where it will be taken apart. The MAGIC instrument will be returned to NRL for analysis and the students will analyze the rocket flight data obtained through telemetry transmissions.

They recently made their successful launch. Check out preflight coolness, and then some launch and recovery pictures. Thanks to Professor Chris Hall for sharing this. Now, how can I get one of those decals for my rocket?

Posted by Ted at 12:15 PM | Comments (0)

June 05, 2005

Launch Report - 6/5/05

Our rocket club had a rare Sunday-only launch today, and I managed to sneak over there for a couple of hours this morning (we've got family visiting from out of town).

I travelled very light, only bringing two rockets and a handful of engines. Pity too, because the day was hot and humid and the air was almost calm, meaning straight up and straight down. A perfect day for altitude.

Click here for a picture of the two rockets.

The first rocket (the yellow one) is a prototype of a kit being produced by my buddy Rich of Vertical Force Rocketry. He gave me a pre-production kit to build so I could give him feedback on the instructions and materials, and then make some test flights. It's a ring-fin model called the Odin's Spear and folks, this bird rocks! If you're looking for something new to build after a couple of Estes kits, I very much recommend this rocket.

The second rocket (white with black nose) was an experiment. Someone at NARAM last summer built a single finned rocket that relies on spinning to remain stable (fin detail here). I took pictures of it and built my version to play with. The original basically unravelled the cardboard tube on the third flight (serious torque!), so mine has two tubes, one inside the other for extra strength. Thinking back on it, his might have kicked the entire motor mount out the back to deploy the chute, making the nosecone permanently mounted up front. That's important to remember as you read further on. It's a fun rocket, spinning like a ballerina on handfuls of speed washed down by double-espressos.

It was sorta successful. So all told I made five flights:

1. Odin's Spear - A8-5 - When the motor burned out you could hear a whistle! Stays low enough for schoolyard launching, chute right at apogee.

2. Odin's Spear - B6-6 - Another arrow-straight boost, very quick and gets great altitude for a B motor. The whistling happened as she slowed down before deploying the chute, again right at apogee.

3. Nameless spinning prototype - D12-5 - About 20 feet up she was spinning and the nosecone came off. Tipped unstable and landed in the grass where the ejection charge went off. No damage.

4. Nameless spinning prototype - D12-3 - I added some masking tape to the nosecone shoulder to make it harder to some loose, but it did anyway some 50 feet up. Chute deployed normally this time and she also spun on the way down. Minor fin damage, can be repaired (although I don't know if I'll bother).

5. Odin's Spear - C6-7 - Zoooooom! Almost lost sight of it way up there, but saw the chute deploy, once again right at the top. Another brief whistle as she slowed down. My longest walk of the day for recovery, maybe 50 yards.

It was almost noon and I had to get going, so I made a quick stop at the Performance Hobbies trailer (gotta love a hobby shop that comes to the flying field!) and picked up a pair of AeroTech H128 White Lightning motors and an AeroTech H165 Redline motor. I'll fly them in my big rockets another day. Said goodbye to my friends and left. I briefly talked to frequent Rocket Jones commenter Russ, who was arriving just as I was heading out.

Short and sweet, that's how to describe my day flying rockets. Big fun.

Posted by Ted at 02:52 PM | Comments (2)

May 29, 2005

More Team America Pictures, Audio and Video

Jerry O'Sullivan has posted some stills and videos of TARC 05 on his website. There's a whole heap of good pictures there covering the entire day. Especially nice are the shots of Vern Estes, Paul Rodgers (who built the Goddard rocket and dressed the part), and the beautiful field at Great Meadow where we fly every month.

If you've got the connection speed, I especially recommend the video of the on-board camera carried aloft by the Nike-Smoke. Awesome!

Also, someone passed along this link to an NPR spot that focused on one of the all-girl teams that competed. You can click on the 'listen' button for the related audio.

Posted by Ted at 09:33 PM | Comments (0)

May 28, 2005

TARC 2005

All right, this is the post you've been dreading waiting for: What Ted and Mookie did for this year's edition of the Team America Rocketry Challenge. FYI, we had the name first, waayy before the movie came along. Neener neener.

Quick recap: 712 student teams comprised of 10,000 young ladies and gentlemen from across the US (and one DoD school in Germany) entered the contest, vying for $60,000 in scholarship money (plus extra goodies, more on those later). Each team had a teacher sponsor, and many had mentor volunteers from the National Association of Rocketry. Bottom line though, the kids themselves had to design, build and fly the rocket without adult assistance.

The challenge was to build a rocket that would be aloft for exactly 60 seconds, carry one or two fresh eggs, and return the eggs unbroken. The rocket could be a single stage model, but would incurr a 3 second penalty. Carrying only one egg incurred an additional 3 second penalty. So if a team built a single-stage rocket that carried one egg and stayed aloft for 61 seconds, then their score would be 1 (the difference from the target time of 60 seconds) + 3 (single stage) + 3 (single egg) = a score of 7. Note that whether their time was long or short didn't matter (a time of 59 seconds in that example would result in the same score of 7), and it's scored the same way. A lower score is better.

Clear as mud? It's harder to explain that it is to understand.

So all 712 teams were required to make a qualification flight. The flights were witnessed and the results were sent in for tabulation. The 100 best scores were selected for the finals. Five finalists couldn't make it for various reasons and alternates were selected in order from the top scores. To give you an idea of the difficulty of the challenge, less than 300 teams were able to enter qualification flights.

At the finals, each team made a single flight for score. Talk about pressure!

We drove to the Friday night briefing at the newest high school in the county. First we had ours (the volunteer range crew), where we learned the details needed for the following day. While that was going on, the cafeteria was quickly filling with excited students and teachers. Teams had to register and then pick up their equipment. Many teams has shipped their rockets ahead to Aurora Flight Sciences (based in Manassas, Virginia and owned by one of our club members). Because of postal and airline regulations, most teams had pre-ordered rocket motors to be delivered at the contest.

After the range crew brief, the students filed in. Mixed in among the students were the volunteer from AIA (blue polos) and the NAR (white polos and khaki pants). Mookie and I talked to a couple of teams that were sitting near us before things got started.

In order to run an event this big and keep it strictly fair for everyone, things have to run on schedule. The two guys who put it together again this year are retired military, and have a unique way of driving that point home.

When everyone was seated, the contest director stood in front of the group and pointed to a digital clock on the podium. You know, the kind that synchronizes itself via a radio signal to Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) (similar to this). He called a time check and hack exactly on the hour. There were some snickers amongst the kids, but it was emphasized that each team had a set prep 'window' and set launch 'window'. Failure to make your flight during your window was an automatic disqualification. No exceptions. That put notice to everyone that the schedule wasn't merely a suggestion of when things should happen, it listed when things *would* happen. Gee, just like the real world, eh?

After some remarks by the head of the NAR and AIA, the safety and information briefing was done, followed by a neat little presentation by Dr. Jay Apt, who flew on the shuttle four times. He started off by asking everyone to imagine the most fun they'd ever had, and then imagining that times 100. Then he said, "Space flight is even better than that". He went on to give a short autobiography, touching on his postings at various observatories (he's an astronomer by training), and showing the things he did to become an astronaut (it wasn't easy and he did some career moves specifically to get into space). A very impressive show. Dr. Apt is a trustee for the NAR and a helluva nice guy.

After the briefing, Rachael and I headed home for some sleep. We had to be back at the field at 6am the following morning.

The field had been set up the day before by about 25 volunteers who worked through about 2" of rain in four hours, all of it blowing straight sideways. Mookie and I have volunteered to help set up in previous years, but couldn't do it this year because of work and school commitments. I'm a bad person for not feeling guilty about that, because those guys worked their tails off in miserable weather.

The field was wet and squishy but there were no massive mud pits, thanks to the fact that it's like a huge front lawn and there's great drainage of the entire area.

Mookie was tasked to be a runner for the day, shuttling flight cards and paperwork amongst the various checkpoints (egg issue, safety check, range control, etc). They had enough runners to adaquately cover the main places, so she spent much of the day with me, running notices up to the PA and radio announcers and escorting teams and teachers to their media interviews.

I was one of two designated bad guys (referred to as "trolls" during the pre-brief). Along with a rocketeer from Florida named Bruno, we handled access to the flying field through the only open gate. Past us, only student teams were allowed. No parents, no teachers, no advisors. We said "no" a lot to folks all day long and even caught a few who tried to sneak casually stroll by, thinking that the rules couldn't possibly apply to them. On the upside, every single team and rocket went past us, and we got to see many of them up close and talk to the kids. I can honestly say that no team went onto that field without hearing Bruno, Mookie (when she was around) or I wishing them good luck. We also answered lots of spectator questions and made sure the media folks knew where things were.

Early in the morning, after a group of students sang the National Anthem (with a Jr ROTC color guard display) there was a helicopter flyover by the Marine Helicopter Squadron-1 (HMX-1), the first Marine aviation unit ever established and the unit responsible for all Presidential helicopter flights. Last year it was a pair of F18 fighters, but apparently the jets on afterburner scared the crap out of some local folks who thought some sort of emergency was going on. The choppers were cool though, check here and here for pics of the aircraft involved.

There was a "pool feed" for local television stations to tap into during the event, and I've heard from several people that they saw reports on various news programs. The winning team appeared on the Today show.

Also, there were plenty of VIP's around. Rachael and I spent a few minutes talking to Vern Estes and his wife Gleda. They attend a lot of rocketry events all over the country, and Vern mentioned that he'd never imagined this many young people all flying rockets in one place at one time. Mookie got her picture taken with the Estes, and her field pass autographed by Vern himself.

After the contest flying was over, several demo flights were made. There was a celebrity impersonator present who did a pretty good Albert Einstein (100 years ago he introduced the theory of relativity - Albert, not the impersonator), and then the Goddard rocket flight. Then nine high power rockets took to the sky, dwarfing the rockets that the students flew and showing them what the next step was if they wanted to pursue the hobby. Big wow factor, including a very nice flight made by a rocket sporting an Animal Motor Works "Green Gorilla" motor which fires with, you guessed it, a brilliant emerald green flame.

Then it was time for the awards. Speeches, VIP's, giant "prize" checks, photos of all the teams, special awards given by the various aerospace companies for things like best craftsmanship, lightest successful rocket, teamwork, etc. I can't quote her exactly, but The Director of Education for NASA said something I thought really brought things into perspective:

You designed and successfully flew a payload carrying vehicle. It launched safely, completed the mission it was designed for, and brought the payload it was carrying back unharmed. (pointing to the three NASA astronauts on the platform) I think they'll agree that you've conquered the important parts of this challenge, especially the 'bringing back the payload unharmed' part.

This contest is truly a space program in miniature, and for the third year in a row the kids kicked its butt.

If you go to the TARC site (click through the opening pages), you'll find photographs of many of the teams and what awards they won. The final results are up too, and I'm amazed at the precision these kids achieved. Remember that the challenge was a targeted time aloft of 60 seconds, and 43 teams out of 100 were within 10 seconds of that. Six teams were within 2 seconds of the target! Two teams dropped out of the top 10 because they decided to design and fly a less complex single-stage rocket and accept the time penalty involved.

The shortest successful flight was just under 18 seconds. The rocket arced near horizontal right off the launch rod. Staging was perfect, except for the horizontal part, and just as everyone was expecting it to slam into the ground (about 20 feet above and 200 yards downrange) the chute ejected. The recovery was abrupt and violent, but the chute opened, the eggs were intact (!!!) and everything else held together.

After the awards ceremony I got to play troll again and manage access to a huge catered BBQ. Talking to the caterer, they fed 400 people in the first 20 minutes, and almost a thousand in all in less than an hour. Mookie and I got our food (I was the last in line) and sat with an adult from one of the teams. Don't know if he was a parent or teacher, we originally thought he was just quiet, but it gradually came out that he was royally pissed at another adult who talked the kids into changing their parachute size at the last minute, and it cost the kids a place in the top 10. It was very uncomfortable because the students and adults were sitting at three or four different tables and nobody would talk to each other. I'm glad I didn't have to share a ride home with them!

As we headed to the truck after a long and happy day, Rachael and I noticed that Vern and Gleda Estes were walking in front of us, holding hands.

Posted by Ted at 09:37 AM | Comments (1)

May 22, 2005

Long but rewarding day

I'll put up a more complete post later, but for now here are some Team America Rocketry Contest highlights and things that come immediately to mind, in no particular order.

The top three student teams were all within 1 second of the target time.

Ken Mattingly of Apollo 13 fame (still sans measles) was there.

The Director of Education for NASA attended again, and in her remarks said that NASA was on the edge of a massive wave of engineer retirements, and that they desperately needed an influx of young talent. She said that they weren't able to get enough new people to backfill the positions left vacant.

No mention of commercial space. Not surprising since NASA and the Aerospace Industry Association picked up the tab for TARC, and none of the new players are members in the AIA (yet). Still, this is an opportunity to recruit and promote that private space companies should grab a piece of if they can.

One of the demo flights was a full-scale reconstruction of Robert Goddard's original rocket. Unlike the original flight, this one was designed to fly in a safe and stable manner, and did. It looked scale, it didn't fly scale.

Several teams managed to hang their rockets in evil rocket-eating trees, but all managed to get them back and return the egg payload for scoring. One team found their rocket after searching for five hours. Only one team never found their rocket.

God likes rockets.

Lots of goodies and stuff to check out along "vendor row". Mostly colleges passing out information on their engineering and sciences curriculums. The CIA was there, so was the Civil Air Patrol, and they had a nifty Wright Brothers flight simulator where you could sit in a reconstruction of their original flyer's cockpit (such as it was) and try to fly the darned thing. The line was too long for Mookie and I to get to try that.

I remembered sunscreen. Mostly.

My cheeks hurt from smiling all day long.

Posted by Ted at 06:37 AM | Comments (3)

May 21, 2005

Team America Rocketry Challenge

Today is the day.

Last night Mookie and I sat in an auditorium with over 500 motivated and enthusiastic young men and women, their parents and teachers, listening to the pre-brief.

Gotta run. More info over on the right sidebar. Do a search for "Team America", or scroll down under the sections for "Rocketry" and "I'm Involved".

Fun, fun, fun, and a complete report later.

Posted by Ted at 04:44 AM | Comments (0)

May 16, 2005

Team America Rocketry Contest update

This is the final prep week. Starting Friday evening, Mookie and I will be immersed in students and rockets. It looks like over 500 students and teachers will descend on our little corner of Virginia to launch raw eggs and see if their designs are successful enough to snag a share of the scholarship money. Most importantly though, these teams are the finalists, each scored well enough in the qualification round to place in the top 100 of over 750 entered teams.

The goal is difficult, and just getting a successful flight was a huge challenge. These kids are flying amazingly complex rockets, and making it look routine, that experienced rocketeers seldom attempted just a few years ago.

Speaking from experience, whoever said that you learn more from failures than successes, knew what they were talking about. Every team that attempted the challenge this year learned a lot about technology and various sciences, even if they never got their designs to work correctly. This year.

From the final status update:

This year we will have more media coverage, much more NASA/industry participation, and more elaborate site facilities than in previous years. Neither Senator Enzi [Wyoming - RJ] nor Homer Hickam can make it, but we are optimistic about the new NASA Administrator making it. The Marines are sending a flyover of helos from the Presidential helo squadron as part of the opening ceremony. We have a great HPR demo lined up for the end of the day, and Steve Humphrey and Paul Rodgers have built a full-size replica of Goddard's original rocket to fly as an afternoon demonstration flight as well. Goddard was a physicist, and our event co-sponsor this year is the American Association of Physics Teachers.

Kids and rockets, you can't go wrong with a combination like that. I'm gettin' excited!

Posted by Ted at 11:21 AM | Comments (4)

May 07, 2005

Rockets in the News

The Team America Rocketry Challenge happens in two weeks (click here for more info), and local newspapers across the country are starting to notice.

EDUCATION: It IS rocket science

Grand Forks Herald - Grand Forks, ND,USA
... perhaps the first thing the three-member Red River High School rocket team will check this afternoon after they launch the 3½-foot model rocket they designed ...

Houston, we have ignition
Delmarva Daily Times - MD,USA
... an invitation to compete in the Aerospace Industries Association's Team America Rocketry Challenge fly-off -- the nation's largest student model rocket contest ...

Counting down - Fort Lauderdale,FL,USA
... Right Stuff -- has placed the eight-student group in the coveted finals of the Team America Rocketry Contest, billed as the world's largest model rocket contest ...

Thanks to Bill S. for emailing the links.

Posted by Ted at 09:34 PM | Comments (2)

May 01, 2005

So much for that rocket launch

BattlePark 2005 in Culpeper, Virginia was a complete personal washout for me. Dammit. Since the field is plowed farmland, I assume that anyone who shows up today is going to be hubcap deep in mud. It rained here all night both Friday and Saturday, which made for good sleeping, but lousy rocketry.

Oh well. That's weather for ya.

Posted by Ted at 09:37 AM | Comments (2)

April 23, 2005

Rocketry - Clusters

Matt asked in my comments section for help on clustering model rocket motors. An excellent topic! This is a beginner's guide at best. It's enough to help you be successful, I don't claim it's definitive.

What is Clustering?
Clustering is when a rocket has more than one motor that ingnites simultaneously. A perfect real-life example is the Saturn V rocket that took men to the moon. The first stage had five engines that lit all at once at lift off, and the second stage had five more smaller motors that fired all at once when the first stage dropped away (that's a good example of a staged rocket too). A variation on the theme is when the main motor(s) lift the rocket and then additional motors ignite in the same stage. These are called "airstarts" and are more complicated and difficult because on-board electronics must be used for the ignition system and the timing has to be correct. Good examples of that concept are today's Delta family of rockets and the ESA's Ariane. In fact, most current heavy lifters use combinations of airstarted boosters to increase their lift capacity and to tailor the thrust profile over the boost phase.

Why do Clusters?
In the early days of model rocketry, motor classes were very limited and the only way to get more power was to cluster available motors. Nowadays the selection of motors is excellent so it's less of a neccessity. That's not to say there aren't still good reasons for designing cluster rockets today. Many TARC rocket contest teams have gone with clustered motors because the smaller Estes motors are cheaper, more reliably ignited and more readily available. Personally, I love clusters because they're cool.

Design Considerations
On the model rocket level, the main consideration must be "what if all the engines don't light?" I've made test flights of my cluster rockets where I intentionally didn't ignite all the motors, to check the performance even when underpowered. You should be trying for a rocket that can still fly safely on half power. It might not be a great flight, but safety is always first.

Another consequence of not lighting all motors is unbalanced thrust. If two motors are firing and the third isn't, then the rocket has to work harder to stay stable because the thrust is trying to tip the rocket over into an arc.

There are a couple things you can do to minimize this. First, you can put your motors close to the main axis of the rocket. If all the engines are tucked in right next to each other then the imbalance is minimized. Conversely, if your motors are in outboard mounts on the fin tips, well, a motor that doesn't ignite is a much bigger problem. I don't recommend fin-tip motors. Ever.

Another way to keep stability is to aim the motors at the rocket's center of gravity. Tilt each motor mount in slightly (or not so slightly - this is an extreme example that works wonderfully), and once again all the motors can easily compensate for the one(s) that didn't ignite. Check out that Delta link above and notice that the booster engine bells are slanted out to achieve the same effect. Obviously, you'll need to have a good idea ahead of time about the design and how it'll balance out. I use an older version of Apogee Components Rocsim to design complex clusters.

One other way is to induce spin in your rocket. Spin increases stability (but increases drag), and if the rocket spins on the way up then the unbalanced thrust is evenly distributed all the way around. What happens is that you wind up with a wacky corkscrew or the rocket looks like it's wagging it's tail end on the way up. Some rocket designs do this on purpose. It's fun to watch.

Igniting Clusters
The key to reliable ignition of multiple motors is to be meticulous.

The battery of your launch controller must be well charged, don't try to ignite a cluster at the end of the day with your worn down AA's. Invest in a small sealed cell motorcycle or lawn tractor battery. They're cheap and deliver plenty of power when you need it. Rechargable batteries used in cordless power tools or RC vehicles work great if you connect them in series. Better yet, find a local club and use their launch setup, it'll almost certainly be good enough to fire clusters all day long.

For model rocket engines, use the Estes igniters. Quest tigertails are too finicky to deal with. You can make them work, but to me it's not worth the extra hassle. Pick through your igniters and select the ones with a good blob of pyrogen on the end. You want the igniters to go instantly when you press the button.

Also, check inside the nozzles of each engine. You should see black up inside. If you see light gray, then there's excess clay from the nozzle blocking the propellant, and it won't matter how good your igniter is, it's not going to help. If you need to, you can gently scrape the inside clean with the end of a straightened paper clip.

All right, your battery is charged up, your motors are ready to go and you've got a handful of blobby little igniters.

Wiring Clusters
Here's where the 'meticulous' bit comes in again. Once you've got the cluster hooked up to the ignition system, take a minute to carefully inspect everything. Make sure igniter wires aren't touching except where they're supposed to. Make sure the clips are hooked up securely and not touching the blast deflector, the launch rod, or other exposed metal. You need everything to be absolutely perfect. It's not hard, just fiddly.

Start by putting the igniters into each motor and inserting the ingniter plug. If you want, you can carefully remove the paper tape that Estes puts on their igniters. I just fold the ends out of the way.

cluster wiring

Click on the image for a bigger picture.

For two-motor clusters (assuming that they're right next to each other), all you need to do is twist one leg of each igniter together. You'll end up with two 'tails' consisting of the two igniter leads, which you hook up to the launch controller clips. Just like in the upper left part of the diagram.

For three and four engine clusters (or more complex motor arrangements), you're going to need a set of clip whips. These are easy to make, see below.

Notice in the diagram for three motor clusters that one leg from each of the three igniters are twisted together in the middle. Then I take two of the remaining leads and twist them together. One ignition clip goes on the set of three twisted together and the other clip is attached to a clip whip. The other, dual ends of the clip whip are connected to the twisted pair and the single lead, respectively.

Four motor clusters in a square pattern are simple. Twist the two leads together from each corner so that each igniter is connected to the ones on either side. This time you'll use two clip whips to connect oppsosite corners together, and then the igniter clips from the launch controller attach to the clip whips. It sounds more complicated than it really is, check out the diagram.

bus bar ignition

Another alternative is to use a "bus bar" setup. With this method, you take a length of heavy solid copper wire and wrap a leg from each igniter around it. If needed, a second bar is used for the other side of each igniter. Finally you hook the bus bars up to the launch controller ignition clips.

There's no need for the bus bars to be straight either. I've seen some people use a three-quarter circle of wire to eliminate the need for a clip whip when doing three-motor clusters.

Making a clip whip

A clip whip is just a way to deliver electrical current to more than one place at once. No matter what kind you make, one end will always have a single clip that hooks up to the ignition clip, and the other end will have two or more clips.

Making a pair of three-whips will cover 99% of your needs. You'll need eight mini-clips (available at Radio Shack) or small alligator clips and three or four feet of solid core copper wire - none of that stranded wire for this.

Cut the wire into lengths between 6"-8" long, then strip the ends. Solder clips onto one end of each wire (you can get by without soldering, but it's not nearly as reliable. If you don't know how, find a friend who can, it's worth the trouble.)

Here's the magic part. Take four wires and twist their ends together, then solder to make a solid connection. Ok, so that's not so magical, but that's really all it is! You can use a wire nut if you want, and/or cover the connection with electrical tape. I lay one wire opposite the other three so that it's obvious which connection is which, but it doesn't really matter. I also use different color wires for the three leads, to help me keep my cluster wiring straight.

So there ya go. That's most everything I know about clustering model rocket motors. There are a few things I've left out, but these are the basics, and if you're careful there's no reason you can't have a near 100% success rate with cluster ignition. Using these exact same methods, I've only had two motors not ignite in the last seven or eight years, and even then the flights were safe.

Posted by Ted at 05:23 AM | Comments (0)

April 18, 2005

Team America Rocketry Contest Finalists Named

From today's Aerospace Industry Association press release:

Teams Will Meet in Fly-Off May 21

Arlington, Va. – The stage is set for a fiery showdown of the top teams in the Team America Rocketry Challenge after AIA announced the 100 finalists Friday.

The teams will meet for a final fly-off on May 21 at Great Meadow in The Plains, Va. for the title. It is the third year AIA and its partners are putting on the world’s largest model rocket contest. A list of the finalists is available at

A total of 712 teams from 49 states and the District of Columbia – and even an American middle school in Germany – took part in the preliminary round of the competition. That represented close to 10,000 middle and high school students.

AIA President and CEO John W. Douglass said interest in the contest shows it is succeeding in reaching out to middle and high school students.

“We are excited to see the enthusiasm surrounding TARC and look forward to another great final day of competition,’’ Douglass said.

This year’s competition tasks students with launching a one- or two-stage rocket and having it fly for exactly 60 seconds. The payload of one or two raw eggs must return safely to the earth, and each flight receives a score according to performance and weighted for the number of stages and eggs. Teams had until last week to send in preliminary scores to see if they made the finals, which features schools from 28 states.

AIA created the contest two years ago as a one-time event to mark the 100th anniversary of flight, but overwhelming interest turned it into an annual event. The goal is to promote aerospace to students to attract more young people to careers in the industry. The contest is also sponsored by the National Association of Rocketry in partnership with NASA, the American Association of Physics Teachers and 34 AIA member companies. The winning teams share a prize pool of $60,000 in savings bonds and cash. NASA also provides top-performing teams with grants for students to build more advanced rockets and for teachers to attend workshops and meet space program engineers.

For more information about AIA’s Team America Rocketry Challenge, including details on how to sponsor a high school team and to apply for press credentials to attend the finals, visit

Mookie and I will be attending again as volunteers. We've worked all three (they hold the finals at our home field), and it's fun and exciting to see the various ways that the student teams solve the challenging task they're given.

Spectators welcome.

Posted by Ted at 06:50 PM | Comments (1)

April 15, 2005

Then and then

From this American Bosch Arma advertisement (1959):

This nuclear-fueled reconnaissance craft is preparing to land on Mars' outermost satellite, Deimos— 12,500 miles away from the "red planet" (center) and 35 million miles away from the Earth.

Under the ad is the (I assume) title of the illustration: Mars Snooper.

The reason it caught my eye - other than it's a rocket - is that Estes used to produce a rocket kit known as the Mars Snooper, and it's remarkably similar and obviously based on the illustration. Cool.

Posted by Ted at 11:55 AM | Comments (1)

April 13, 2005

Launch Report - 4/9/2005

Where: Great Meadow Equestrian Center, The Plains, Virginia
When: 9am – 6pm
Who: Northern Virginia Association of Rocketry (NOVAAR)
Weather: 60’s, variable gusty winds, sunny.

This was a two-day launch packed full of activities. In addition to flying several contest events, NOVAAR was handling TARC students making flights on the last weekend before qualification closed. Also, there were students from a high school physics class making flights, a scout group, a Junior ROTC group, plus a team from Oakton high school making final test flights for their NASA Student Launch Initiative flight (I supervised construction of their Aerotech I300 motor). All this going on while still managing plenty of just-for-fun launches, both model and high power.

The evening before I called Ken at Performance Hobbies and ordered some high power motors for delivery at the field. He arrived not long after I did and once he got set up I picked up my motors and got ready to fly.

1. Groove Tube Upscale - H165R-M - Beautiful boost (as usual) from this rocket. She coasted to an estimated 1500 feet before ejecting the 36” parachute right at apogee. I’d gone with an undersized chute – normal is 45”, I need a 40” – to minimize drift and she landed softly on the thick grass without damage. (takeoff photo here).

Since I planned to return on Sunday, that was the extent of my high power flying for the day. Everything else was from the Sport Range.

2. Pacifyer - D12-5 - This battleaxe shaped rocket always gets noticed. Beautiful boost and good altitude, she’s picked up a bit of spin since repairing a broken fin. Recovered nicely very close by.

3. YJ-218 - C6-7 (x2) - Arrow-straight boost for this dual-engined cluster and a perfect recovery.

4. Vampyre - A10-3T - This mini-engined ring-fin always surprises people by how fast it is. 3-2-1 and gone. I’m used to it and followed it all the way. Recovered undamaged on a streamer.

5. Zen Doggie - C6-7 (x3) - It’s been quite a while since I flew this rocket. Remembering that her last flight was a little squirrely (the fins are a tad undersized), I added some clay to the nose to increase stability and asked it to be announced as “heads up”. Only two of the three motors ignited. The delay was about two seconds too long due to missing one-third of the thrust during boost phase, but the climb was stable and she recovered nearby without damage. I’ve regained confidence in the design and I’ll start flying her again.

6. Sparrow Upscale - B6-6 - It doesn’t take much to boost this plain-jane rocket way up there, and the B6 did a nice job. She came down on one fin and slightly cracked it. Already repaired.

At 4:30 I took over as Range Safety Officer (countdown and button-pushing guy) and had a great time announcing and launching some fun flights, including some TARC qualifiers.

On Saturday night it became apparent that I wouldn’t be out flying on Sunday because I’d gotten so wrapped up in events that I never applied sunscreen and wound up with a severe and painful sunburn on my neck and ears. Since I do this every year on the first or second launch, you’d think I’d have learned better by now. Sheesh.

Posted by Ted at 12:26 PM | Comments (4)

April 11, 2005

Goes Around Comes Around

Something I've found among rocketeers is the willingness to share equipment and knowledge. You need something? Ask the guy next to you, and chances are he'll gladly lend it to you, and if he doesn't have it, he'll point out someone who does.

That, more than anything, has impressed me since day one about this hobby.

Saturday was a perfect example. I had some parts that I no longer needed, but I knew that Bart, a good friend could make use of them. I also remembered talking to him about rail buttons, and mentioned that I had a bunch and would give him some to try. So I added those to the bag and found him talking to another club member, Mitch. Bart wanted to pay me for it, but I refused. Instead I asked for some advice.

My Level 2 rocket has been designed and I've collected all the parts except for the fins. I was going to use plywood, but more and more people were suggesting that I go with fiberglass sheet. I asked my friends what thickness they'd recommend considering the motor I was going to use. Mitch immediately said "use the thickness of the ones I'm going to give you for free right now," and he handed me three large sheets of G10 fiberglass. The stuff they make circuit boards out of. They're about 15" square, in pristine condition, and Mitch salvaged several hundred of them from his workplace when they started to throw them away. All in all, he gifted me with about $50.00 worth of fin material, along with instructions on how best to cut it into shape. He told me to consider it payment for giving Bart the rail buttons.

This kind of stuff happens all the time.

PS. Yep, I'm at home today. The sunburn is still bad enough that I can't wear a collared shirt, let alone a tie. I'll tough it out tomorrow, but for today I'm still slathered in aloe burn gel.

Posted by Ted at 10:10 AM | Comments (1)

April 10, 2005

Lobster Ears

Man, I was an idiot yesterday. I had such a wonderful time at the rocket launch. Everything I flew worked to perfection, there were boy scouts and a high school physics class and junior ROTC and TARC rocket contest teams all over the place, in short, big fun the entire time. So much fun, in fact, that I never got around to putting on any sunscreen.

I am one hurtin' unit right now. I wore a ballcap to protect the ol' solar panel, but my ears and back of my neck are toasted to a screaming hot pink. I've got a nice little 'V' where my shirt was open too. Fortunately I'm prepared for this, because I'm stupid like this once a year or so, and I've got this soothing blue aloe gel that I've been coating myself in. Just going out into the sun in painful today, so no launch for me. Dammit.

Ted's Groove Tube - AT H165-M - Great Meadow

On the plus side, yesterday was excellent! I said that, didn't I? Oh well, a detailed report (like you care) will be coming in the next day or two, but for now, I'd like to show you a picture that was taken yesterday by a student from Oakton High school. His name is Enrique, and I understand that he's the official photographer for the school's SLI team.

What's SLI? That stands for NASA's Student Launch Initiative, and these young ladies and gentlemen are headed to Huntsville, Alabama to take part in it. They're the next generation of engineers that're going to take us to Mars and beyond.

Enjoy the picture, click for full size. The rocket is an upscale of the Centuri Groove Tube, which was a tube-finned kit from the 70's and 80's. My version is about five foot tall, is 2.6" in diameter, and it's taking off on an Aerotech H165 Redline motor. The intensity of the flame washes out in photographs, but it's bright screaming red (yes, sorta like my ears). This is an amazing photo, and Enrique did an excellent job capturing a difficult shot.

Posted by Ted at 01:00 PM | Comments (6)

April 09, 2005

Rocket Launch

Today and tomorrow. Yay!

Supposed to be beautiful weather here, hope it's as nice where you live. Have a great weekend.

downscaled model rockets

About the picture: These are some downscaled models I built based on classic Estes kits from the 70's and 80's. They are (from left to right) Cherokee D, Big Bertha, Der Red Max, Alpha and Goblin. They're not all to the same scale. The Red Max (center) is just under 6" tall, and the brown cylinder next to it is a standard Estes rocket motor.

Posted by Ted at 07:32 AM | Comments (0)

April 03, 2005

Building a simple but unusual rocket

I’m going to show you how to turn an ordinary badminton birdie into a real launchable rocket. These are easy to make and bigtime fun to fly, plus they don't go so high that you'll lose it.

Best of all, they fly on Estes "mini" motors. You can find these in the toy department at WalMart, and a pack of four will cost around five bucks. You're going to need one to help you construct the rocket, so pick up a pack before you start. Look for motors labeled A10-3T or A3-4T, they'll be a little less than 3" long and about one half inch in diameter (pinky sized).

If you need more information about rocketry, check out my Rocketry archives, there's lots there, plus links to even more.

I'm going to assume that you have a launch pad and controller. The ones that come with Estes or Quest starter kits work fine. Starter sets are cheap, include everything you need and the value is very good.

And finally, just to prove I'm not a complete loon, here's the original plans for the birdie rocket as it originally appeared as an Estes rocket kit.

(in the extended entry)

Click on the pictures for Saturn V size

tools and materials

X-acto knife or razor blade
Circle template – I used an empty spice jar

Badminton Birdie (aka shuttlecock)
Thin cardboard (from a cereal box or soda 12-pack is perfect)
Cardboard tube (Estes BT-5, or make your own)
Soda straw
Yellow or white glue
Hot melt glue


Motor Mount Tube
The only real complicated step is right up front, and that's only if you have to make your own motor mount tube. I'll explain how, and then suggest a couple of super easy alternatives.

Cut a strip of thin cardboard (manilla file folder is ideal) 2.75" wide and about 4 or 5 inches long. Pre-curl it by running it over the edge of a table. Wrap it around one of the mini-motors, it should wrap two or three times. On the last wrap, squirt a little glue under the layer and use the rubber bands to hold things together while the glue dries. Be careful not to glue the motor inside the tube permanently, it has to be able to slide out. What you'll wind up with is a cardboard tube 2.75" long. Let it dry.

That's the hard way (and it's not all that hard to do). There are some easier ways to do it though. First off, you can buy that size tube from hobby shops and cut it to length, but a package contains 3 18" lengths, which is seriously oversupply for what you need (unless you're making a lot of these). If you go this route, look for Estes BT-5.

You can also buy a rocket kit and salvage the parts from it. Current Estes kits that use BT-5's are the Mosquito, Quark, and Swift. There are probably others, look for a rocket kit that uses the mini-motors (A10-3T, A3-4T, etc. - look for the "T" at the end of the motor designation).

Centering Ring

Using a template (I used a small empty jar), mark a circle on the cardboard. See the picture farther down to judge about how big a circle you need. Take your motor mount tube and use it to mark another circle centered inside the first.


Carefully cut out the inner circle with the X-acto knife, and then cut out the outer circle using scissors or the knife. Be careful, that knife is sharp! Take your time and make multiple light passes instead of trying to cut through the cardboard in one stroke.

Save that inner circle. We're going to use it in a moment.

Assemble the motor mount
Glue that inner circle into the very top of the motor mount. This makes a bulkhead that protects the birdie from the ejection charge of the motor.

When that has dried a bit, fit the centering ring into the bottom of the birdie and then slide the motor tube into place until the top end (with the bulkhead) touches the front of the birdie. Glue the motor tube to the centering ring with a bead of glue where they meet. Remove the centering ring from the birdie and do both sides of the centering ring/motor tube joint. Let it dry.


Aligning the launch lug
Next you need to place a hole in the centering ring that the launch rod will go through when it's on the pad. Line it up by using the rod and either punch the hole with a hole punch or drill it with the x-acto blade. If it looks like the rod won't pass through the cardboard and birdie smoothly (important!), take a short length of soda straw and glue it into place as a conduit for the rod to pass through.


Gluing it together
Run a bead of hot melt glue around the perimeter of the cardboard ring where it meets the birdie to join the two pieces together. That's it!

Launch Instructions
Put a motor into the motor tube and insert the igniter normally. Slide the rocket onto the pad by passing the launch rod through the straw or holes you made for that. Hook up the igniter to the controller wires, count down and launch.

When the ejection charge goes off, it will eject the motor out the back of the tube, which lightens the birdie enough to recover safely via drag or "featherweight" recovery.

To fly it again, just insert another motor and you're good to go.

Why it works
A badminton birdie stays stable because the rubber nose is heavily weighted compared to the rest of the body and the many holes (feathers) create enormous amounts of drag. These two factors combines keep the birdie flying nose first, but it also decelerates quickly when the thrust ends (either by striking with the racquet or by our rocket engine).

On recovery, the extreme amount of surface area compared to the light weight combine to keep the speeds low. It's the same principle as a whiffle ball, no matter how hard you throw it, the area/mass ratio means it'll slow almost instantly.

Posted by Ted at 10:31 AM | Comments (2)

March 31, 2005

Spring has sprung

It kind of snuck up on me what with being busy as all git out lately. My wife pointed out the the hostas in the front are starting to sprout, which reminds me that I want to transplant them into the backyard sometime soon. I'll replace them with four small boxwood shrubs (or maybe three if I can find a small burning bush for the end nearest the gate). My goal is to have a front yard that looks great and only needs a little grass cutting and edging and occasional minor trimming and pruning. I'm about 80% there.

But even moreso Spring means rockets. Even though I fly rockets all year round, this is the season when the pace picks up. The farm fields that some clubs fly at have dried out enough to use but haven't been planted yet, so a lot of rocket clubs schedule big launches for springtime (our group is blessed with a great field that is available all year).

This weekend, both days, I have a rocket launch at Great Meadow. It'll be a contest launch sponsored by a club from Pennsylvania that lost access to their area, so they're using our field. The following weekend is our club's big Spring contest, another two-day event. There'll be sport flying too, just for fun, which is what I do since I don't fly contests. Everyone's invited, sport flying is free for everyone, and it's a great way to spend a day with the family.

If you come out, look for me near the red Mazda pickup. I'll definitely be there on Saturday both weekends. Bring your rockets and we'll fly 'em, and if you don't have one I've got some you can fly to see what it's all about.

Then, from April 29th through May 1st is BattlePark 2005, in Culpeper, Virginia. It's one of the biggest and best rocket launches on the East Coast. I'll be there both Saturday and Sunday.

Questions are always welcomed in the comments. Or email. Or look in my Rocketry category archives for tons more information.

I love Spring!

Posted by Ted at 06:10 AM | Comments (2)

March 09, 2005

BattlePark 2005

The Spring BattlePark 2005 Rocket Launch is scheduled for the weekend of April 29, 30 and May 1st. Located in Culpeper, Virginia, this is one of the premier events in the east, with rocketeers attending from all over the eastern U.S. and Canada. I'll be there both weekend days, and Mookie usually makes at least one if not both. This launch features some of the most interesting projects and flights around. As usual, spectators are free, kids fly their rockets for free, and you'll never meet a friendlier group of people. Come on out, walk around, talk to folks, ask questions, and be prepared to say 'wow'. And for those wondering about how high they might go, the club has already obtained an FAA waiver for flights to 15,000 feet.

You are invited and welcome. Contact me if you have any questions.

Posted by Ted at 08:07 PM | Comments (8)

February 28, 2005

Actual Rocketry Content

I saw this over at Rich's place before and meant to mention it. Tom is building a model rocket and documenting the process with words and pictures. This is a good chance to see some alternate construction techniques than what we used when we built the Fat Boy (scroll down at the link for the entire series).

And speaking of fat boys, Rich also posted a picture showing yours truly at our last rocket launch. I'm the big guy on the right, the tall guy in the middle is Frank, editor of our newsletter (that I mentioned here), and the guy on the left is Rob Edmonds, the creative force behind Edmonds Aerospace (that I talked about here). So yeah, Rich calls it "VIPs", and there are two of 'em in the photo, and me.

While you're over there, check out the other photos that Rich takes at our monthly rocket launches. Pretty cool.

Posted by Ted at 08:44 PM | Comments (0)

February 26, 2005

Cool Rocket Picture

Our rocketry club, NOVAAR (Northern Virginia Association of Rocketry) has the latest newsletter up, and there's a wicked picture of our flying field on the front page. Here's the caption:

At January's launch, Ben Title's camera equipped R/C airplane snapped this shot of the Great Meadow flying field as a rocket took flight from one of the High Power pads.

It's a .pdf file (5MB), click 'newsletter', then select 'current issue'.

Posted by Ted at 01:12 PM | Comments (0)

February 13, 2005

Launch Report - 2/12/05

Saturday was our monthly NOVAAR club launch at Great Meadow Equestrian Center in The Plains, Virginia. The weather was mostly sunny with some high clouds and the temperature climbed to around 50. The winds were calm in the morning but built all day until towards the end they were a steady 10-15 mph with much stronger gusts at times.

(the rest is in the extended entry)

Because of the wind, I only took small rockets to fly and only put four of mine up.

1. Barenaked Lady - D12-5 - This scratchbuilt seemed like a natural for Luuka's flight. The liftoff was arrow-straight and the 18" x-form chute opened perfectly. I judged the wind just about right and only had to walk 30 yards to pick her up.

For those not familiar with Luuka, she's a stuffed bear bought by Helen of Everyday Stranger. Luuka has been sent all over the world to different folks so she could experience different things.

After taking a few pictures of Luuka and the rocket, I wanted to make a few more flights while the wind was still relatively calm. Plus, I was scheduled to take an hour shift doing Range Safety (I get to do the countdowns and press the button - whoohoo!) from noon until one, so I needed to hustle.

2. YJ-218 - C6-7 (x2) - For me, it's just not a launch without a Yellow Jacket flight, and this Estes upscale has over twenty flights on her. Both motors lit perfectly and she made a great, high flight. The chute opened right on time and once again I had a very short walk to recover.

3. Groove Tube - C6-5 - This is a clone of the old Centuri kit from the 70's. It uses tube fins, and flies like a dream. My original made 24 flights before being lost in a cotton field in Whitakers, North Carolina. This version is continuing the tradition, making perfect flights time after time. Because of the wind, I used a streamer instead of a chute for recovery for this flight. Another short walk.

4. Sparrow Upscale - C6-5 - When my kids and I got into rocketry, this was the very first Estes kit I built, and I still have the original. For sentimental reasons, I built this larger version and recreated the decals myself. I've never seen another upscale like it. This was my longest walk of the day, even on a streamer. She came down pretty fast, but luckily the field is soft grass so she landed undamaged.

I pulled my shift running the launch range and had a great time doing it. There were several great flights made, including a few by Mark, who never met a rocket he couldn't modify to take more motors. There were some families there with small kids, and we always make sure to announce their name and treat them exactly the same as every other rocket flight (except we let them push the button).

There were also quite a few TARC teams there, trying new design ideas or perfecting their techniques. The challenge for them this year is to launch and recover safely two raw eggs, and the rocket must touch the ground as close as possible to sixty seconds after first movement off the pad. There's also a small time penalty if they only use one stage, so the complexity level is high. After three years of these competitions, the experience gained by the different schools (and being passed along to subsequent teams) means that these kids are routinely designing and building reliable rockets that even experienced hobby rocketeers weren't even attempting just five years ago.

For some reason though, there was some weird juju going on with the names. One TARC team named their rocket the Scrambler, and when the top stage didn't ignite and it lawn-darted in, it lived up to it's name.

Another team's rocket was named the Crash & Burn. And it did so in spectacular fashion. After that flight I announced that I wouldn't launch any rockets unless they had names like "Uneventful Perfection" or some such.

I stuck around after my shift to help out and socialize, the wind was more than I wanted to deal with. I helped Jan fly a beautiful high-power kit modified to take a cluster of three G60 motors - awesome flight - and watched a cool little flying saucer on an H50 claw it's way up to about 300 feet, trailing thick black smoke the whole way. Mitch flew the biggest motor of the day, a J350 for a perfect flight including an altimeter deployment of the chute at 500 feet. He followed that up with a nifty flight of his rocket-powered monocopter.

At the end of the day I helped take down the equipment and get it put away in the club trailer, said my goodbyes and headed home. All in all, a very good day.

Posted by Ted at 01:53 PM | Comments (4)

February 12, 2005

Bear Spotting

Luuka attended today's rocket launch. There's a picture in the extended entry, and I'll post a launch report and more pictures tomorrow.


Posted by Ted at 09:26 PM | Comments (6)

Rocket Launch today

I'll probably post something more this evening or tomorrow. In the meantime, here's a picture from the last BattlePark launch (in the extended entry).

This was taken October 31, 2004 in Culpeper, Virginia. The launch report from that day is here. The rocket is a scratchbuilt named Watch the Birdie, and was stretched (the white part of the airframe) to accomodate a new RATTworks hybrid motor. Around the pad are various ground support equipment needed for hybrids and two nitrous tanks. You can see the fill hose and igniter wires leading up into the bottom of the rocket.


To give you an idea of the scale, I'm not quite six foot tall.

Posted by Ted at 07:59 AM | Comments (2)

January 26, 2005

What a beautiful rocket photo

Taken by one of the photographers from Blue Planet Media (and I've forgotten his name to my eteranal shame), this liftoff shot of my upscaled Yellow Jacket boosting on twin C6 motors has been used in NAR promotional materials.


Talking to someone recently about rocketry, they were surprised when I mentioned that we flew them more than once. They were under the impression that the rockets flew up and disappeared or exploded or some such. We bring them back under parachute or other recovery method. The rocket in the photo has made 21 flights so far, and is still going strong.

Posted by Ted at 05:55 AM | Comments (1)

January 25, 2005

Finishing rockets - 2

Way back in 2003 I posted a little blip about finishing rockets, and the guy who laminated sheets of uncut one dollar bills to his airframe.

Here are some other interesting finishes I've seen.

On a rocket named Child's Play, the owner had his kids dip their hands in fingerpaint and left primary-colored hand-prints all over the rocket.

Another guy left his unpainted, but every time the rocket flew he wrote the date of the flight on the airframe. The rocket was covered with dates.

One that worked for me was a rocket I named Alchemy. The nosecone is chrome silver, halfway down the body it fades into Rustoleum's hammered silver finish, and near the fins it fades into a fleckstone faux-granite finish. It looks cool, if I do say so myself.

Another finish that I tried to create without success was to use that antique crackle overcoat over flourescent paint. A friend of mine used simple gold under black crackle that came out very nice. I thought it would be cool if the crackle finish exposed neon orange and green jags. Unfortunately, the flourescent finish has too much 'tooth' and wouldn't allow the antique finish to 'crackle' correctly. I sanded and repainted that rocket, trying slightly different techniques, probably four or five times, and never got it to work right. I still like the idea though... maybe someday if I get good enough with an airbrush.

Posted by Ted at 12:39 PM | Comments (2)

January 24, 2005

Rocket pictures and movies, both big and small

Wow, this is a post that's been sitting in the draft pile for a long long time. Better late than never, eh?

Here's a cool picture of a rocket lifting off. The motor is an Animal Motor Works M2200(?) Skidmark. To give you an idea of scale, the rocket is around 10' tall.

Now when things don't quite go according to plan, you see things like the video clips on this page. Spectacular footage.

Thanks to A.E. Brain for the pointer.

Posted by Ted at 04:34 AM | Comments (1)

January 23, 2005

Rocket Gliders

One of the neatest types of hobby rockets are gliders. They soar into the sky straight up like a rocket, and then when the motor burns out they transition to recover like a glider airplane. Some are radio controlled. Divided into two general types, there are "boost gliders" which eject the motor pod at apogee in order to gain their flying trim, then there are the "rocket gliders" which keep everything together, usually relying on some sort of mechanical movement to achieve flightworthyness.

Mookie and I have had the extreme pleasure of launching rockets with Rob Edmonds for several years now. Anytime we have a club launch, Rob is usually there, testing new glider prototypes or perfecting existing models. The man is a font of glider-knowlege, and he's more than happy to share his expertise.

The best rocket gliders

His company, Edmonds Aerospace, makes some of the coolest rocket kits around. Specializing in glider designs, Rob has carved out a niche creating the simplest and most fool-proof glider kits imaginable. They're perfect for beginners, but they also fly great! For more advanced rocketeers, he features binary gliders, larger models (for bigger motors) and the simplest RC glider available.

I noticed in the latest issue of Sport Rocketry a full-page Edmonds Aerospace ad. I'll excerpt it here, because it's an awesome educational concept:

The G-Pack

This special package will get your students into the air more quickly and at lower cost than any other rocket-powered product. You will enjoy costs of less than $2.50 per student and build times of as little as twenty minutes! Individual aircraft for 12 students are packaged with a single rocket booster that launches three aircraft at a time. Each student experiences a rocket launch of her own model, yet you can launch all twelve students with only four motors, cutting your flying costs by two thirds. Each group of 3 students can enjoy competing to see which aircraft remains aloft the longest!

He's designed this model to fly on Estes A10-3T motors, which come four to a pack (around $5.00 at WalMart). Plus you get the fun of multiple gliders flying at one time. Too cool.

Rob also suggests using the G-Pack for birthday parties, which would make for a memorable (and easy to do) event. The glider kits in the G-Pack consist of 5 parts, no cutting is necessary, and, being the owner of several Edmonds kits, I can tell you that they fly like a dream.

Just for fun, here are pictures of several of our rocket gliders. Click on the links to open in a new window.

Edmonds Deltie, Mookie has one of these too.

Another Edmonds kit. This one isn't a beginner model, it takes some effort to make it fly nicely.

Edmonds Tinee, another beginner-level kit. Isn't that the coolest looking thing?

Flying Jenny. This biplane glider is available from plans here. It's an old design, and when I lose one I just build another.

A Holverson Zoomie. No longer in business, I've got one of their Silver Hawk flying wing gliders in my 'to build' box.

There are a couple of others we fly, but I don't have pictures right handy. Something you might have noticed was that the gliders are mostly undecorated. I use pink highlighter to add some flair without adding the weight of paint. Makes 'em easier to see too.

Posted by Ted at 09:06 AM | Comments (0)

January 22, 2005

When you wanna fly big rockets, a group is the way to go

From the Maryland/Delaware Rocketry Association Newsletter (html conversion of .pdf file):

There was also going to be the Kimberly Harms / John Lyndal full scale Honest John powered by four 4-grain full O motors. Dave Triano, Mike Hobbs had teamed up with Frank Kosdon on an 8" minimum diameter full Q motor attempt scheduled to go over 88,000 feet. Then there were all those 35,000 foot fun flights.

Of course, it helps to fly in the desert too. Black Rock, Nevada to be precise. The same chunk of desert where Burning Man takes place. Rocketeers in the Western U.S. have room that we east of the Mississippi only dream about.

Back to the story:

Not much comes back alive at Black Rock and this held true for the mighty Honest John. This was a full scale model of the real thing. It was built by Kimberly Harms and the Community Space Program out of Washington State. The motors were built by John Lyndal out of Oregon. John and Kim have combined their talents successfully on many other projects in the past. But this was the biggest one yet and this was Balls 13 at Black Rock. As with many other projects at the event there would be a secret conspiracy with the 700 pound, 24" diameter, 4 full O powered rocket. Earlier in the event I was talking with Kim and mentioned to her that she should put some "Cow Spots" on her military green painted rocket. She slowly shook her head and said she thought the project might go the way of the Cow . I wonder what she knew, that the rest of the world didn't. I had discussed with both Kim and John how the big projects get logarithmically more difficult. That was one thing we were all in agreement with.

[The photo below shows an actual Honest John being launched. The black, white and orange colors indicate that this is a test round, and the plumes emerging from the nose end are small rockets mounted at an angle to induce spin which increased stability and hence accuracy. The full-scale Honest John discussed in the article had no spin rockets and was launched vertically, as are all our rockets for safety reasons. -- RJ]

Actual Honest John launch in test colors

The Honest John was man handled onto the tower fully assembled. We were not out at their pad, which was over a mile away, yet we could see the progress as they finally got the big rocket vertical on the tower. The time had finally come and the button was pushed.

The Honest John climbed right up and off the tower. It started to take a slight arch to the right and then about 1,000 feet all hell broke loose. One of the O motors had catoed and that tore the rocket apart. The motor section continued to sail past the flailing payload and nose cone section. As the booster cruised by the nose cone it clipped it smashing the nuclear warhead to tiny bits [the Honest John was a nuclear-capable rocket used by the US Army, this was a full scale model - RJ]. The booster must have continued on to about 3,000 feet while the rest of the rocket fell helplessly back to earth from a much lower altitude. On Sunday I approached Kim to offer my condolences on the demise of her project and she told that "You can't cry over spilled milk."

When Mookie was a wee rocketeer, she took to design like a fish to water. One of her very first rockets was a beautiful flyer painted red, white & blue, and we watched it drift away under chute over an adjoining patch of woods. Despite our best efforts, we never did find it. She impressed me with her attitude because you could tell it hurt her to lose her rocket, but she accepted that sometimes you don't get them back.

Here's a nifty panoramic view of the playa at Black Rock.

Posted by Ted at 08:07 AM | Comments (0)

January 18, 2005

Loved, even if not understood

For Christmas I bought my wife a serger (fancy type of sewing machine). Last night she asked me for parachute patterns so she can practice on that pile o' ripstop nylon I bought.

I love it when a plan comes together.

Posted by Ted at 11:42 AM | Comments (4)

January 03, 2005

First Rocket Launch of the year

Saturday, January 8th, from 10am - 3pm at Great Meadow Equestrian Center in The Plains, Virginia. We've been enjoying a stretch of spectacular weather, and it looks like it might just hold on through the weekend.

Y'all are invited. Look for me in the red Mazda pickup.

Posted by Ted at 04:39 PM | Comments (0)

November 29, 2004

Rocket Women

Even the most steely-eyed missile man has a lady in his life. One who keeps his feet on the ground while his head is in the clouds. I'll use the term "wife" here, but it applies equally well to moms, girlfriends, "just friends", and "other".

Wives fall into categories.

"Saintly" are the ones who build and fly their own rockets. Very rare and wonderful, if you have one you should treasure her. The biggest drawback is when you sneak over to the on-site vendor to pick up that big honkin' motor, she's already in line with *her* motor, and you know you can't afford both. Que sera, you settle for a slightly smaller whoosh generator, and vow to be quicker than her at the next launch. Dishes seldom pile up in the kitchen sink with her around because that's where she does her wet sanding.

Next in the hierarchy are the "Angelic" ladies. These are the ones who go to launches and enjoy flying your rockets, even if she doesn't want to build her own. You often wind up painting a few her favorite color (even pink) as a thank you for being so understanding. She might fuss a little bit about buying that gallon of epoxy instead of milk, but she understands and will explain it to the kids. And their shoes will last another month with a little duct tape.

"Very Cool" wives are next, and the first of the mortals. This perfectly describes my own wife. She doesn't build, doesn't fly, and could care less (mine's never even been to a launch), but she indulges you without complaint because she loves you. Easiest to identify around the holidays when she asks you for a list of rocket-related gifts you might like. Also known to call you from the rocket-aisle of a craft store to let you know that motors and/or kits are on sale and wants to know what she can get for you. And how many.

The "Ambivalent" wife doesn't fuss much, but doesn't take much interest either. As long as your rocketry doesn't interfere with home-life and doesn't become an obstacle to one of the kids' activities, she's pretty much ok with it. You are expected to miss the rocket launch this weekend because she volunteered you to mow the lawn at the church. Buck up and count your blessings, it could be worse.

"Equivalent" wife *is* worse. She believes that you can spend any amount you want to on rockets, as long as she gets at least that much money to spend on her activities in return. Of course, in "equivalent" math, one dollar for you equals at least five for her. On the plus side, you get a lot of fiberglassing done while she's out on Bingo nights, and she's graciously alloted you one knick-knack shelf in the den for your stupid toys.

The bottom of the scale is "Ex" or "Soon-to-be-Ex" wife. At best, she didn't intentionally bust up your rocket stuff when she left (and although she didn't give a shit about rockets, you can bet she'll zero in on the most expensive and hard to replace stuff you own), and your reputation will survive with minimal lasting damage. With luck, her bad-mouthing you will taper off over time, but face it, every mutual friend you have is going to look at you funny from now on.

Posted by Ted at 06:36 PM | Comments (0)

November 07, 2004

Launch Report - 11/6/2004

There's a bumper sticker I've seen that says:

A bad day fishing beats a good day at work every time

That's what happened to me yesterday. I had a wonderful day, despite all kinds of things going absolutely wrong.

The day started off very chilly. When I got up, I discovered that we were inexplicably childless. Rachael had left early (SAT's) and TJ had been called in to work. That meant I had to load the truck up myself. This is doable, but my "system" results in some rather large and heavy containers best handled by two people. So I switched to plan B, which is to empty the containers, load them into the truck, then refill them again with all of my equipment. Not a biggie, just unexpected.

When I got to the field, I was stunned at the number of cars already there. We've really been growing this club for the last few years, and I remember the days when there might be a half dozen cars and ten people launching rockets. When I arrived yesterday, there were probably close to fifty vehicles already there. Amazing and wonderful.

Lots of kids too. There were Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts and a local school Physics club and several Team America student teams working on next year's challenge.

Since I had her repaired and ready to go, I grabbed the Hot Jets and headed for check in. While waiting in line, I was asked to do a shift at the check-in table (safety inspections and pad assignments) and I said "sure". I had just enough time to load the Hot Jets onto a pad before my shift started.

She launched beautifully on an F24-7, but the 7 second delay is just too long. When the ejection charge fired, she was well on her way down and although the nose cone came off, the chute didn't make it out of the tube. She went down behind a small rise and I headed over the see the damage.

Coming up to her, it was obvious that the soft grass had saved her. The rocket had a tiny crumple along the rim where she hit the ground, and it looks like she bounced and deployed the chute then too. Impact deployment of the parachute is hard on your rocket - just a tip from someone who's been there and done that. Not this time though, I got lucky. The chute had been driven into the ground a little ways by the body tube hitting, but all in all she's undamaged and ready to fly again.

Time for my shift as part of the range crew. It was mostly kids and all kinds of fun. The physics students all had identical egglofters and were flying raw egg payloads. The rockets were also a bit underpowered for the windy conditions which made for some, uh, interesting flight profiles. And a few scrambled eggs.

Early on I put my hand down to write something on a flight card and came down on a yellow jacket that had been sitting on the table. He did the famous yellow jacket ninja half-roll maneuver and buried his stinger into the meaty part of my right hand below the pinky. I felt the fire, and it took a shake or two to dislodge him. Mindfull of the little ones around, I didn't let out the string of swear words that were running around inside my head (good thing they couldn't read thought balloons). I contented myself with an "Ouch, that smarts!" and wishing it had been a bee instead so at least I'd have the satisfaction of knowing he'd die from it.

I'm not allergic to bee stings, so other than the painful throbbing in my hand all day, the day went on.

After my shift was over, I took the ground support equipment I needed out to the pads. It was time to launch Watch the Birdie, my hybrid-powered rocket that refused to fly last weekend. After getting everything set up and ready to go, I tried three times to launch, and three times had no joy.

I have a couple of ideas about what the problem might be, and the rocket (the motor half) is set up on a test stand right now. In a little while I'll head out to the backyard and run some tests to see if I can't pinpoint the exact trouble. When ignition failed, I didn't get a clean dump of the nitrous tank, but the entire motor section of the rocket frosted up. That tells me that the nitrous was escaping there somehow, instead of through the vent or back through the fill hose to the dump valve. Yes, it all sounds very complicated, you should be impressed. Especially the ladies.

So that was my day. I didn't fly anything else, preferring to visit with friends and talk rockets. I did visit Performance Hobbies to buy some stuff. Ken had his huge trailer full of rocket goodies there, which doesn't happen often enough, so I try to take advantage when he's there. Unfortunately he was out of stock on almost everything I wanted. I still bought a couple of things anyway (support the people who support you).

My hand was still hurting, so I said my goodbyes, packed up and headed home. It was still a beautiful day and I had a great time. Next launch is December 11th. I'll be there, y'all are welcome to come on out and join us.

Posted by Ted at 09:55 AM | Comments (3)

November 06, 2004

Rocket Launch today

Maybe a launch report later or tomorrow. The weather is cooperating again this weekend: light breezes and warming up nicely after a chilly night. The Hot Jets is repaired and ready to fly again, and Watch the Birdie has a rebuilt hybrid motor installed, so she's set to launch as well. I also have a handful of model rockets packed away for the launch as well. It's looking to be a goooood day.

Before I go, I wanted to tease you with this little tidbit.

Doug Pratt was telling me about the solonoid valves he uses on the ground support equipment we use to fill hybrid rocket motors with nitrous oxide. Seems that early on, folks were using automobile-rated valves and burning them out because cars get a quick shot, whereas we hold the valves open for many seconds to complete the fill.

So Doug went out and found a source for custom solonoids, and it's the guy who did all the nitrous systems for movies like The Fast and the Furious. The guy is a complete loon, and his latest toy is a nitrous-injected chainsaw.

Rumor has it that there's a video out there showing this beast passing through a railroad tie like a light sabre through an Ewok. I'll try to get a link.

Posted by Ted at 08:05 AM | Comments (2)

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 04:23 AM | Comments (2)

October 31, 2004

Never miss a chance to be nice to a pretty lady

Due to some technical problems with an altimeter bay design I threw together at the last moment didn't completely think through, I wasn't able to make a couple of big flights yesterday like I wanted.

Fixed that little problem last night though, and it didn't keep me from flying other stuff.

The Hot Jets made a perfect flight, and once again many comments were made on the paint job and listing of all those ladies names. :) Gonna fly her again today on an F24 motor.

And the meaning of this post? Why, it gives me a chance to link to all of the Rocket Jones Hot Jets cheerleaders, best sideline squad in the Blogger Bowl fantasy football league!

The Hot Jets cheerleaders are:

Nic, of Shoes, Ships, and Sealing Wax!
Lemur Girl, of... uh, Lemur Girl!
LeeAnn, of The Cheese Stands Alone!
Blogoline, of Blogoline's Journal!
Gir, of Your Moosey Fate!
Tink, of Flitting Here and There!
Wegglywoo, of On the Beach at the End of the World!
Dawn of Dawn Enterprises!
Stevie, of Caught In The XFire!
Helen, of Everyday Stranger!
annika, of annika's journal!
Cindy, of Dusting My Brain!
Mookie, of MookieRiffic!
Denita, of Who Tends The Fires!
Lynn S., of Reflections in d minor!
Susie, of Practical Penumbra!
Sarah, of Trying To Grok!
Kat, of Mostly Fluff!
Big Hair, of Left & Right!
Jennifer, of Jennifer's History and Stuff!
Heather, of Angelweave!
Margi, of Margi Lowry!

Gotta run. Have a great Halloween!

Posted by Ted at 06:55 AM | Comments (5)

October 30, 2004

BattlePark Launch is on!

It's a little foggy this morning, but once it burns off the weather is forecast to be beautiful!

Links to directions here. Spectatin' free, kids launch free, adults pay a minimal fee.

If you go, look for the red Mazda pickup next to a red sun canopy. I'll be somewhere around there, and I'd love to meet you! I also have several kid-friendly rockets with me that the junior space cadets are welcome to fly and take home for their very own.

Pictures later.

Posted by Ted at 08:29 AM | Comments (1)

October 29, 2004

Launch Report Excerpt

From last weekend in Whitakers, North Carolina:

Probably the most anticipated flight of the day... Doug G, with Gerald R's assistance, launched the "Triton 2 Stage," a 50-pound, 13 1/2 foot, 6-inch diameter behemoth. The booster section was loaded with an L1300 staging to a K605 in the sustainer. The L1300 roared to life, lifting the Triton with ease. After booster burnout, the sections drag separated as intended, but the electronics failed to light the second stage igniter. The altimeters did their job and deployed the mains bringing all components down safely. It was still a very pretty flight despite the second stage issue.

This next rocket has a name that seems strangely familiar:
After passing his Level 2 exam, Blaine J brought a little spice with his rocket entitled "Democracy, Whiskey, Sexy." Just over five feet tall, and fire engine red, its multi-diameter body ended with aluminum air brakes at the base of the fins. The name fit the bill. He launched it on a J270 for a beautiful take-off. Unfortunately, both sections came down without recovery, resulting in damage to the air frame. I'm sure we'll see him next month for another attempt! UPDATE: During motor disassembly, Blaine discovered the exit cone portion of the nozzle was gone. The onboard RDAS data showed a drop in thrust 0.3 seconds into the flight, confirming the nozzle had failed.

Rocket science fer sure.

Posted by Ted at 04:54 AM | Comments (0)

October 27, 2004

Rocket Launch this weekend

I talked about it here, and the weather is looking very very good. By friday I should have some pictures of what I'll be flying. For sure, the Hot Jets rocket will be taking flight at least once.

Posted by Ted at 08:35 PM | Comments (1)

October 19, 2004

Consumer Aerospace

That's a term coined quite a while ago by some rocketry guys to describe what I call hobby rocketry. It takes on a new dimension with the recent successes of SpaceShipOne and the upcoming DaVinci Project, among others.

What follows is a brief explanation of the various types of organized hobby rocketry. Even the federal government weenies at the BATFE muddles the issue by confusing the terminology.

Hobby rocketry falls under three categories: model rocketry, high power rocketry (HPR), and experimental (EX). Model rocketry and HPR can also be described as "airframe engineering", because both include the use of commercially available motors. Model rocketry is up to and includes "G" motors, and HPR is "H" and above.

These motors are manufactured by companies like Estes, Quest, AeroTech, Ellis Mountain, Animal Works, Kosdon, RATT Works, Propulsion Polymers, SkyRipper, Cessaroni (and I'm sure I've forgotten a few). The motors are then tested by one of the national hobby rocketry organizations. The primary ones that in North America are the National Association of Rocketry (NAR), Tripoli Rocketry Association (TRA or just Tripoli), and the Canadian Association of Rocketry (CAR). There are others, but these three groups are the ones that do motor testing and have reciprocal agreements to honor each other's motor certifications.

The motor certifications are critical because it's what allows us to get affordable insurance.

As long as we launch under the guidelines of the organizations using approved motors, we're covered by the group insurance. That coverage also makes it possible to obtain permission from municipal facilities and private landowners to hold rocket launches.

Experimental rocketry is supported by Tripoli (and maybe the CAR, I'm not sure). EX is for those guys who manufacture their own motors. It's not cheap to manufacture homegrown propellant, the basic starter's library and safety equipment alone runs a pretty penny. The old term for those who ignore safety and common sense is "basement bomber" and you still hear about them once in a while when their house becomes a smoking hole in the middle of their neighborhood. Those clowns are *not* doing EX, because you inevitably hear about "large amounts of black powder" and other assorted explosive goodies. It drives us crazy because they get lumped under the "model rocket" umbrella by ignorant press and government officials who don't know the correct terminology, nor do they care who they slander with their inaccuracy.

If the explosion is small, basement bombers might be known afterwards as "lefty" or "two fingers".

EX launches are held around the country during the year, and most of the time what happens is a two or three-day launch is planned, with one day being strictly experimental, and the other day(s) being strictly commercial motors. EX motors don't neccessarily mean big motors either, they can be as small as common Estes-style "C" motors you find at hobby shops and WalMart.

Here's a nice video taken at the recent Whitakers Experimental Launch Days (WELD) in North Carolina. The rocket weighs in at 35lbs. Listen to the soundtrack on the video, and you'll hear some of the safety and technical discussion going on among the launch crew and folks watching.

So now you know more about the subject than the average BATFE agent (and newspaper reporter or Senator for that matter). Personally, I fly model rockets and HPR, I don't do EX. Maybe someday, but I'm in no hurry.

Posted by Ted at 10:44 AM | Comments (2)

October 15, 2004

Standing Invitation

It's almost time for the fall Battlepark 2004 rocket launch. Held in Culpeper, Virginia, the spring and fall launches are among the largest on the east coast every year.

As always, spectators are welcome (and it's free), and all sizes of rockets will be launched, from fun-sized Estes model rockets all the way up to big-honkin' serious-sized high power birds.

You may recall the spring launch was where the Air Munuviana met its end. This time around, I've got a new type of altimeter bay system I'm developing, along with more of the nitrous-based hybrid motors to fly (and a full 20lb tank - woohoo!). I'm also going to try my hand at a neat one-finned rocket design that I saw at NARAM this summer.

So if you're in the mood for a nice drive in some beautiful countryside, consider heading out to the piedmont of Northern Virginia on the last weekend of October. The launch will be going on both days, the 30th and 31st. I'll be there, look for the red Mazda truck and the red canopy.

Posted by Ted at 05:53 AM | Comments (2)

September 29, 2004

XPrize models from Estes

In the comments, John mentioned that Estes is listed as a sponsor of Space Ship One's XPrize attempt. I don't know how much of a sponsor they are, but they are releasing eight flyable model rockets of the various XPrize entrants.

Courtesy of Ye Olde Rocket Shoppe, here's a look at four, and four more. Pretty cool. I'll be getting the complete collection.

Posted by Ted at 04:17 PM | Comments (3)

September 18, 2004

Sidebar stuff - Rocketry Related

Some changes been happening over on the right column the last few whiles. Some new folks added (Yay!), including a section for online rocketry vendors I trust. Look under "Cream of the Crop" and believe me, you can't go wrong with these three guys. Of course there are others I patronize, but these three are tops.

In fact, because I'm such a linking fool, here they are in the main column too:
Pratt Hobbies
Vertical Force Rocketry
Magnum Rockets, Hobbies & More

There's also a new link to the NowHybrids site, which is the place to learn all about hybrid rocket motors. Nitrous, baby! That's right, I pass gas for fun.

Also, it's been there a while, but John Coker's Intro to Rocketry is an outstanding place to become familiar with my hobby. Like I say:

"Smoke, fire, noise - what's not to love?"

Posted by Ted at 09:03 AM | Comments (0)

September 17, 2004

Actual rocket content? Could it be?

Yep, I'd kind of gotten away from it for a while, but look for some real rocketry related posts coming up.

Posted by Ted at 06:00 AM | Comments (0)

September 08, 2004


Chute didn't deploy. Nice hole in the desert though.

Posted by Ted at 01:00 PM | Comments (2)

August 29, 2004


Rich of Vertical Force Rocketry took a nifty picture of one of my rockets taking off yesterday. It's kind of a goth battleaxe, with lots of dripping blood and hammered metal-looking blade/fins.

Great photo Rich!

Posted by Ted at 07:34 PM | Comments (2)

Rocket Jones on television

... and other rocket flying news from yesterday's launch.

It was a beautiful day for rockets yesterday, with the only real problem being the extreme heat. But the sun was out, the winds were light, the clouds were high, and we had a whole heap o' people flying their rockets.

My son TJ (home from the Navy) and I loaded up the truck and headed out to the field. I'd pre-prepped a bunch of rockets the evening before, so we were ready to fly.

The Civil Air Patrol was there, twenty five kids and rockets, each needing to make three flights. Needless to say, the launch crew was busy for awhile. By the time I did my 2-hour shift as launch control they were mostly done, but we stayed nicely busy with folks flying just for fun. That's also where my TV moment happened, as a local channel had a couple of people out there filming and I gave an explanation of how our launch control system worked and the procedures we used for safety. I heard that Doug Pratt was headed over to their studio later that day for an interview as well. Yay! Any positive exposure is a good thing in today's paranoid and fear-ridden climate.

So TJ and I flew almost everything we'd brought, except for my largest of the day. When I opened the motor reload kit, it was missing some pieces. I'm mildly annoyed about that, but I'll make it good next time I see Ken Allen at one of the launches.

The Hot Jets rocket made a flawless maiden flight, and there were many compliments on both the flight and how good it looked. How could it not look great, being decorated with the lovely ladies' names. Things went so well that I built another motor, this time an E18 White Lightning and flew it a second time later in the day.

Time for some gratuitous linkage (Yay!). The Hot Jets cheerleaders are:
Helen, of Everyday Stranger!
Gir, of Your Moosey Fate!
Tink, of Flitting Here and There!
Sarah, of Trying To Grok!
Blogoline, of Blogoline's Journal!
Wegglywoo, who's On the Beach at the End of the World!
Big Hair, of Left & Right!
Stevie, of Caught In The XFire!
Emma, of Miss Apropos!
Lynn S., of Reflections in d minor!
Heather, of Angelweave!
Kat, of Mostly Fluff!
Nic, of Shoes, Ships, and Sealing Wax!
Susie, of Practical Penumbra!
Mookie, of MookieRiffic!
LeeAnn, of The Cheese Stands Alone!
Denita, of Who Tends The Fires!
Jennifer, of Jennifer's History and Stuff! (nice custom banner, by the way)
Cindy, of Squipper!
Lemur Girl, of... uh, Lemur Girl!
Dawn of Caterwauling! (gone underground, am awaiting her reappearance elsewhere).

Posted by Ted at 01:04 PM | Comments (3)

August 22, 2004

Told you I was working on stuff

I needed to build a rocket for a certain size of motor that I fly because everything in the fleet was either too light or too heavy. Besides, I needed to say thanks to some very special ladies.

Hot Jets are go!

Those are the first 'flames' I've ever done and they turned out pretty good. The fade isn't nearly as abrupt as the photo seems to show, but it's still not as smooth as I'd hoped for.

Closeup of the logo

The logo and checkerboard pattern were done on an HP color laser printer. I used Power Point to create them.

Speaking of which:
closeup of the checkerboard

Every Hot Jets cheerleader is included.

Maiden flight is this coming Saturday, on an Aerotech F24 White Lightning motor. Expected altitude is between 1500 - 2000 feet. With a larger motor, she'd easily break a mile. I'm looking forward to having much fun with this one.

Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't list each of the Hot Jets cheerleaders:
Denita, of Who Tends The Fires!
Jennifer, of Jennifer's History and Stuff!
Cindy, of Squipper!
Lemur Girl, of... uh, Lemur Girl!
Heather, of Angelweave!
Kat, of Mostly Fluff!
Nic, of Shoes, Ships, and Sealing Wax!
Susie, of Practical Penumbra!
Mookie, of MookieRiffic!
Helen, of Everyday Stranger!
Gir, of Your Moosey Fate!
Tink, of Flitting Here and There!
Sarah, of Trying To Grok!
Blogoline, of Blogoline's Journal!
LeeAnn, of The Cheese Stands Alone!
Dawn of Caterwauling!
Big Hair, of Left & Right!
Wegglywoo, of On the Beach at the End of the World!
Stevie, of Caught In The XFire!
Emma, of Miss Apropos!
Lynn S., of Reflections in d minor!

Posted by Ted at 11:19 AM | Comments (4)

August 13, 2004

Rocketry and On board Video Cameras

This company sells affordable video systems that you can fly in hobby rockets. If you go to this page, check out the very last movie, titled "LOC Booster Bruiser EXP-4 AMW K670 Green No Spin at all". The LOC Bruiser is a beast of a rocket about 10 feet tall and almost 8 inches in diameter, and this video is like hitching a ride.

PS. those little tiny dots are the cars of the folks at the launch.

Posted by Ted at 07:48 PM | Comments (2)

August 07, 2004


NARAM-46 is over, and our club did one helluva hosting job, if I do say so myself. Besides the evening events and tours, we ran two separate rocket flying ranges.

I said I wasn't going to fly anything of my own since I was working the sport range, and I didn't. But between the four of us who worked there all week, we launched 1,038 flights of everything from 1" tall flying saucers to a beautiful eight foot tall two-stage high-power rocket that topped out at almost 4000 feet. For the rocketeers out there, it was Ted Cochran's bird featured in the last issue of Sport Rocketry. There was one day where we shut down about an hour early because of rain, and there was another two hour rain delay on Thursday in the middle of the morning. Wednesday was brutally hot and humid, nearing 100 degrees with almost no breeze. A perfect day for rockets, but miserable for us humans hunkering under the canopies and guzzling gallons of water. But for the most part, it was big fun.

Memorable moments (for me) include Kevin and his three young kids (all under 7), having a four-way simultaneous launch of their rockets not once, not twice, but at least three times that I saw, and they got everything back every time. Mike, Jerry, and George who brought armfulls of rockets to launch every day, and when those had flown they headed back to their cars for more. Paul and his family brought RC gliders and a video camera rocket, as well as simple rockets that his kids flew. Mark and his son Eric flew their Aerotech Initiator a half-dozen times, making their 60th flight with that rocket along the way.

Lots of kids, which is the neatest part for me.

VIP-ishly, I met Vern Estes, who launched a rocket making it's 400th and some-odd flight. The rocket had flown at least once a year every year since sometime in the late 60's I believe. Bill Stine, owner of Quest Rocketry and son of G. Harry, was there flying video rockets. And in probably the most memorable flight of the meet, George Gassaway brought a huge Concorde-like glider that carried a slightly smaller version piggyback. On liftoff, the big one carried the parasite aloft, which then took off under it's own engine to go even higher. Both gliders returned under separate RC control. Too cool. Later, at least one of the gliders (and maybe both) were massively damaged when two engines CATO'd on takeoff (which is what that means: CAtastrophe at Take Off). George also won the National RC Rocket Glider Championship when he flew a simple RC glider for over 14 minutes before landing. He only needed to do a little better than 12 minutes, and the air was so good that he could have stayed up there for far longer. Carl Tulenko brought his upscaled Tres (as seen in a recent issue of Extreme Rocketry), which lifted off on three I211 motors canted outwards, before staging to an H something-or-other. Perfect flight.

The contest range held nine events for over 100 competitors in four different divisions, plus two more 'fun' contests. They did egg-lofting for altitude, for duration (how long under chute before touching ground), at least four rocket glider-type events, one for helicopter recovery, and a notably interesting event called "plastic model conversion", also known as 'raining plastic doom and destruction' since it's hard to make that Revell F15-Eagle fly safely under rocket power.

So that was my week. Lots of fun, but I'm glad it's over. We have a regular club launch on August 28th. I plan to do quite a bit of flying that day.

Rumor has it that next year, NARAM-47 will be held in Cincinnati, which is an easy drive from here. I might just have to take a truckload of my rockets and do a road-trip next August.

PS. Doug Pratt reminded me that there is a site out there called NARAM Live, with tons of pictures and video of all the stuff going on. Chris Taylor runs that, and he does an excellent job. And while I'm at it, over at Doug's place is a cool picture of the massive O3600 hybrid motor (2,048 times more powerful than an Estes D12).

Posted by Ted at 07:57 AM | Comments (3)

August 02, 2004


I've been very very busy having big fun. More later.

Posted by Ted at 04:36 AM | Comments (1)

July 28, 2004

Inevitable Rocketry-related Stuff

First off, Saturday begins the National Association of Rocketry Annual Meet (NARAM), which is being hosted by my club this year - NOVAAR. I'll be working the sport and high power launch ranges all weekend and through next week, so posting will probably be lighter than normal.

Besides the neat model rocket stuff that goes on all week, some new things have been added to the schedule. On Saturday evening three speakers will talk about different facets of modern rocket science, including one on the CanSat and related educational programs and another by Randy Repcheck, an aerospace engineer with the FAA who will talk about his two journeys aboard SeaLaunch. SeaLaunch is an international partnership that launches satellites from specially designed ships stationed at the equator in the Pacific Ocean.

On Wednesday evening a presentation by Bob Koenn will be given on how to prep one's rocket. In Bob's case, the rocket is NASA's Space Shuttle, because Bob works at the Kennedy Space Center.

On Thursday evening, we'll be treated to the premier of a documentary about the Little Joe program, which was a little-known series of rocket flights made to test the safety systems of the Mercury capsules. Very cool stuff for us rocket geeks.

Lastly, but not leastly, for those who live in the DC metro area, this Saturday, 7/31/04, is Goddard Community Day at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland (right off the beltway). Visitors can tour the Hubble Space Telescope Control Center, a super-clean filtered air room where satellite electronics are created, spacecraft testing facilities, a centriguge, and much more. Click that link for more information.

It's gonna be a whole lotta heaven for me.

Posted by Ted at 07:45 AM | Comments (0)

July 09, 2004

Students and Rockets

Here is NASA's latest press release about the Student Launch Initiative. You may recall that one of the prizes in the Team America Rocketry Challenge was for teachers to attend education-related workshops. This is one of 'em.

I'm lazy this morning. Links to the Student Launch Initiative and Team America Rocketry Challenge are at the bottom of the press release, or you can use the Search box up in the right hand corner here at Rocket Jones.

Posted by Ted at 04:54 AM | Comments (0)

July 01, 2004

Upcoming Rocket Launch - Y'all are invited

Every year, the National Association of Rocketry has it's Annual Meet, known as NARAM. It's held in different areas of the country, and for an entire week there are serious rocket competitions and hobbyists like myself get to eat, breathe, sleep and live rockets.

This year, it's being hosted by the club I belong to, NOVAAR, and it all happens at Great Meadows, just west of Manassas, Virginia. There will be just-for-fun flying every day, from the smallest finger-sized rockets all the way up to high powered flights by the big boys, and special events like a radio-controlled rocket glider contest. Past highlights include a scale model of the full-stack space shuttle that actually works like the real one, dropping boosters and tanks on the way up before the shuttle glides back under RC control. The contests can get intense, and this year include egglofting, two types of gliders and helicopter recovery events.

NARAM runs from Saturday, July 31st through Friday, August 6th. Just to stop by and watch is free, and there will be several vendors there just in case the bug bites you. I'm going to be helping to run the range this year, so no flying for me, but if you'd like to see what this is all about, drop me an email and we'll hook up. Hope to see you there.

Posted by Ted at 05:11 AM | Comments (0)

June 26, 2004

Hobby Rocketry in the news

Article in Wired.

Posted by Ted at 08:53 PM | Comments (0)

June 20, 2004

Father's Day

Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there!!!

Remember I told you that Mookie had my gift delivered last weekend, but I wasn't supposed to open it? Well, the box has been sitting by the door ever since...

She bought me a hybrid motor to replace the one destroyed when the Air Munuviana lawn darted. Also in the box was a sonic beacon (aka "screamer") to replace the one from that flight as well. You may recall that I found the original still blinking at the bottom of the creek - that's pronounced "crick" by the way - and although the water ruined the piezo buzzer and it was silent, the battery powered the LED blinker for another week after the soaking. Doug Pratt had some fun with this one, because I'm the proud owner of an original "Ted Phipps Edition" waterproof sonic beacon. LOL I'm not even going to open the packaging, this instantly became a keepsake.

Thanks Mookie. Thanks Doug. Gotta build a new rocket for the motor. :D

Posted by Ted at 06:51 AM | Comments (5)

June 19, 2004

A chance to relive your childhood

If you flew model rockets as a youngster, you probably fondly recall your first rocket. In an effort to improve communications between rocketeers, rocketry clubs and Estes, their marketing folks have established a new email address, and want to hear from you.

EstesRockets (at) CenturiMS (dot) Com

Send 'em an email and let them know what classic kits you'd like to see them bring back!

Don't remember details about that favorite rocket? Listed below are a couple of sites that will really bring back the memories. They're incredible resources, and just plain fun to look through.

Jim Z's hobbies - the premier site for archived plans and pictures of those classic rockets.

Ye Olde Rocket Shoppe - another fine collection of classic plans.

Posted by Ted at 01:59 PM | Comments (0)

June 13, 2004

Launch Report - 6/12/04

I keep my logbook here online since I've started Rocket Jones. If you'd like to read about my day spent launching rockets, it's in the extended entry. If not, that's ok too.

But first, a note about customer service and my recent encounters with two guys who get it more than right.

Last weekend I ordered a couple of rocket kits from a new local hobby dealer - Vertical Force Rocketry. Not only was he offering a club discount, but he met me at a local shopping center to deliver the kits to save me shipping costs. He also threw in a couple of sets of decals that he made so I could give them a try. We met yesterday at the launch, and then this morning Rich emailed this awesome liftoff photo (280k) of my flying saucer taking off. Great photography Rich, great customer service, and everyone should go check out his place and buy rockets for yourself and all your sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, cousins, grandkids, etc.

The other good guy is Doug Pratt, who's the very definition of "customer service". Seriously. He made a special trip out to the launch just to deliver a package to me, and stayed all of about 10 minutes before having to head out again. Quite out of his way too. Thanks Doug! Remember, Pratt Hobbies is where you can get those nifty "As a matter of fact, I AM a Rocket Scientist" t-shirts, and he's added hoody sweatshirts too ("Freedom to dream. Freedom to fly"). Mookie says they're cool, and we all know what a fashion lizard she is.

Ok, launch report. Click the link below for the extended entry.

Where: Great Meadow Equestrian Center, The Plains, Virginia
When: 9am - 5pm
Weather: mid-70's, high scattered clouds, light breeze

I wasn't going to go to today's NOVAAR club launch, because Mookie had graduation parties (yes, multiple) to attend today. She's not a senior, but several of her friends are, so her social calendar is full until the end of the school year. I figured I'd just play chauffeur (sonuvabitch if I didn't spell that right the first try!) all day, toting her here and there since graduation parties only happen once, but there are rocket launches every month.

Except that I was informed that I *had* to go, and that Pratt Hobbies might be there with a package for me. And when I got said package, I was *not* to open it. It's my Father's Day present, and I don't officially get it until next week.

So despite last night's rain and party plans, I packed up a few rockets and headed out to the club launch. It's turned out to be a glorious spring day, and I've got the sunburn to prove it. Because of the light winds, rockets were returning on their chutes almost back to the launch pads no matter how high they flew, and as the day went on folks got braver, the rockets got larger and the altitudes achieved increased dramatically.

I only brought model rockets to fly, and flew everything I brought.

1. Barenaked Lady -- D12-5 -- I started the day with a fine flight from this scratchbuilt. Not too high, and our homemade x-form parachute deployed perfectly and looked great coming down. She landed gently about 30 feet from where I was standing.

2. Snitch -- D12-0 / C6-0 -- This plastic flying saucer from Estes is big fun (you saw the picture above, right?). For added amusement, I CHAD-stage this little beastie. CHAD stands for "CHeap And Dirty", and what it means is I jam a second motor onto the bottom of the first motor and just let it hang there. At ignition the first motor lights, and then it lights the main motor before falling away. Like I said - big fun. On this flight though, the upper motor didn't light. Not a problem for the Snitch, it lands upside down without a parachute anyways (tumble recovery), so there was no damage. The motor just didn't light, but the entire nozzle area was charred and it should've. Weird.

3. YJ-218 -- C6-5 (x2) -- Another scratchbuilt, this time an upscale of the Estes Yellow Jacket. She flies on twin "C" motors, and the flight and recovery were perfect. In fact, this would have been my longest walk of the day for recovery (less than 100 yards), except that she landed within 50 feet of my truck, and a friend picked it up and put it in the bed of my truck for me.

4. Fat Boy -- C6-5 -- Hey lookie, it's our rocket! Flew perfectly too.

5. Saturn 3 -- A3-4T (x4) -- The concept behind this originial rocket was to be an affordable cluster by using four mini-motors. All four motors lit, another great flight, and I'm on a roll!

6. Falcon -- B6-4 -- This is a basic rocket kit from Quest, and flies nicely, if not very high.

7. Honest John -- B6-4 -- This is a semi-scale model of the US tactical nuclear missile of the 60's. Mine is painted in the test round colors rather than olive drab, because I'm shallow and easily distracted by bright pretty colors. Perfect liftoff, straight boost, and nice recovery.

8. Snitch -- D12-0 / C6-0 -- I wanted to get it right this time, and I did. Perfect flight all around, including the staging. Very nice.

9. Dynamic Carrier -- B6-4 -- This is a kit from Custom Rockets, and it's interesting and unusual. I've got it painted up to look like some kind of alien spaceship, and it flies great. Nice flight.

So I flew everything I brought. I also spent some time helping other rocketeers make their flights, talked to friends, and just generally enjoyed being out on the beautiful day.

9 flights (13 motors burned)
2 staged
2 clustered
power range: B - 3, C - 2, D - 3, E - 1

Posted by Ted at 08:21 AM | Comments (1)

June 12, 2004

Rocket Launch today

It rained pretty steadily yesterday evening and into the early morning, so the field might be a mess. Doesn't matter a bit, I'm gonna go launch some rockets. Enjoy your day, and I'll have something up later.

Posted by Ted at 06:15 AM | Comments (0)

June 09, 2004

Extensive Online Rocket and Missile Resource

For anyone interested in rockets, missiles or space-related information, check out Jim Ball's Scale Data Library. This site is an incredible resource in and of itself, but when you see the links he's collected... wow!

Posted by Ted at 05:52 AM | Comments (0)

May 30, 2004

Common Sense is winning

More and more, we're seeing articles like this one from the Oregonian magazine. Quick summary: launching hobby rockets doesn't make me a terrorist!

Posted by Ted at 07:56 AM | Comments (0)

May 29, 2004

Launching with the big boys

The gang over at the Maryland & Delaware Rocketry Association (MDRA) like to fly big projects, and their latest is a doozy!

Check out the pictures and video of the Liberty Project.

And just how big is that rocket? Well, according to John Hamill, who supplied the chutes, the O.D. green drogues you see in the recovery photos are 32' in diameter, which is what Army paratroopers use. The main orange and white chute is 100' in diameter, and weighs over 100lbs itself! It's used by the military to recover target drones.

The actual airframe is around 600lbs and stands about 25' tall. It was the largest hobby rocket ever flown east of the Mississippi. Way to go guys!!!

Posted by Ted at 09:46 AM | Comments (1)

May 26, 2004

Final Report – Team America Rocketry Challenge 2004

I’ve rattled on about this for a year now, and last Saturday, May 22, 2004 was the big day. The purpose of TARC is to promote an interest in aerospace sciences and technology fields among students, and in it’s first two years it has been a rousing success.

In the extended entry is a rundown on the whole event, and let me summarize by saying that this has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

Here are some numbers about the TARC 2004:

609 teams entered, comprising over 7,000 students, from all 50 states and DC.
201 teams submitted qualification flights
102 teams were selected to come to the flyoff (three way tie for 100th place)

Flight profile: Using a rocket designed and constructed by the student team, make a two-stage flight to as close as possible to 1250 feet, as measured by an electronic altimeter, while carrying a payload of two fresh eggs and returning them safely.

To qualify, the teams had to make a flight as witnessed and verified by a member of the National Association of Rocketry (NAR). The flight would be scored based on altitude and condition of the eggs and the scores sent in. The top 100 scores were invited to the finals.

More numbers:

7 teams submitted perfect qualifying scores (exactly 1250 feet and unbroken eggs)
41 teams qualified by making flights within 25 feet of the target altitude
The average qualifying score in 2003 was 99, in 2004 it was 38 (lower is better)

All day Friday, NAR and Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) volunteers set up the flying range at Great Meadows. Mookie and I helped last year, but this year I couldn’t take the time off from work.

On Friday evening, the NAR volunteers got together at a local high school for our final review of range operations. There were 70 volunteers, many of whom had also volunteered in the 2003 finals and/or had worked during the year to help organize this year's contest. Several had mentored one or more teams. Many were from out of state, from as far away as Colorado Springs and Minneapolis. There were quite a few New Englanders pitching in as well.

After the volunteer’s brief, the student teams entered the auditorium. Several hundred students, parents, and teachers were officially welcomed and given the rundown on the procedures that would be in effect for the contest. Speakers included the presidents and vice-presidents of the NAR and AIA, but the biggest buzz was saved for a surprise guest speaker, Vern Estes, founder of the Estes rocket company.

I was pleasantly surprised to find a picture of one of my rockets used on a promotional billboard at the briefing.

After the briefing, Mookie and I headed home – about an hour away – and got home around 10:30pm, needing to be at the flying field – more than an hour away – at 6am on Saturday.

In 2003, the weather at the finals was miserable and rainy. The contest even had a delay when a thunderstorm cell moved through and the field was cleared. For this year’s contest, the weather was clear but unseasonably hot and humid. The temperature hit the 90 degree mark, but the winds were near calm and the expected afternoon storms never materialized.

First order of business on Saturday morning was to help clear away the remains of a large party canopy that had been destroyed by the wind during an overnight storm. The canopy had smashed through a fence surrounding the field, so we did what we could to improvise repairs and make things safe.

Teams started to show up around 7am, and there were some high-power rocket demo flights made early on. Around 9am a local high school color guard presented the colors, and a student choir sang the National Anthem, followed immediately by a low level pass from a pair of US Marine Corps F18-Hornets. Oooo-Rah!

Mookie was a runner, delivering flight cards to the check-in table for teams that had selected their eggs. I was part of the recovery team, in case someone hung a rocket in a tree my job was to help them get it down if possible (and safe) using our 40 foot extensible poles, or qualify them for a re-flight if needed. Because of the calm winds, only one team treed a rocket, and they got it down safely. Basically, us recovery guys spent the day giving the runners breaks and spelling other volunteers as needed.

The most fun was watching the various teams. Many wore matching outfits or school colors, like the team who all had matching Hawaiian shirts with name tags showing their jobs (“egg specialist”, “ground support”, etc.). One memorable team wore togas, complete with laurel wreaths on their heads. I hope they used plenty of sunscreen.

Regardless of the uniform, or lack thereof, the focus was on their rockets. Each team made one flight for all the marbles. Limited exceptions were made for an encounter with the aforementioned rocket-eating trees (none needed) or altimeter malfunction or motor malfunction. Disqualifications were awarded for unsafe recoveries (i.e. – lawn darts) or broken eggs, which didn’t always match up. One team had their rocket come in sans parachute, and the eggs survived the sudden stop at the end of the flight. At the end of the day there were maybe six re-flights allowed, including one unfortunate team who suffered altimeter malfunctions on two different flights using two different altimeters. They took solace in the fact that they made two perfect flights, it was the electronics that let them down.

It was pretty neat to see the different ways the various teams tackled the technical problems involved. Same task, same goal, very different solutions and designs.

During the day, Vern Estes and his wife were out and about, talking to the kids and teachers. So was Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming, who is a big supporter of hobby rocketry. Homer Hickam of “October Sky” and “Rocket Boys” fame also got to speak to many of the teams.

There was also an area where several organizations had information tables. NASA had their mobile flight simulator set up, and various technical colleges and various other group reps were talking to people and handing out cool loot like posters and pens. Mookie scored a CIA pencil.

The competition was close, and everyone expected some ties among the top finishers, but it wasn’t until midway through the afternoon that a team nailed it – perfect score of zero. Right after that a team scored a five. Four more teams flew to within 15 feet of the target altitude, and ten more within 50 feet.

And then came the awards ceremony and guest speakers. Aside from the NAR and AIA representatives and the VIP’s mentioned above, speeches were given by NASA’s Director of Education (or some similar title, I tried to Google her name but had no luck), and Admiral (ret.) Craig Steidle, who now heads up NASA’s new Office of Exploration Systems, aka the “manned mission to the Moon, and beyond to Mars” projects. The high-profile of the guests demonstrates the importance attached to the TARC.

The kids really perked up when the NASA lady (damn, I wish I could remember her name) let everyone know that according to current plans, the first person to step onto Mars is currently in middle school or early high school. There were a LOT of “hey, that’s us!” looks and comments.

I may get some of the specifics about the awards wrong, but the gist is correct. The top 20 team’s faculty advisors (usually Science teachers) were each awarded $1000 to purchase equipment for their school science department. Several of the teachers were also awarded a trip to Space Camp for teachers, in addition to invitations to educational seminars sponsored by NASA and AIA member companies. I believe the top 15 teams will have the opportunity to submit proposals for further experiments to be flown aboard real NASA sounding rockets, the Space Shuttles, or the International Space Station. There is also an advanced version of the Rocket Challenge called the Student Launch Initiative sponsored by NASA where the teams compete using high-power rockets and the target altitude is one mile. The top teams also took home cash prizes for the students.

Head on over to the official website (click the “button” in the lower right corner to proceed through the title screens), and check things out. The official results are posted, and clicking on the team name displays a picture of the winning team with their rocket or with the VIP’s at the awards ceremony.

So that’s how Mookie and I and about a thousand friends, rocketeers and fellow space enthusiasts spent last Saturday. Like I said, it was one of the great days of my life, and I’m looking forward to doing it again next year.

Posted by Ted at 11:27 AM | Comments (0)

May 21, 2004


This story was posted to the newsgroup Rec.Models.Rockets by Chuck Rogers, one of the team members who launched the amatuer rocket that reached space:

Fred Brennion and I were traveling back from the awesome flight to space of the CXST rocket. As we're heading back from Black Rock, being the yuppie that I am, I had the hankering for a raspberry mocha with soy milk, topped with whipped creme. Of course, heading back from Black Rock, once you're past Reno, you're traveling through the middle of nowhere. But, low and behold as we went through Bishop, CA, we found a great coffee shop, the Kava Coffeehouse.

Well, Fred and I are in the Kava Coffeehouse, and as I order my raspberry mocha with soy milk and whipped creme, Fred takes note of a good looking young lady at the other end of the counter. I don't really notice her, being totally enamored with my lovely wife Brenda, but Fred moves on down the counter to introduce himself to her.

Well, Fred says "hi", and then says "I'll bet you'll never guess why I don't have my driver's license". The young lady looks at Fred like that's the lamest pick-up line she's ever heard, and she says "let me see, I bet you had a DUI". And then Fred says "No, I put my driver's license in a rocket that went into space, but they haven't found the rocket yet."

I wish I could have taken a picture of the young lady's face! It was a mix of incredulousness, but yet a strange realization that Fred's comment was so completely off the wall, it probably was true!

Yes, in a strong vote of confidence that they'd recover the rocket, Fred asked the CXST team to put his driver's license in the CXST rocket payload bay. Bruce Lee also put one of his credit cards. These guys were confident that the CXST team was going to get that rocket back!

I told the nice young lady that the CXST flight was already on (the Kava Coffeehouse had a couple Internet terminals, we checked Internet news sites and found it), and that she could check it out herself. Another incredulous, stunned look. If she caught it on TV later, she probably turned to her friends and said, "you're not going to believe this, but I talked to these two geeks in the Kava Coffeehouse...", etc., etc..

Needless to say I drove the entire way home. Although if Fred was driving and we got pulled over, it would have been hilarious to watch him explain to the Highway Patrolman how he'd lost his driver's license. "You see officer, I flew my driver's license into space on a rocket, and they haven't found it yet".

Yea, right buddy!

I'm sure the CXST team will be mailing Fred his driver's license. Fred's already getting a new one, because his old one has been to space and needs to be framed, or something!

Kudos' to the CXST team! Great flight! Fred knew he'd get his driver's license back! And if you're going through Bishop, stop in at the Kava Coffeehouse for a great mocha.

Word is that there was quite a collection of keepsakes and momento's in the payload (also posted to Rec.Models.Rockets, from Pat G):
You left out the part that Bruce Lee threw his credit card in, and after the launch and recovery, he used it at Bruno's, still worked, btw, after being in to space.

Plus Ky recovered an Aerotech 38mm motor case that went to space, plus a lot of other memorbilia, coins, letters, etc.

There was mention in the reports about plastic in the nosecone melting from the friction heat generated by going mach 5.5, so apparently this stuff wasn't that far forward. Still a neat story. Congrats guys, again!

Posted by Ted at 06:39 AM | Comments (2)

May 20, 2004

Television coverage

Tune in to CNN on May 22, 2004. They will be broadcasting live throughout the day from Great Meadow, The Plains, VA, covering the 2nd Annual Team America Rocketry Challenge finals!

Who knows, you might see Mookie or yours truly.

Posted by Ted at 04:22 PM | Comments (1)

May 18, 2004

Finding rockets with GPS

There's been a misunderstanding about how I intend to use GPS when tracking and recovering my rockets. I'll talk a little bit about what's available now, the excellent suggestions given, and then explain the technique that I'll actually use.

(in the extended entry)

There are non-GPS low-power transmitters that can be put into a rocket, including a system developed by Walston. The club that we occasionally fly with in Whitakers, North Carolina has the Walston system. Each rocketeer buys a transmitter on a different frequency, and they split the cost of the receiving unit. The nice thing about the Walston unit (as I understand it) is that you don't need a ham radio license from the FCC, because the unit is extremely low-powered. You have to use a directional YAGI antenna, and there's an art to the technique of tracking down your rocket once it touches down. This explanation on using the Walston Tracking System is the best I've ever seen. The author, Sue McMurray, is a wonderful lady who was head of motor testing and certifications for the national high-power rocket organization for a time. She also offered her assistance when a local girl scout troop leader decided that "rockets aren't something that girls do". The lady can flat-out write, but more importantly she builds and flies some impressive rockets.

Back to tracking. It's also possible to use a higher-powered transmitter, but in that case you'll need to obtain your ham radio license. From what I've heard, it's not difficult to become a ham, especially since you no longer need to know Morse code as a prerequisite.

These systems are costly, and the rockets have to be designed to contain the transmitter antenna. They really do work, both out west where they tend to much higher altitudes (it helps to fly on the desert), but their recovery area is exponentially greater, and here in the east where we are more limited on altitude but the recovery areas tend to be cropland and woods. Trust me, wading through high cotton, tobacco or corn is no way to spend a summer day searching for a rocket.

Neither of those options are GPS though, they're just simple beacon transmitters, and you triangulate on the signal to locate the rocket. It's possible to lose the signal behind obstructions, which is where the art of the search applies. Picking up a blocked signal is made more likely by understanding the way everything works and how to take advantage of it.

Putting a GPS into a hobby rocket introduces new problems. You'll still need the transmitter, but instead of a simple beacon signal it needs to transmit its coordinates. It also has to be able to maintain the GPS signal on the way down and on the ground, regardless of how and where it lands. There is also more government regulation on transmitting signal strength and frequency.

My intended method is simpler and doesn't rely on having a signal transmitted from the rocket at all. In fact, it's just using the GPS to refine the search area. It does require seeing the rocket come down, otherwise I'm back to covering the general area in a search pattern until I get lucky or give up.

Before the actual launch of our rockets, if I've got extra eyes (Mookie) to help track I'll send her out a ways in the general direction of expected drift. If I'm at the club launch alone I'll enlist a friend to track from the pad and I'll head out a ways to get a different angle on the flight. Once it comes down, I make note of a landmark on the line of sight and estimate how far away the rocket landed. Often it's by judging whether it came down in front of or behind treelines, which means it can be very imprecise (the field behind that treeline might be half a mile wide). Then I head along that sight line, while Mookie (if she's available) does the exact same thing from where she was watching. In a perfect world, where we come together is where the rocket landed. In reality, one of us didn't track the rocket all the way down, or we have to scramble around and over obstacles which throws off the line of sight, or many other gotcha's that keeps you from walking a straight line in nature.

And this is where the GPS comes in. Some models allow you to shoot an azimuth with a compass, orient your unit to it, then enter 'waypoints'. By doing this, the GPS tells you how far off your line of sight you've wandered as you head towards the rocket. Entering a second set of waypoints - from where Mookie is standing - increases the accuracy.

It's not the most efficient use for GPS, but it's definitely an improvement over the guess-and-by-golly method we use now.

Posted by Ted at 11:24 AM | Comments (1)

Amateur Rocket Carrying Ham Radio Payload Reaches Space

The CSXT team is not competing for the X-Prize, but they've managed to reach space on their third attempt.

Posted by Ted at 12:55 AM | Comments (1)

May 14, 2004

Estes releases X-prize model rockets

Crap. I'm going to have to get all eight of these. Yep, darn. ;)

Ye Olde Rocket Shoppe has details and pictures of the announcement advertising.

Looks like Estes is also coming out with a couple of rocket gliders, a new version of their camera rocket, and a rocket that takes in-flight digital movies.

Posted by Ted at 01:48 AM | Comments (1)

May 11, 2004

Another rocket contest

This one calls for teams to build a rocket that deploys a remotely-controlled rover vehicle.

Posted by Ted at 06:05 AM | Comments (0)

May 10, 2004


Here's the list of visiting guests at the Team America Rocketry Challenge finals to be held weekend after next (link over on the right column):

"Rocket Boy" author Homer Hickam, U.S. Senator Mike Enzi, NASA Associate Administrators Craig Steidle and Adena Loston, Marshall Space Flight Center Director David King, NASA astronauts Jay Apt and Charlie Walker, among other dignitaries.

Mookie and I got to meet Homer Hickam, Senator Enzi, and Jay Apt last year. Good people.

Posted by Ted at 09:15 PM | Comments (0)

May 08, 2004

Federal Government going after Hobby Rocketry

This appeared in the Wall Street Journal yesterday. Since they require subscription to access, the article is included below (in the extended entry) as posted on the Rec.Models.Rockets newsgroup.

The hobby rocketry community is small and active, so I've talked to most of the rocketeers or shopped at the hobby shops mentioned in the article. This is the perfect example of Homeland Security acting in a way that will not actually make anyone safer, but they can point to it as an example of ways that they're working to protect us. Justifying their existance is what I call it.

For the most part, the article is fair and reasonably accurate. The main point missed though isn't the cost of the new permits, it's the unreasonable storage requirements which are damn near impossible to comply with.

May 7, 2004 PAGE ONE Explosive Debate: Should U.S. Check Up On Model Rockets?

Under 9/11 Law, ATF Keeps
Tabs on Propellant Buyers;
Feds Visit Al's Hobby Shop

May 7, 2004; Page A1

ELMHURST, Ill. -- Al's Hobby Shop in this leafy corner of suburban
Chicago is always packed with mothers looking for Cub Scout badges,
teenagers ogling imported slot cars and grown men playing with model

But to federal law-enforcement officials, Al's is also a possible
terrorist supply depot. And so, last October, a special agent from the
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was sent to Al's
from Washington to buy $1,700 in model rocket motors.

"The guy told me that the government wanted to do some tests," recalls
Tim Lehr, who sold the agent 40 motors containing almost 60 pounds of
propellant. "He wouldn't say what the tests were for, but I could
guess: The government wanted to ruin my hobby."

Since the passage of the initial post-9/11 antiterrorism laws in
October 2001, hobby rocketry has been struggling to avoid regulation
that enthusiasts say will destroy their sport, deter youngsters from
pursuing an interest in science and waste the nation's limited
law-enforcement resources. The Department of Justice says that federal
agents need to keep an eye on who is buying model rockets because the
toys are potentially dangerous and could be adapted by terrorists to
attack airplanes and American soldiers.

At the heart of the problem is a long-running dispute between
hobbyists and the ATF, which is part of the Justice Department, over
how to legally classify the chemicals used to propel rockets. Ammonium
perchlorate composite propellant, better known as APCP, is a rubbery
mixture of resins, powdered metals and salts that ignites at 500
degrees Fahrenheit and burns like a road flare on steroids. It's the
same fuel that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration uses
in the solid rocket boosters on the space shuttle.

For hobby rockets, APCP comes in the form of pellets wrapped in
cardboard about an inch in diameter and three inches long. The
cylinders, which start at $12.50 apiece and can go up into the
hundreds of dollars, can be stacked in reusable aluminum casings to
power larger rockets.

Rocketeers have always maintained that APCP doesn't detonate, it
deflagrates. That is, it burns intensely at a controlled rate. Since
1971, however, the ATF has branded APCP as a "low explosive" subject
to regulation and licensing by the bureau. In practice, the ATF
largely ignored the rocketeers as long as they weren't selling or
buying APCP across state lines.

With new fears about national security after 9/11, President Bush
signed the Safe Explosives Act, an antiterrorism law contained in the
bill that created the Department of Homeland Security. In effect for a
year, the law now requires permits for all purchases of rocket motors
and all explosives, including APCP.

Suddenly, hobbyists who had been freely purchasing such motors for
years had to be fingerprinted and to submit to background checks. They
had to pay $25 for ATF low-explosive-user permits to purchase more
than 2.5 ounces of APCP and allow local and federal inspectors onto
their property anytime to check for proper storage of the propellant.

The government insists it is trying to balance civil liberties with
homeland safety. But federal investigators say that since terrorists
showed they could level skyscrapers with boxcutters, no potentially
suspicious activity can be ignored. "Most of the people involved in
these activities are harmless fanatics and nerds," says one federal
law-enforcement official. "But since 9/11, we have a responsibility to
make sure the nerds are not terrorists."

Other hobbyist have also come under federal scrutiny, including bird
watchers on the Canadian border and operators of radio-controlled
airplanes. But this does little to console the rocketeers. Terry
McCreary, associate professor of analytical chemistry at Murray State
University in western Kentucky and a hobby-rocket guru, says sport
rocketry helps kids by interesting them in wonders of chemistry,
physics, astronomy and aerodynamics. "If you look deeply into the
background of our top mathematicians and scientists, you will find a
kid with a model rocket."

Pointing at a troop of about 15 Boy Scouts at a recent launch in The
Plains, Va., Doug Pratt, who runs his own hobby-rocket business out of
his basement in Herndon, asked: "Does that look like a group of
terrorists to you?"

Faced with the prospect of being fingerprinted and having agents
poking around their past, many rocketeers are leaving the hobby. The
rocket club at Kettering University in Michigan has closed down
because of the new regulatory requirements.

Looking for help, rocket groups have turned to Republican Sen. Mike
Enzi of Wyoming, an avid fan of hobby rockets and model airplanes. In
May last year, Senator Enzi sponsored a bill to exempt hobby rockets
from government regulation.

The Department of Justice, which oversees the ATF, then wrote him a
letter saying that "large rocket motors could be adapted by terrorists
for use in surface-to-air missiles capable of intercepting commercial
and military airplanes at cruise level and for use in 'light antitank'
weapons capable of hitting targets from a range of nearly five miles."

Mr. Enzi wrote back to Attorney General Ashcroft, asking to see the
results of the tests that led his department to its conclusions.
Within weeks, an agent from the ATF was sent to Al's Hobby Shop
outside Chicago to buy the first rocket motors for testing. Over the
past six months, according to ATF officials, agents and private
contractors have been working at Air Force bases in Utah and Florida
firing model rockets at drones, vehicles and simulated crowds of
people. The tests are classified.

Some rocketeers have hit upon another solution: They make their own
fuel. They get together on weekends with pizza, beer and jars of
precursor chemicals for "cooking parties" in their homes and
apartments or in the back rooms of their businesses.

"It's legal and completely safe," says Jerry O'Sullivan, an insurance
agent who cooks fuel with his friends in suburban Washington. Mr.
O'Sullivan, who is a member of the Maryland Delaware Rocketry
Association Inc., is taking advantage of a loophole in explosives
legislation exempting anyone who mixes an explosive for his own
"personal" use from having to get a permit. The exemption was created
mainly for farmers who mix fertilizers and fuel oil to blast their own
irrigation ditches.

One oddity of the government crackdown is the focus on rockets and not
guidance systems. "The secret is in the guidance systems," says Arthur
"Trip" Barber, a former captain of a U.S. navy guided missile
destroyer, who is now vice president of the National Association of
Rocketry. "I can build a rocket overnight but I couldn't build a
guidance system in a lifetime."

Posted by Ted at 06:51 AM | Comments (1)

May 05, 2004

They fly like girls

But the important thing is, they fly.

Here's a nice newspaper article from King County in Washington state, talking about an all-girl team that's going to the finals of the Team America Rocketry Challenge.

Those finals are being held on May 22, 2004 at Great Meadows, The Plains, Virginia. Open to the public.

Posted by Ted at 11:10 AM | Comments (0)

May 03, 2004

Silver Lining

Yeah, it sucks to crash a rocket. On the other hand, it gives me an excuse to build another. :D

Posted by Ted at 10:40 PM | Comments (7)

May 02, 2004

Aftermath pictures of the Air Munuviana

Post-flight analysis, complete with photos showing in excruciating detail all the damage suffered in the crash.

Instead of my normal embedded pictures, these photos are clickable links to make it easier for those on dial-up. It's all in the extended entry.

Enjoy. Remember, you learn more from the failures than you do from the successes.

Someone in previous comments thought that it would've been cool to have pictures of the actual crash site. I didn't have the camera because I had no idea if I would be able to find the remains. The area the Air Mu went down in has some very wet meadowland, and it wasn't inconcievable that she might have hit and driven straight down into the mud, with anything left above ground hidden by tall grass. That, and the possible scramble through the woods for an unknown length of time just didn't make carrying the camera bag something I wanted to do.

This first picture is of the recovered pieces, laid out more or less in order. The long purple tube on the right side is the motor.

Bits and pieces

Now this next picture is interesting. First off, only one of the two on-board batteries were recovered, and as you can see, it's pretty messed up (upper right). Yep, that's a 9v, and yep, that's a big ol' dent in it.

Upper left is the altimeter and plywood mounting plate. Besides the splintered ends of the plywood, the main indication of impact is the circuit bits knocked free and just barely hanging on. Something not clear from the photos is that all those wires are snapped clean, but the terminal ends of each wire connection are still secure.

That green and yellow bit towards the bottom is the ejection canister. It consists of an electric match in a plastic container that holds the black powder ejection charge, and is fired by the altimeter. This one didn't. I know that because of that soggy mass of black and gray between the canister and the battery. That is the flame-proof wadding used to protect the parachute from the burning particles of the ejection charge when it goes off. All of that black is the unburnt black powder. The impact shattered the canister, the black powder wound up in the surrounding wadding, and the water soaked it all. I'm going to let it dry out a day or two and try test-firing the electric match.

Detail - bits and pieces

This next picture is of the nose cone, from the base looking up towards the point. See what I meant about the nose cone being flattened the long way? Notice the paint job. All that red didn't scrape off, it crackled from the deformation of the plastic and fell off in little bitty pieces. Also note the three holes in the base. I used 3/16" tubular nylon for the recovery harness, and it cut through the thick plastic like a cheese-slicer.

It used to be round, honest!

Here's a close up of the (now) two-piece motor tube. The dented bit of cardboard cylider is the motor mount adapter, and still has the aluminum tube and thick plastic fuel grain inside it! I couldn't get a good end-on picture, but the tube is out of round as well at the nozzle end (black bit on the upper right). The motor tube snapped just above the fuel grain, which basically runs the length of the cardboard adapter shown. The end of the bottom tube was plugged with almost 2" of mud. I dug it out to see where the floating injector wound up. It wasn't attached to the grain where it should be, and I was wondering if it hadn't been propelled forward into the upper end of the motor tube at impact. Nope, the injector wasn't recovered, it might still be laying on the bottom of that creek.

Motor tube(s)

So the final analysis doesn't give a clear answer as to what went wrong. The altimeter may have failed, although it's more likely that I did something wrong to cause the failure. I have some theories about that, and I'm going to have to give some serious thought to the steps I took during prep, and how to improve my methods. Face it, when a failure costs this much money, it's in my best interest to figure out best I can how not to do it again.

Posted by Ted at 08:38 PM | Comments (4)

BattlePark Rocket Launch Pictures

A few photos taken at yesterday's launch (in the extended entry, and click-to-view for the bandwidth impaired).

Here is a picture of the Super Stretch Ninja. We'd given her up for lost after everyone lost sight of her on the way up.

Super Stretch Ninja

Here are a couple of people prepping rockets. On the left is the guy who found our Super Stretch Ninja. He was looking for the yellow rocket he's holding here, but never located it. In the background is a rocketeer readying a large chute for folding. He successfully flew a two-stage scale model of the Bumper-WAC, which was basically the US version of a V2 with a small sounding rocket attached to the nose.

Rocketeers at work

These next two photos show an actual Arcas sounding rocket. This particular round was the upper stage of a flight from Wallops Island, Virginia, and reached 120,000 feet carrying a scientific payload. She was presented to an Atlantic Research Corporation engineer upon his retirement. Unlike the models we fly, it's all metal. This round was recently used as a mold to create a beautiful full-size fiberglass kit that includes every detail.

Arcas 1
Arcas 2

Posted by Ted at 07:00 PM | Comments (0)

May 01, 2004

Launch Report – 5/1/04

Today was the start of BattlePark 2004 in Culpeper, Virginia, and according to the weather reports, the better day for flying. Mookie and I went and had a great day, despite some not-so-successful flights.

The day started with high clouds but the sun burned through now and then. A cold front is moving into the area and intermittent rain has started, but the day was mostly dry. The winds were out of the south and stayed between 5-10 mph.

Culpeper is in the heart of Virginia’s horse country, and the area consists of gently rolling hills dotted with farms. Our route there takes us through the Chancellorsville Battlefield from the Civil War. On the way, Mookie spotted a deer back in the trees.

We got there early and prepped a couple of rockets. When the range opened we set up our FY2K with an F23 motor. We wound up making the first flight after the first rocket scheduled to launch burnt it’s igniter without lighting the motor. The FY2K is a smallish rocket, and leapt off the pad with a roar and trailing thick black smoke. The chute ejected right at the top and she landed softly within 100 yards of the pad.

Next up for us was the Super Ninja. The Super Ninja has made many flights for us, and today we were going to fly her on an E18, the biggest motor she’s ever used, and it simmed out to over 2000 feet altitude. I have no idea how high she actually went, and nobody else did either, because everyone lost sight of it while she was still screaming upward. While I was looking up, trying to see some glint in the sunlight, a friend told me that the rocket was probably already on the ground. Couldn’t prove it by me.

Mookie and I went searching in the direction she probably would’ve drifted, but after a good long walk we had no luck finding her. The worst part about it was losing a reloadable motor casing, which costs $40.00 to replace.

We spent some time visiting with friends and watching other rockets launch. After a while I prepped the Air Munuviana for a flight on a hybrid I-80. With the help of Doug Pratt we got her ready on the pad while I sent Mookie and Brian Pratt downwind several hundred yards to watch for where she landed.

The liftoff was perfect, and the I-80 really moved her along. I lost sight of the Air Mu in the sun, but others watching said the chute never came out and she came in ballistic. I heard the impact when she hit the ground, in the opposite direction where Mookie and Brian were stationed. As a friend and I started the walk to find it, someone said they had a line on it which was nice because it gave me a couple of reference points to use to tell me about where it came down.

We walked about a quarter mile to the first treeline, crossing an electric fence along the way, and there I continued on alone since I had to wade a stream to get to the meadow beyond. The meadow was pretty boggy in spots, and I covered it pretty good all the way back to another treeline. The second treeline was the start of a mature pine wood, planted at some point because many of the trees were in straight rows. It was also demarked with a barbed wire fence.

About this time, Mookie and Brian showed up. We found a spot to get through the barb wire, and made a circle through the wood beyond. It was a pretty good hike, but we had to be careful to pick our way around patches of poison ivy. No luck finding the rocket.

We’d been looking for more than an hour, so we headed back. The guy who saw the Air Munuviana come down couldn’t tell how far away it was, so just to be thorough I decided to check the near meadow after we waded the stream again. Brian and Mookie headed towards the truck while I walked the stream.

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught the purple of the anodized aluminum motor casing. Calling back to the kids to let them know I’d found our rocket, I took a closer look.

Usually in these lawn darts, the motor is the only thing that survives. Not this time, because I could see a dent in the casing. It was standing straight up in the mud on the bank of the stream. Pieces of the airframe were scattered around, lying in the water. I laughed when I saw a blinking light underwater, as either the altimeter or sonic beacon was still functioning and the LED was flashing.

When the kids got there, we climbed down into the creek and started locating the debris. The motor casing was dented, making it unusable. The altimeter was wet, and a closer look showed it to be trashed from the impact. The parachute was intact. We figured the nosecone had floated downstream and was lost.

I wanted to get a look at the other bank to see what might be over there. Climbing that side, I came across the nosecone. It had been flattened – the long way – by an impact in the tree above. Sure enough, Mookie spotted a branch about 30 feet up with a big bare spot where the Air Mu spacked at speed. We also found the motor mount, with the bottom 8” of the motor tube. How hard do you think it had to have hit that tree to snap an aluminum tube cleanly?

We also found a whole fin and most of another, as well as a few small shreds of delaminated plywood.

Now this flight cost almost $200 in destroyed equipment, but something about rocketry that is seldom talked about is that even crashes like this are kinda cool. It also felt good to find the pieces, much better than just losing it and not knowing what happened. This way, I can possibly determine what caused the failure. The ‘up’ part was perfect. I need to work on the ‘down’ part.

Once we got back to the truck, we all called it a day and packed up. Doug had invited us to join him and Brian for ribs at a killer BBQ place near there, and it sounded good after the long hike. Just as we were getting ready to pull out, a guy tapped on our window and said he’d found our rocket. I hopped out and sure enough, he had the Super Ninja (and my motor case – yay!). One fin was broken, but she was otherwise intact. He’d been looking for one of his rockets, and came across ours almost a mile and a quarter downwind.

The remains of the Air Munuviana are spread out on a table behind me, drying out a little. I’ll post some pictures tomorrow. The sonic beacon is still flashing, which amuses me, but all the drying out in the world won’t revive the piezo buzzer so it’s toast.

The ribs were awesome. I’m gonna be sore tomorrow from all that scrambling cross country. It was a great day.

Posted by Ted at 11:00 PM | Comments (5)

Gone fishin' rocket launchin'

Might post more this evening. Enjoy your day, we'll be enjoying ours!

(picture in the extended entry)

Mookie took this picture at one of our club launches in February 2002
Mookie took this picture at one of our club launches in February 2002.

Posted by Ted at 06:30 AM | Comments (2)

April 30, 2004

Of course it's rocket science

Here is NASA's press release about their Student Launch Initiative program, which includes three of the teams from last year's Team America Rocketry Challenge.

The Student Launch Initiative is an education program designed to allow high school and college students to experience practical aerospace and engineering activities. Working in teams, students demonstrate proof-of-concept for their designs, develop Web sites dedicated to their work, learn how to budget — including how to present financial proposals to NASA engineers and community leaders — and gain problem-solving skills.

"It's important for NASA to fuel students' interest in careers in science and engineering," said Jim Pruitt, manager of the Education Programs Department at the Marshall Center . "This initiative gives students hands-on experience building and launching rockets — to inspire the next generation of space explorers, and help our nation prepare our young people for the challenges ahead."

At the launch, student teams will attempt to reach an altitude of one mile with their rockets, and college teams will attempt to send their rockets two-miles high. All rockets will carry a scientific payload. The teams will be evaluated on their rocket design, including propulsion, materials, payload and safety features. NASA volunteers also will look at the target altitude, formal reviews and Web site designs.

Here's a link to the Marshall Space Flight Center Education Programs page for the Student Launch Initiative. It contains several good links for related information.

Posted by Ted at 06:25 AM | Comments (0)

April 21, 2004

An Invitation and an Introduction

For new visitors, I thought I'd briefly mention what Rocket Jones is about. Like it says up top, it's a literal description of my state of mind. My kids and I do hobby rocketry, and I use this blog to occasionally talk about the science, technology and fun involved. We're also heavily involved in educational projects with local schools and youth groups. My Rocketry category contains Rocket Jones posts on the subject, including tons of web links and pictures of our family doing rocket stuff.

And you might not have known, but Munuviana has its own space program!

Here's a beginner Q&A about model rocketry.

Here are pictures of a couple of our other larger rockets.

I posted this about a month ago, but I'll repeat myself.

BattlePark 2004, to be held May 1st and 2nd in Culpeper, Virginia, will be one of the largest rocket launches of the year in the United States. Rocketry enthusiests from all over the eastern US and Canada will be attending and making spectacular flights.

Located within two hours of Washington DC and Richmond, VA, the field is beautiful rolling farmland. You can find directions and a map here. Spectators are welcome (no charge), and kids launch for free. Everything from Estes-sized model rockets all the way up to extreme high-power will be launched. A 15,000' altitude waiver has already been approved by the FAA.

Mookie and I will be there both Saturday and Sunday, and we'd love to meet some of you! C'mon out and see something unique and exciting.

Posted by Ted at 10:24 AM | Comments (0)

April 19, 2004

Not as simple as it would seem

In this post I talked a little bit about the task for the Team America Rocket Challenge for 2005:

Instead of a target altitude, the kids will have to design a rocket for a target duration. In other words, the rocket from lift-off to touching ground again will be timed, and that's the parameter they're trying to zero in on.

Stephen remarked:

It would seem to me that if was total time from take-off to landing a big chute would have big advantage.

Absolutely correct, except that instead of total time the goal is a targeted time. The National Association of Rocketry holds many types of competitions, including duration events, and when you're going for maximum duration a great big chute is indeed the way to go. Imagine a 30" diameter parachute made from that ultra-thin plastic you get from the dry cleaners, marked with a few spots of hi-lighter for visibility in the air, and folded down to fit inside a 1/2" diameter tube. It's possible - with care - and I've seen many of these drift away over the horizon. They don't always come down either, because they'll catch a thermal column of rising air. I lost a rocket once under chute that was still going up as it drifted out of sight.

But for the Challenge, these won't be featherweight rockets. They'll be carrying an egg or two (26 - 52 grams total) that'll have to be brought back safely to earth. They'll also be carrying the expended motor casings because the rules allow for no ejection of mass for a gentler descent.

Like any other engineering task, it's all about finding a trade-off that works best under a variety of conditions. Let's consider two hypothetical rocket designs, both of which will perform as required. For the sake of argument, lets say the target time is 45 seconds (I have no idea what the actual target time will be, it hasn't been announced yet).

Rocket 1 is a fat draggy brute of a rocket. It's not going to go fast, it's not going to go high, and once the motors stop thrusting it's going to slow down pretty quickly. It uses a big chute to gently bring it down. Using the right motors, this rocket could easily meet the 45 second target from liftoff to touchdown.

Rocket 2 is thinner and more aerodynamic. It'll move faster and it'll go much higher than Rocket 1 on the same engines, but there’s nothing that says they can’t use smaller engines. It's also a lighter-weight rocket all around, so it doesn't need as big a chute to descend at a safe (for the egg) speed. This design could also be very successful for the challenge.

Under perfect conditions, both of these rockets will do the job equally well. So let's assume reality here, because things are never perfect. Cold dry air is less dense than warm moist air, so drag will be affected depending on local conditions. Because of the differences in design, they'll be affected in varying degrees, especially considering surface drag. The efficiency of the chutes will also be affected, and if they're skirting the edge of safe descent rates, a chilly day might cause the rocket to drop faster than expected, resulting in broken eggs.

If it's windy, there's a whole new set of variables to contend with. Weathercocking is the effect where a rocket veers away from vertical because of the breeze. Weathervanes that point out wind direction take advantage of this effect, and you've felt it yourself if you've ever stuck your hand out of a car window as it moves down the road. Fat rockets feel the wind more, because there's more area being affected by the breeze. Slow rockets are affected more, because the fins take longer to self-correct for weathercocking. But Rocket 2, the thin speed-demon design, while affected less (theoretically) by weathercocking, will be under chute longer in the wind, when it's not going fast and streaky and sleek. More time aloft equals more drift time. More drift time means longer in the air, because the rocket is going sideways instead of downwards.

Cold dry air, calm day.
Cold damp air, calm day.
Cold dry air, windy day.
Cold damp air, windy day.
Warm dry air, calm day... and so on. Each in infinite variety too.

The draft rules mention bonus points for a dual-egg payload and making your design two stages. Although it adds complexity and thus more chance of failure, both should be planned for. To me, you don’t turn down free points, but you’d better have a reliable staging design.

The answer is simple. The winner is going to design a rocket that works best for them. If past contests are any indication, designs will be broken down into two basic types: designs that are conventional, and designs that are ingenious. The ingenious ones are the most fun, because I've seen some real Frankenstein engineering. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I also think a key for this event is going to be to learn to adjust parachute sizes up or down according to local conditions.

Two ideas have already jumped out in my mind as potential winners, both unconventional but not original (there’s very little new under the sun). First, a radio-controlled glider carried to altitude by a rocket, which releases and is flown back to the ground. With a nicely trimmed design and a good pilot, timing the landing could prove to be very accurate and gentle on the eggs.

My second idea – and the one I like – is to build a UFO style design. Something saucer, cone or pyramid shaped. These designs have incredible drag, and go low and slow as long as the motor keeps thrusting, and stopping almost immediately when the motor burns out. A simple timer circuit or magnetic field apogee detector would throw the parachute out at the proper time. Plus by keeping the altitude down below 300 feet, wind drift would be minimized and more uniform descent times should be possible.

I may have to build one of these, just to see if my ideas work.

Posted by Ted at 05:50 AM | Comments (3)

April 16, 2004


The results of the qualifying for the Team America Rocketry Challenge were released, and the team I was mentoring didn't make it to the finals. Darn.

I just talked to their teacher, and we agreed that they learned a lot from this project. Since the finals will be local for them, they might come out and spend the day watching. That would be a great thing, because they were entirely successful, it just wasn't quite enough to advance. Besides, it'll do them good to see finalists have the same problems they had while making their qualifying flights. It's rocket science, and perfect preparation means you only minimize the effects of bad luck. You can't eliminate it completely.

In other great news, they've already announced that there will be another Challenge held in 2005. This was originally conceived of as a one-time event, but it's been successful enough to have a third go-round.

Next year's Challenge will be a little different. Instead of a target altitude, the kids will have to design a rocket for a target duration. In other words, the rocket from lift-off to touching ground again will be timed, and that's the parameter they're trying to zero in on. Of course, the rockets will have to carry at least one egg (and bring it back unbroken), and it looks like there will be bonus points awarded for two-stage designs and carrying two eggs aloft.

Mookie and I will be volunteers working the finals again this year. Fun fun fun!

Posted by Ted at 12:10 PM | Comments (3)

April 10, 2004

Today's rocket launch

I talked about it here.

The weather was beautiful, and the site of the launch, Middletown Park, is really nice.

We were on a tight schedule because one of the team had to be at work early, so the plan was to get there, make a practice flight, turn it around and do another 'official' flight to try to improve on their qualifying score. To speed things along, the team had pre-loaded the engines into the rocket so that on the field all they'd have to do was install igniters and the altimeter and eggs.

When we arrived they quickly got prepped and safety-checked, and set the rocket up on the pad. Then it was a short wait for their turn to launch.

Countdown and all three first-stage motors lit. The rocket took off straight as an arrow and it was looking to be a picture perfect flight. First stage burn-out, and the second stage should ignite... should ignite... should ignite any time now...

The rocket coasted upwards, and as it was beginning to arc over the upper stage lit. She powered into the ground about 150 yards away. We collected our gear and went to recover it, to see what could be salvaged for the next flight.

No chance at a second flight. The nosecone was embedded into the ground, and shattered. The egg capsule was smashed too, as were the eggs inside. Much of the second stage was waterlogged (it landed on the edge of a pond) and the motor mount ripped free from the impact. The altimeter was beeping out 620 feet, just about half of the target altitude.

We sat down and started to recreate the flight to figure out what went wrong. When the motors were pulled from the booster stage, we found the problem. Instead of using booster motors (no delay, instant upper-stage ignition), they used upper-stage motors with a seven second delay. So instead of igniting the upper stage immediately, while the rocket was still moving fast and vertical, it slowed down and tipped over during those long seven seconds.

The guy that loaded the wrong motors felt really bad, but it was a simple mistake. I reinforced the lesson about using the checklist when prepping complex rockets, and tried to make the point that everyone makes mistakes now and then. The team has a good qualifying flight to turn in, so they still have a strong chance at making the finals.

Three different teachers also stopped by while we were inspecting the rocket and talked to the kids. I really appreciated that, because they were all supportive and their kind words made the team feel better.

They should know by the end of the week if they made the finals. I'll keep you posted.

Posted by Ted at 09:54 PM | Comments (3)

April 08, 2004

More Students and Rockets Stuff

The Team America Rocket Challenge (TARC) requires that each participating team of students make a qualification flight. The top 100 teams are invited to the finals to be held in Virginia in May. You can check the links to see details, suffice it to say that this is not an easy contest, but the prizes are great (grants, scholarships, and educational opportunities sponsored by the Aerospace Industries Association and NASA).

A key point is that the students are entirely responsible for the design, construction, prep, flight and recovery of the rocket. Teachers and mentors are for advice only. No hands-on by adults is allowed.

Last year, the team of high school students I mentored barely missed the finals, coming in 111th out of over 900 teams entered from across the US.

This year's contest is even bigger, and the team is even more determined to make the finals. There’s only one student left from last year, and they’ve been working hard. They built two rockets, one a clone of last year’s design, and the second incorporates some ‘advanced’ technology like fiberglass fins and better aerodynamics. They’ve been running lots of computer simulations on their designs, and have flown both rockets at least a half dozen times on practice flights (pictures here). Their egg protection system is flawless so far, not a single crack yet.

Last Sunday they tried to make their qualifying flight. The wind was terrible, I was surprised that they were allowed to launch. Their first official attempt worked perfectly and went over 1000’, but the target altitude is 1250’. They went with a smaller upper-stage motor, and misjudged on the low side. They next decided to try the other rocket on a practice flight, then choose between the two for their final qualification flight.

1175’. Beautiful, but unofficial. They hustled to turn the rocket around to make another flight before the range closed for the day, and somewhere in the rush a mistake was made. On their final flight, only one motor ignited in the booster stage (it’s a three-motor cluster) and the badly underpowered rocket tipped horizontal off the rod and then the upper-stage motor ignited. The rocket then flew into the ground under power and pretty much disassembled itself. The eggs survived!

So this week they’re rebuilding. The teacher is headed out of town because of a family emergency, so on Saturday morning I’ll meet the students at their school and haul the crew up to Frederick, Maryland so they can make another, hopefully better, attempt.

Keep your fingers crossed for them.

Posted by Ted at 01:43 PM | Comments (0)

March 25, 2004

Mark your calendars now

BattlePark 2004, to be held May 1st and 2nd in Culpeper, Virginia, will be one of the largest rocket launches of the year in the United States. Rocketry enthusiests from all over the eastern US and Canada will be attending and making spectacular flights.

Located within two hours of Washington DC and Richmond, VA, the field is beautiful rolling farmland. You can find directions and a map here. Spectators are welcome (no charge), and kids launch for free. Everything from Estes-sized model rockets all the way up to extreme high-power will be launched. A 15,000' altitude waiver has already been approved by the FAA.

Mookie and I will be there both Saturday and Sunday, and we'd love to meet some of you! C'mon out and see something unique and exciting.

Posted by Ted at 09:32 AM | Comments (1)

March 24, 2004

Nifty Picture

Estes released a nice ready-to-fly rocket a few years ago called the Snitch. Basically, it's a plastic UFO saucer that climbs into the sky, fighting drag the whole way. When the engine burns out, then it flips over and floats back down to earth for a soft landing. It's perfect for night flights, going slow enough to see the bright engine flame yet staying low enough to remain visible (it's day-glo green). We've also staged ours by taping a second motor to the first. Lots of fun, and one of the best Estes releases of recent years.

In the extended entry is a nice photo of three Snitches taking off in formation. Thanks to Steve B. for posting it to the Alt.Binaries.Model.Rockets newsgroup.


Posted by Ted at 05:37 AM | Comments (0)

March 20, 2004

non-Launch Report

Well, we drove to Culpeper, and things weren't looking good. Flags were standing straight out from the poles, and despite the weatherman calling for 'diminishing winds', the trees were whipping around pretty good.

When we pulled up into the field, there were a total of four vehicles there. Not good at all. Nothing was set up to launch, it was just too much wind. So we visited with some rocket friends we haven't seen in a while, and talked about new projects and 'EX' rocketry.

'EX' is a part of rocketry where you actually make your own solid propellant motors. You take the various chemicals and additives and mix it up like you would a cake, following a recipe, and you wind up with a slug of homemade rocket propellant. It's similar to the process that Homer Hickam and the Rocket Boys did in the movie October Sky. I've never done 'EX', and although it fascinates me I don't know if I ever will. It would certainly be a royal pain to get the permits where I currently live. Maybe someday, but for now I'm satisfied with buying and flying the commercial stuff.

Ken, the owner of Performance Hobbies was showing off this neat little beastie. It was a 3" diameter rocket, completely built of carbon fiber veil. Very light and incredibly strong. In fact, the rocket was built to take a 3" motor, meaning that this ~5lb rocket was designed for a motor that can lift 150lb rockets. I have no idea what the max speed would be, but I don't think mach 2+ would be out of the question.

We've got the cell phone number of one of the guys who'll be there tomorrow. We'll call in the morning and see what it looks like before heading down again. It's supposed to rain tonight, and today was supposed to be the better weather day.

Oh well, Mookie and I had a nice day together, and we got to visit with friends. Not at all a wasted day.

Posted by Ted at 02:16 PM | Comments (1)

Rocket Launch Invitation

Mookie and I will be headed out in a while for today's launch. It's a two-day event this month, held in Culpeper, Virginia. According to the local weather, today is going to be the nicer half of the weekend.

Air Munuviana is scheduled to fly today on my new I90 hybrid motor. Woot!

Directions here. The open invitation still stands, no charge for spectators, and if you do make it out stop by and say hi. Just look for a red Mazda pickup.

Posted by Ted at 07:35 AM | Comments (0)

March 13, 2004

Launch Report

pictures in the extended entry, popup style

The winds never did calm down, but it was still a beautiful day for rockets. Temperatures were in the mid-40's and everyone stayed bundled up, but it wasn't too bad. It helped that there wasn't a cloud in the sky, so the sun was warm. We had a great turnout, including a dozen or so high school teams making practice flights for the Team America Challenge, and two kids doing documented launches for Science Fair projects.

I personally only made one flight, and that was the maiden launch of our "Build It" rocket, the Fat Boy. It was a nice flight, but it weathercocked into the wind quite a bit and didn't get as much altitude as it should have (maybe 500'). It was recovered without damage and will fly again.

The team I'm mentoring was there and ready to go. They brought two completed rockets, and made three flights total. On their first flight, they had perfect ignition of all three first-stage motors, perfect ignition of their upper stage motor, and overshot the target altitude of 1250', hitting 1588'. That's not too bad, because it's easier to make a rocket go lower than it is to make it go higher. Both eggs were recovered in perfect condition, and they learned a lesson in picking the correct size parachute for the wind conditions (they had a long walk to recover the rocket).

Next flight for them was in their second rocket, and this time they used a smaller upper-stage motor. Another perfect ignition, but this time they didn't get enough altitude and had a problem with staging and the booster lost a fin when it separated.

Their third flight (first rocket again) was perfect except that at some point the altimeter reset when the battery came loose, so they don't know exactly how high it went. On all three flights, the eggs were recovered unbroken. They'll be ready for their qualifying flight on April 2.

Last year, there was probably an overall 80% failure rate for Team America flights. Today, I'd say there was a 90% success rate, and most of the malfunctioning flights happened at the end of the day when teams were rushing to get in one last flight. I manned the safety check-in table for the last hour, and the variety and quality of the rocket designs was striking.

Great day. Great fun.

The students I'm mentoring with one of the rockets they built.

Hooking up the igniters.

A closer look at their rocket. The two eggs are packed into the nosecone. Below that (where the hole is) is where the altimeter is. Below that is the parachute bay. The diamond fins are where the second stage begins, powered by a single engine, and the triangle fins are the booster section. The booster is powered by a cluster of three motors, and falls away after the upper stage ignites. Also, notice another team rocket in the background. Very different designs to accomplish the same goal.

Moment of ignition.

Happy team bringing back their rocket.

Their second rocket (blue and red one in the foreground). Same basic design except for the fins.

Posted by Ted at 08:28 PM | Comments (0)

We are Go for launch

The sun is out, the sky is clear, the field is dry, winds are diminishing and we're gonna fly some rockets! Pictures later.

Posted by Ted at 08:19 AM | Comments (3)

March 11, 2004

Team America Update

Info about the Team America Rocketry Challenge can be found in this old Rocket Jones post.

The team of high school students I'm mentoring will be going to our rocket club launch this saturday. Yesterday they finished up final details on their first rocket, and she's ready to make her maiden flight. The students also got a good start on their second rocket, this one using fiberglass for fins and having a different fin geometry. As per the rules of the contest, both rockets are two-stagers designed to carry two fresh hens eggs to 1250 feet and then parachute them back safely.

The high school team that won the TARC last year has been busy since then, designing a payload experiment and rocket that must reach an altitude of one mile. They'll travel to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama for an April launch along with nine other teams, and the winning team will get to spend a week at Space Camp.

Also, our Fat Boy will finally be making her maiden flight too.

Posted by Ted at 05:45 AM | Comments (0)

March 04, 2004

Flying rockets with the big boys

A couple of days ago I linked to the Gates Brothers website, for a peek at some amazing projects that they fly.

This time around, meet Wedge Oldham, who doesn't just build and fly big scale versions of famous rockets, he builds 'em bigger than original!

I look positively Orion.

Posted by Ted at 11:33 AM | Comments (0)

March 02, 2004

"Zoom" is such an understatement

Eric and Dirk Gates are famous in rocketry circles for their big-time projects. You may have seen them on the Discovery Channel show Myth Busters, when they were the 'experts' brought in to help on the episode about a car with rockets mounted on the roof.

They have an awesome website, full of pictures and good information and video clips that have to be seen to be believed (including on-board cameras). It's so popular, and there is so much to see there, that they routinely shut down midway through each month for excessive bandwidth. It's up right now though, you really should visit, and if you have a high-speed connection, be sure to check out the videos.

They've also put up Dirk's son's 8th grade research project on spin-stabilization of model rockets, which took 1st place in the California State Science Fair. Like I said, impressive stuff.

Posted by Ted at 08:29 PM | Comments (0)

February 26, 2004

Also suitable for small mouthy children

A t-shirt gift for the scientifically-inclined youngster of any age.

As a matter of fact, I am a Rocket Scientist.

Posted by Ted at 06:00 AM | Comments (3)

February 24, 2004

Geek advertising

A t-shirt I designed a few years ago about model rocketry.

(in the extended entry)


Posted by Ted at 05:16 AM | Comments (1)

February 22, 2004



Descon stands for Design Contest, and it's an online rocketry event held three or four times a year. People from all over the world enter their original rocket designs, and folks vote for their favorites. Prizes are donated by various hobby businesses and are awarded. Sometimes there's a theme or specific requirements, sometimes it's a free for all.

Mookie won it once, when she was 10 years old. I believe she's still the only kid and only female to ever take first place. In the extended entry is a photo of her posing with her prize.


Mookie won a semi-scale kit of the British anti-radar missile ALARM, which we built together. This was taken just before its maiden flight, in 1999. She still flies it today.

Posted by Ted at 09:03 AM | Comments (1)

February 12, 2004

Team America Rocket Challenge 2004

Yesterday afternoon after work I met with the team of high school students that I'm mentoring for this year. Five city kids - three boys and two girls - who are going to design, build and fly a complex rocket with the hopes of earning scholarship money.

This is a bright and motivated group. They've already settled on their design and will be building two versions, one with balsa fins, and a second with fiberglass fins. Construction started last night, and we also went over some rocketry basics, simple aerodynamics, and I gave a quick demo on the flight simulation software they'll be using.

The quickie version of the task they're trying to accomplish is that they have to build and fly a two-stage rocket that will fly as close as possible to 1,250 feet in altitude (measured by an electronic altimeter carried onboard), and get it back. The payload they have to carry aloft is two fresh eggs, and they have to bring them back to earth unbroken.

They're competing with almost one thousand other teams from all around the US for scholarship money. The contest is sponsored by the Aerospace Industries Association and NASA is heavily involved.

Some of the coolest perks from last years contest was for teachers to attend NASA educational workshops, and the top ten teams were given the opportunity to design science experiments that were carried aloft in NASA research rockets. Teams also got to meet shuttle astronauts and Homer Hickam, former NASA engineer and author of Rocket Boys (October Skies). Other guests attending the finals included Senator Enzi from Wyoming (a rocketeer and space proponent), as well as the honchos from NASA and Boeing.

For more information and details, please check out the rocketry links over on the right hand column, my Rocketry category, or this post.

Posted by Ted at 08:39 AM | Comments (0)

February 04, 2004

In God We Trust, all others bring data

One of our fellow rocketeers is the Laboratory Director and Chief Metallurgist at the Chamberlain/Scranton Army Ammunition Plant. As time allows, he's running a series of tests on common hobby rocketry materials and construction techniques. Test descriptions and results can be found here. Even if you aren't into the technical aspects of it, some of the equipment and methodology is interesting.

Posted by Ted at 08:26 AM | Comments (0)

January 25, 2004

Michael's Crafts Rockets & Scouts Promotion

Event Sold Out almost two months ahead of schedule.

Posted by Ted at 07:59 PM | Comments (0)

January 11, 2004

2003 Rocket Stats

I do a summary of our family's rocket activities every year*, and this year y'all have the chance to look it over if you'd like. *yawn* It's in the extended entry.

*We've kept complete records of every flight we've ever made. It's a good way to gauge our progress as we advance in this hobby, and helps us to figure out what happened when things go wrong.

This year has been very satisfying because of the various group projects we were involved in. On the individual level, we only launched about half as many flights as we normally make in a year, but the move into new technologies made for some exciting times and we’re eagerly looking forward to 2004 and beyond.

Without a doubt, the high point of our year was the Team America Rocket Challenge. I mentored a group of students from T.C. Williams high school in Alexandria, Virginia, and although they didn't make the finals, they made a qualified flight that ranked 110th out of almost 900 teams. Not bad for kids who had never flown a rocket before.

Mookie and I also volunteered to help out at the finals held in Northern Virginia. One hundred and one teams from all over the country participated on one cold, miserable, rainy day. It was still a spectacular event, and we had the chance to meet NASA shuttle astronauts, the Director of NASA, Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming and author Homer Hickam of 'October Sky' and 'Rocket Boys' fame. As neat as that was, the best part of the day was watching the student teams make their flights.

We also participated in the Alpha 40 Project, making the official flights for Virginia. In a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Estes Alpha design, two pairs of Alpha's are being flown - one pair in each US state and Canadian province, and the other pair in Europe and Asia and Australia. Once the flights are completed, one of each pair has been promised to the Smithsonian Air & Space museum and the other pair will be donated to the Vern Estes model rocket museum.

During the summer, Mookie and I also volunteered to do a talk and demonstration launch for a middle school program called TEMS.

Liz and I assembled our first homemade parachute using ripstop nylon. It worked great, but was fairly labor-intensive and probably not worth the cost savings. I’m planning to try my hand at sewing my own quarter-spherical chute using the rest of the ripstop nylon, if I ever get around to it.

This year we also made the move into hybrid motors. Unlike the traditional black powder or amonium perchlorate motors, the hybrids use plastic fuel grains and nitrous oxide. Very cool, and (so far) completely unregulated by Uncle Sam.

Using hybrid motors means using electronics for parachute deployment. We've now made several flights with the G-Wiz altimeter, which uses both an accelerometer and a barometric sensor to determine the peak altitude of the flight and to deploy the parachute at a specified time.

9 launches attended.

42 rocket flights made, in 28 different rockets.
3 clusters flown (multiple motors at liftoff).
2 staged flights (more than 1 motor, ignited one after another)
4 rocket glider flights
1 helicopter recovery flight
4 UFO/saucer flights

34 black powder motors (Estes)
12 amonium perchlorate motors (Aerotech)
2 hybrid motor flights (RATT-works)

smallest motor flown: 1/4A
biggest motor flown: H (an I motor was attempted, but unsuccessful)
most often flown: C


Most flown rocket:
Snitch – 4 flights (31 flights total) – UFO/saucer model.
Next most flown:
Bootlegger – 3 flights (12 flights total, all on G motors).
Pacifyer – 3 flights (4 total, all on D motors)
Barenaked Lady – 3 flights (6 flights total, on D/E motors)

Rockets destroyed: 1 – top stage of a scale Soviet SA-2 Guideline SAM, tilted off rod, slammed into ground under power (2nd flight).
Rockets retired: 1 – Cinderella II, marginally stable, retired for safety reasons (3rd flight).
Rockets lost: 1 – Higher Calling. Extreme altitude bird (4th flight).

Notable damage:
FY2K, nosecone separation at altitude. Rocket recovered under chute, nosecone recovered undamaged (7th flight).
Bootlegger, chute didn’t deploy. Hit the ground hard – crunch – repaired (12th flight)
Bad Medicine, shock cord pulled through airframe. Body recovered undamaged, nosecone recovered under chute (3rd flight).

Most flown rockets:
Snitch – 31 flights – Estes ready-to-fly UFO/saucer
Vampyre – 27 flights (1 in 2003, this rocket has also flown at least once each year since 1997) – scratchbuilt, my design
Venom – 23 flights – Estes kit
YJ-218 – 20 flights (2 in 2003, this rocket has flown at least once each year since 1998) – twin-engine cluster, scratchbuilt

Posted by Ted at 02:08 AM | Comments (1)

January 05, 2004

Retro-Rocketeer Shirts

If you remember the old rocket companies of our youth, you might want to check out these shirts with the classic Centuri logo.

Or these cool SciFi designs.

Hmmm... "Space Cadet" or "It's the Law"... "Mad Genius" or Still Life. Too many good choices.

He's got some very nice celtic designs too.

Posted by Ted at 06:55 AM | Comments (1)

January 03, 2004

How high did that rocket go?

Here's a simple and inexpensive way to get a fair estimate. There are three diagrams, so expand the extended entry to read the surprisingly easy method we use.

You actually only need a couple things to figure out the altitude of your flights. A theodolite, a tangent table, and a pencil. For reasonably accurate readings, you can make the simple theodolite shown in figure 1. It's basically a 1"x2" piece of wood, 2 foot long, with a plastic protractor screwed to the side. Add a couple finishing nails to sight along, a string with a fishing weight at the end to indicate the angle, and you're set.

figure 1

The tangent table can be found in any trigonometry textbook. Use the one shown in figure 2, or find one to your liking, they're all the same.

figure 2

Still with me? Good, believe me, this is simple. In fact, this explanation takes longer than the process.

Figure 3 shows the basic concept of determining altitude:

figure 3

The 'tracker' takes the theodolite and stands a known distance from the launch pad. In the diagram, it's where the black and blue lines meet. This distance is the baseline, and the farther the better (as long as you can see the rockets from there). Our usual launch area is a football field, so our tracker is usually 300 feet (100 yards) away from the pad. The tracker on one goal line, the launch pad on the opposite goal line.
When the rocket launches, the tracker follows the rocket with the theodolite, sighting it like a rifle, until the rocket reaches apogee (it's highest point). The angle is read (where the string marks it on the protractor), and this angle is written down.
Time for some simple math. The formula is on the diagram. Look up the tangent for the angle on the table, multiply that number by the baseline, and that is the altitude in feet. Simple!!!

An example: baseline is 300 feet. measured angle is 40 degrees. The tangent for 40 degrees is .839, so 300 * .839 = 251.7 feet.

This is only one method, there are many others. But this one is cheap, simple, and accurate enough for our purposes. You can find more information about altitude tracking in the Handbook of Model Rocketry, by G. Harry Stine.

Accuracy can be improved by using two trackers placed at 90 degree angles to each other to compensate for rockets that don't fly perfectly vertical. This is the usual method used at altitude contests. We don't bother when we're flying for fun. Truth be told, we seldom worry about altitude anyway, we just guesstimate using the good ol' Mark I eyeball.

Posted by Ted at 09:45 AM | Comments (6)

December 22, 2003

Oooo, a rocket question!

I know, it's *yawn* to most of you. :) But it's not often I get to act like Horschack.

Victor left a comment on my post about the upcoming Bowling Ball Loft contest. He was referencing part of the rules:

I took a look at the rules, and this intrigued me: Use a launch rail, tube or tower. Rods are prohibited due to past bad experience.

And he asked:

Can you explain the difference between the four launch pad configurations (apologies if my terminology is not correct) and what kind of bad experience they may have had with a launch rod? (I realize that might be speculation on your part.)

No speculation needed, I know exactly why they don't allow the use of launch rods in this situation. First a little background:

An unguided rocket (like we fly) has to be moving at a certain speed for the fins to have a stabilizing effect. Usually it’s around 40mph, although a lot of different factors can make a difference one way or another. Since hobby rockets are launched very nearly vertical, we use different ways of making sure that the rocket stays pointed straight up until it’s moving fast enough for the fins to take over.

All of these assume that the launch pad itself is stable. Good wide legs, low center of gravity, anchored to the ground or hefty construction; all of these combine to ensure that the launch pad won’t tip or tilt when the thrust of the motor kicks it. Attached to the launch pad itself will be the rod, rail, tube or tower.

The oldest method is the launch rod. Most commonly used for the smallest model rockets (1/8” x 36” long), it doesn’t scale up well but is still used - up to 1” diameter rods around 12 feet long. The problem is that when more power and weight are used, the rod tends to ‘whip’ which can fling a rocket off vertical. Not a biggie with a nine ounce model rocket, but it can be very dangerous with a nine pound rocket. A ‘launch lug’ is used, which is just a length of tubing glued to the rocket that slides loosely over the rail. On smaller rockets, the lug looks like a short piece of soda straw.

The launch rail is quickly becoming the standard method of launching bigger rockets. Made of extruded aluminum, the extra mass and shape of the rail makes for a much stiffer guide, which ensures that the rocket stays vertical as it launches. Instead of lugs, ‘rail buttons’ are used, which slide into the channel of the rail to provide the guidance. There's a picture of a typical rail in the extended entry.

A launch tower is primarily used in altitude contest launches. Instead of a lug or buttons attached to the rocket, the tower provides the guidance for a rocket by using three rods or rails spaced around the rocket body (between the fins). In its simplest form, a launch tower can be three parallel rods sticking up out of a coffee can full of cement. The main advantage is that since the rocket doesn’t have lugs or buttons, there is significantly less drag, which makes for higher altitudes. The main disadvantage is that a tower is only good for one diameter of rocket, unless some way of adjusting the guide rods is included, which adds to the complexity and cost. This elegant design here – by another Ted – allows for the three most common diameters of model rockets.

A launch tube is similar to the tower, except that the guidance is provided by the walls of the tube against the tips of the fins. Unlike a gun barrel, there is no back pressure assisting the liftoff. There are ways to use the ‘cannon’ method of launching as well, but it’s difficult enough that it’s not usually worth the effort and extremely rare to see it done.

Professional rockets use a variety of these methods, usually for the same reasons we do. The Super Loki Dart sounding rocket (this picture is of a scale model) is launched from an 12’ long tower (picture here along with some specs) that is spiraled like a gun barrel to provide spin and extra stability. The Loki reaches Mach 5 in a little less than a second, so staying straight is critical or the rocket will break into pieces.

Personally, I use launch rods up to about ¼” diameter – on anything up to about 2 pound rockets. I have rail buttons mounted on our larger rockets, and a lot of our rockets are rigged to use either, just in case a rail isn’t available. Given a choice, I’ll use the rail any time, because I’ve seen some scary flights caused by rod whip.

In this picture, a hex nut is shown (red arrows) as part of the mounting process. Ignore that and notice the shape of the rail and how the rail buttons will fit into any of the other slots.


Posted by Ted at 03:16 PM | Comments (5)

December 21, 2003

Rocket contest

From the Rec.Models.Rockets newsgroup (my notes and clarifications are in italics):

Arizona High Power Rocketry Association (AHPRA) will be once again holding the bowling ball loft at LDRS (annual high power rocket launch featured in the Discovery Channel programs).

For LDRS 23 the Bowling Ball Loft class will be I-Lite (on the small end of the scale for 'I' sized motors). This was chosen to best suit the field size and waiver restrictions at the New York site (yes, safety matters to us).

Rockets will be launched for maximum altitude with a payload of one eight
pound bowling ball using an I motor from the approved list

In addition to the regular cornucopia of prizes AHPRA gets from vendors
there is the potential to win up to $1000 (One Thousand Dollars US) cash if
you set the new I Lite record during the contest

Look here for more information.

Posted by Ted at 10:49 AM | Comments (1)

December 16, 2003

High Power Rocket

In the extended entry is a picture of me holding my semi-scale model of a Phoenix air-to-air missile.

I won this kit in an online raffle, and she flies great on 'H' motors. She'll handle 'I' and 'J' motors as well, but I haven't tried them yet. Thanks to all the fins, once the motor stops burning and she's coasting upwards, you can hear her whistling. It sounds pretty cool.

THOY Phoenix kit

Posted by Ted at 09:47 AM | Comments (6)

Rockets and Boy Scouts

Michael's Craft Stores are promoting, in conjunction with Estes Industries, a "Space Exploration Rocket Days". This event, held at Michael's stores throughout the country from April 17, 2004 through May 1st, 2004, will provide Scouts the opportunity to complete Requirement 3 of the Space Exploration merit badge except for the two rocket launches. Estes Industries will provide a model rocket to be built to each Boy Scout registering for the event. Michael's will provide an opportunity for scouts to build their rocket at the store. Scoutmasters can bring troop members to participate and a certificate will be presented, upon completion of building the rocket, and the certificate can be presented to the merit badge counselor.

This is a Boy Scout event and does require registration prior to participation. REGISTER NOW! Call or visit your local Michael's store between January 2 and March 5, 2004 to register your troop.

To find the nearest Michael's store, call 800-642-4235 or visit

Note: Registration doesn't start until January 2nd, despite the "Register Now" in the advertisement. If you know a scoutmaster or scout, pass the word along. As for the requirement of launching the rockets they build, contact your local rocket club, easily located at the National Association of Rocketry.

Posted by Ted at 06:50 AM | Comments (4)

November 27, 2003

Anything will fly if you stuff a big enough motor in it

For some reason, rocketeers like to add the words 'of death' to the description of unconventional designs. The first time I'd heard this, I was admiring a huge fiberglass pyramid that was being prepared for launch. When I asked what it was, the owner proudly informed me that it was the Flying Pyramid of Death.

It's like an unwritten rule or something.

I've seen the Flying Tetrahedron of Death, the Flying Traffic Barrel of Death (including flashing traffic warning light), and the Flying Port-o-potty of Death (aka Our Stinkin' Rocket). But people soon enough branched out into things 'of Doom' and 'of Destruction'.

And of course, anything can inspire a rocketeer. For instance, the Vatsaas Brothers built and flew The Happy Birthday Party Napkin Rocket of the Apocolypse. The source for that should be self-explanitory. Well, except for the 'Apocolypse' part, but we already covered that.

You should visit their site and admire what can be wrought of insane genius.

Posted by Ted at 06:48 AM | Comments (0)

November 16, 2003

Launch Report - 03/11/15

After a windy and rainy week, the weatherman was predicting a beautiful weekend. Except for being a little colder than expected, it was absolutely gorgeous.

Even the traffic cooperated, and I made it to the launch site in record time. I'd planned to show up early to help set up the flying range anyway. About 15 minutes after I got there, the equipment trailer arrived and we got to work.

More help arrived and soon we had things ready to go. We had 7 low-power pads for Estes-sized stuff, a pair of pads slightly farther away for mid-power, and four high-power pads set up out away from the crowd.

We had a great crowd for this launch. There were several Team America teams from various schools, testing prototype egg-lofters. I've talked about them before, do a search of this site on 'Team America' for more info. I helped one group out who had never before flown a rocket. They showed up with a basic rocket, and I walked them through the prep and check-in after which they made a successful flight. They're going to do fine, they asked a lot of questions and spent the day watching people set up and fly more complex rockets. We also had a group of Boy Scouts. Lots and lots of kids, which is great.

There was also a reporter from the Wall Street Journal there, researching an article on recent government regulations and overreaction against various activities. I don't know when the article will appear or if he'll even mention it, but he got the whole story of the Air Munuviana and watched her with us.

First up for me was my original high-power rocket, an upscale of the old Centuri Groove Tube. I flew her on an H128 White Lightning motor for a perfect crowd-pleasing flight. Because the wind was so light, I put a 45" parachute on her and she managed to drift about a mile. I had to cross an icy-cold running spillway to get to the field she was in, and got glared at by some hunters in the treelines. On the way back, I hiked past a small pond and saw a beautiful swan floating there peaceful as could be. I took a couple of pictures with my crappy digital camera, but they don't do it justice.

That motor was my last solid-propellant high-power motor, and I needed to burn the rest of my stock before the first of the year, thanks to the BATFE and their ever-changing interpretation of the rules and regulations. (This paragraph brought to you by the 'hyphen'. Yay!)

Time for the Air Munuviana! Because of the complexity of this rocket, I have a checklist that I follow during the prep work, and I did do a couple of practice runs at home too. The nice thing about the checklist is that I can see exactly where I stopped if I get interupted, and with the number of folks at the launch, I got interupted often by people asking questions.

Oh yeah, the kids dubbed her the "Cow Rocket" and she drew great attention and lots of 'wows' even before flight.

I put together the hybrid motor (my first ever without assistance) and she was ready to fly. We took her out to the pad and pictures were taken. A minor problem with the nitrous venting was corrected and the countdown began.

Beauty! She took off straight as an arrow, coasted for a good while, and just after arching over at apogee the chute ejected perfectly and she floated down to a perfect landing about 200' from the pads.

That was so much fun, let's do it again! I hustled back to the truck and started to get Air Mu ready for another flight. That first one was on an H70, and I'd just gotten a new I80, which is twice as powerful and burns twice as long. Quick cleanup of the engine casing from the first flight, disassemble the electronics and reset everything for the next flight, put together the new motor and we're on our way out to the pads again. Once again shouts of "Cow Rocket!" are heard.

Everything goes smoothly this time with the nitrous fill and venting, but at ignition something goes wrong. The rocket is undamaged, and in fact it never left the pad. Back to the truck we go, amid many awwws and even a moooo or two.

Taking apart the motor showed us what happened. The pressure of the filling nitrous pushed the pre-heater grain down too far and when it ignited the nitrous just dumped out the nozzle instead of combusting with the fuel grain. Very rare, but not unheard of.

I didn't have enough time to try for another flight, since we had plans. So for the day, Air Munuviana successfully made her maiden flight, and managed to not kill anyone with an accident on the pad (to any government agents reading this, that is a joke. see Websters.).

Next scheduled launch is December 13th, depending on weather.

Now for the pictures. Remember I mentioned 'crappy digital camera'? I didn't get a liftoff shot of the Air Munuviana. Several other people were also taking pictures, so if anyone sends me some good ones, I'll post them. What I did post in the extended entry are three shots.

Part of the crowd, taken from the away pads where the Air Munuviana (and other high-power rockets) were launched.

Air Mu on the pad, with Doug Pratt hooking up the nitrous connection. This was just prior to her successful maiden flight.

Descent under parachute. You can't judge scale in the photo, but that's a 36" parachute, and you can see the rocket hanging underneath.

Posted by Ted at 08:57 AM | Comments (6)

November 15, 2003

Rocket Launch today

Air Munuviana makes her maiden flight. I've got fresh batteries for the digital camera, so pictures will be posted tonight or tomorrow.

Update: Perfection! Details (and some pictures) tomorrow.

Posted by Ted at 06:31 AM | Comments (2)

November 09, 2003

TV program reminder

Tonight on the Discovery Channel, beginning at 8pm Eastern Time, three episodes of Rocket Challenge will air. Each episode is one hour long, and after they show, the entire block will repeat. Show times are:

8pm and 11pm - Wild and Wierd Rockets
9pm and midnight - How High Can You Fly?
10pm and 1am - Supersonic Speed Demons

See here for their complete broadcast schedule for November.

Posted by Ted at 09:08 AM | Comments (0)

November 08, 2003

Air Munuviana update and pictures

If you don't know what this is all about, look here for links to previous posts.

The rocket is fully dressed and ready to fly. In the extended entry are photos of the decals and paint job. They're not great photos, but you'll get the idea. There are eight of them, but sized rather small to help the bandwidth.

Maiden flight is next saturday, the 15th of November, at The Plains, Virginia.

This first photo shows the entire rocket.

Here's a closeup of the fin can and bottom rows of flags. The same flags are repeated just below the nose cone, rotated 180 degrees.

This is a pretty rotten picture of the top part of the rocket. It's the same logo and cow that I posted, and the top set of national flags.

Here are the decals where the rocket separates for access to the electronics. The state flags are in alphabetical order (extra credit for naming them all), above that is a row of 'special request' logos, including the US Navy flag, a 9/11 tribute, the POW/MIA flag, and more continued around (you'll see them in the next picture). The top row are logos for rocketry related things. The hole in the airframe allows the barometric sensor on the alitimeter to measure the outside air pressure.

This is the continuation of the decal above, showing two projects that Pixy and all Munuvians can be proud of.

Munuvian requests and logos. Pixy's MuNu button tops the Iowa Hawkeye, Purdue Boilermakers, U of Chicago crest, and Chicago Cubs logo - there's more around the curve. The bottom row has a tribute graphic for Stevie Ray Vaughn (for you, Daun), and a couple you're probably already familiar with. The hole in the airframe here is the exhaust vent for the Nitrous Oxide.

Continuing around the airframe, you can see the Baltimore Orioles logo (for my wife, who indulges me and my hobby), and Mookie's Axis of Evil Naught flaming monkey head logo. You can also see the edge of the Munuvian roster, and the flags in front of each blog name. The screwhead you see is part of the upper rail guide.

The Munuvian blog roster, topped by the Munuvian flag and MuNu 'meatball'.

Posted by Ted at 02:13 PM | Comments (10)

November 07, 2003

Finishing rockets - 1

For rockets of the size that I fly, most of my final painting is done with cans of spray paint. For the real big rockets, people either use automotive paint guns or take the rocket to a local auto-paint shop. Sometimes you can make a deal where they'll paint your rocket for a reduced price if they can use up leftover paint from another job.

The most interesting finish I've ever seen on a big rocket didn't use paint at all. One guy laminated uncut sheets of US one dollar bills (info available here on how to get them) onto his rocket. I remember it took just over one hundred bills to cover the entire airframe, and he said it was actually a bit cheaper than taking it into the shop for a professional paint job.

Posted by Ted at 09:29 PM | Comments (0)

November 06, 2003

One particular comment

Yesterday I ranted about the BATFE and their latest attempt to expand their power. Publicola left a comment to that post that is so dead-on accurate that I wanted to make sure you had a chance to read it. It's fairly long, but worth the time it takes to read through.

In it, he wrote this, which is the best summary of the BATFE I've ever seen:
"Publicity is BIG for them. More press, more congressional attention = bigger budget. That's what it's all about."

Exactly. The BATFE will do anything to keep the control they have and to grow their empire, including issuing official letters and reports to sympathetic congressmen that are full of factual errors, misrepresentations and deliberate lies. They also like to hold press conferences to announce sensationalized events that always turn out to be less than meets the eye. The BATFE has gone so far as to assign agents as part of the staffs of certain cooperative members of congress.

This is the same goverment bureau that originally required fingerprinting of Cub Scouts before being allowed to launch model rockets as part of (long-established) Scouting programs. When the complaints began flooding in, they allowed the smallest possible exception, which helped Scouts but left educational institutions out in the cold.

This is the bureau that managed to wreck quite a few Fourth of July fireworks displays last year by requiring complete background investigations on everyone in contact with 'explosives'. That meant that every warehouse worker, truck driver and railroad employee needed that check. Predictably, the universal reaction was "we won't carry those items". By the time the rule was rescinded, it was too late for many towns.

This bureau has already started to clamp down on all those potential terrorists who use RC cars, planes and boats. Their plan is to require licensing for all users of radio-controlled toys.

If you click on the Rocketry category link at the bottom of this post, you'll see my other articles about the BATFE and their efforts to protect us all from ourselves.

It's not just rockets or RC or even guns. This is an organization out of control, and Homeland Security has given them a smokescreen and excuse that they are using to grab even more power.

By the way, if you like reasoned argument and debate about the 2nd Amendment, you really should visit Publicola. He cites sources and research throughout his work, and he writes well.

Posted by Ted at 06:59 AM | Comments (1)


This site (click this link) has just been put up thanks to the volunteer efforts of rocketeers across the US. It will be referred to during the commercial breaks of The Great Rocketry Challenge scheduled to air beginning November 9th on the Discovery Channel.

Lots of great information there.

Posted by Ted at 05:32 AM | Comments (3)

November 05, 2003

I HATE the scumbags at the BATFE

November 4, 2003 - The ATFE and its contractor, Applied Research Associates, have been purchasing high power rocket motors, rocket kits, launch rails, electrical launchers and other items to conduct tests at Hill Air Force Base in Utah. The purpose of the tests is to provide proof that high power rockets can be used to shoot down commercial aircraft during landings and takeoffs. The tests will be documented by videotape. It is expected that the video tape will be
released during a press conference for maximum media exposure.

The ATFE plans were first discovered by a high power rocket vendor who recognized the name of ATFE agent, David Shatzer, as he purchased launch rail equipment. Mr. Shatzer has been traveling across the country purchasing other high power rocket supplies using the cover story that he is a high power rocket hobbyist. He changes the story with respect to who he will be flying with depending on his geographical location. Applied Research Associates has purchased at least 40 J350 rocket motors and large numbers of rocket kits from
different suppliers.

It was reported to ARSA that Applied Research Associates employees along with ATFE agents were to conduct tests yesterday at Hill Air Force Base using a target drone to simulate a commercial aircraft. The high power rockets were to be launched out of a parked van. The rockets were going to be launched one at a time at the drone as well as several at a time. The rockets did not contain explosive warheads. It is not known whether the drone was rigged to simulate an explosion as a high power rocket passed by.

The information in this story was made available to Senator Mike Enzi's staff. It is not know at this time, what action, if any, Senator Enzi plans to take. Watch for further updates on this story as it develops.

Thanks to Izzy of Rocket Forge for posting the article to the Rec.Models.Rockets (RMR) newsgroup.

First of all, some questions immediately come to mind:

1. Does Agent Shatzer posses a LEUP (Low Explosives User Permit)? We are required to in order to purchase these motors. In other words, it's already regulated.

2. Is Agent Shatzer posses at least a Level 2 certification from the National Association of Rocketry (NAR) or Tripoli? We are required to in order to purchase these motors. In other words, it's already regulated.

3. Is Agent Shatzer storing his motors in a BATFE-approved magazine? Getting approval for his magazine shouldn't be hard since he is a BATFE agent, but the magazine requirements are not simple to comply with. Again, it's already regulated.

Someone brought up a good point - the BATFE doesn't have to videotape anything but a van driving up, opening the doors and launching a rocket from the back. That alone will be sufficient to scare enough idiots Senators and Representatives that they will get their way.

And what exactly is it that they want to do? They want to eliminate hobby rocketry. Not because it will make anyone safer, nor will it stop a single terrorist action, because there are easier and more effective ways to shoot down airplanes. In fact, using one of our unguided rockets is a pretty damned silly method with virtually no chance of success.

But they could point to this and crow that they're protecting Americans.

Here's a nice quote from C. Stewart on RMR:
The actual point of the silly cloak-and-dagger routine is that the BATF wants to be able to shout loudly that "Terrorists can easily get model rockets!" while showing vids of this character doing just that... wait till they trot out those vids at the scarefest... er... "press conference".

Update: David W. states in RMR: The cert requirement is only in NFPA 1127, which at this time is not very widely adopted, as far as I know. And J350 reloads currently require neither an LEUP nor storage, althought how that gets interpreted and/or enforced depends on which agent you talk to.

So the only people who are being required at this time to follow the more stringent proposed regulations are hobby rocketry enthusiasts. I hate these bastards with a passion.

Posted by Ted at 04:45 AM | Comments (4)

November 02, 2003

Southern Virginia Rocket Launch

On November 29, in Toano, Virginia. That's between Richmond and Norfolk on I-64. This is the first launch at this field as they've just gotten permission to fly there. FAA waiver to 8000 feet. Directions can be found here, and as always spectators are welcome.

Posted by Ted at 08:20 AM | Comments (2)

October 31, 2003

Rockets on the Discovery Channel

Starting November 9th, the Discovery Channel will be airing three episodes of Rocket Challenge, titled Wild and Weird Rockets, How High Can You Fly, and Supersonic Speed Demons.

You can find the times and dates of the programs here.

Thanks to RocketForge for the pointer.

Posted by Ted at 10:23 AM | Comments (1)

October 30, 2003

One bummin' unit

That would be me.

This weekend's rocket launch, BattlePark 2003, in Culpeper, Virginia has been cancelled. The heavy rains of the last week prevented the farmer from getting his crops in on time, so we cannot use the field.

No word on when or if there will be a rain date.

Posted by Ted at 04:08 AM | Comments (10)

October 27, 2003

This weekend invitation

Reposted from early September.

The fall BattlePark 2003 Rocket Launch is scheduled for the weekend of November 1-2. Located in Culpeper, Virginia, this is one of the premier events in the east, with rocketeers attending from all over the eastern U.S. and Canada. I'll be there both days, and Mookie usually makes at least one if not both. This launch features some of the most interesting projects and flights around. As usual, spectators are free, kids fly their rockets for free, and you'll never meet a friendlier group of people. Come on out, walk around, talk to folks, ask questions, and be prepared to say 'wow'. Oh yeah, they've already obtained an FAA waiver for flights to 15,000 feet.

You are invited and welcome. Contact me if you have any questions.

Victor and Nic, are you going to be able to make it? How about you Don, any interest?

Posted by Ted at 10:53 PM | Comments (5)

October 26, 2003

Just because it's rocket science...

...doesn't mean you can't experiment at home. Scott Binder has started to look into aerospike technology because he wasn't satisfied with the lack of data being reported by the big boys. This should be interesting.

I previously posted some background links on aerospike engines.

Posted by Ted at 11:55 PM | Comments (0)

October 24, 2003

Air Munuviana update

For those who don’t know what this is all about, check out here and here and here and here and here and here.

A week before her maiden flight, things are going smoothly. Literally. I’ve put the second coat of primer on, and have finished sanding with 400 grit sandpaper (which is slightly more coarse than Charmin). One more coat of primer tonight and I’ll start painting the color coats tomorrow. Decals will go on probably Wednesday – folks, I need to know what flags you want to fly! If you haven’t let me know yet, please do. Tiger, that’s you too (I’m assuming US, but you might prefer Texas – your call).

Posted by Ted at 08:41 AM | Comments (3)

October 20, 2003

Model Rocket Q & A for Beginners

Several years ago I put together a web site devoted strictly to model rocketry. One of the most popular pages was an introduction set up in question and answer format. Looking back on it, I can see that we've come a long way since those early days. I've copied that page into the extended entry, and added links where I could.

Q: Why do you think rockets are such a great thing to do with your kids?
If I sit down to play video games with the kids, or we watch sports together, or read in the same room, we might be spending time together, but it's not necessarily 'together' time. Model Rocketry is more interactive for us, there is a give and take, and an exchange of ideas. It's not just spending time together, it's spending time with each other.
My kids have picked up some very good habits from rocketry; setting goals, planning, following directions, working together, teamwork, and keeping records.
They've also felt satisfaction. Imagine the look on 9 year old Rachaels' face as her U.S.A., designed, built, and launched all on her own, roared off the pad for a perfect flight. As it drifted down on its pink streamers, everyone was cheering and congratulating her. I don't know who was more proud at that moment, her or me.
And they've learned how to deal with the minor tragedies of life. The lost rockets, and the ones dinged when the parachute didn't deploy (because Dad forgot the baby powder).
Flying rockets teaches about science too. You'll see practical demonstrations of aerodynamics, physics, chemistry, and more. The kids become engineers, meteorologists, photographers, and journalists, without any pain, and possibly without even realizing it.
One thing we've discovered about rocketry is that the only way to get bored with it is to quit dreaming. We've yet to launch anything bigger than a 'C' motor, but that's ok. We've still got clustered rockets to try, and staged rockets, and 'gap' staging. We haven't done near enough glider or helicopter recovery. How about night launches, how can we make these smaller rockets visible in the dark?
My kids have a million ideas, to go along with my one or two.
I probably should also mention that model rockets are fun.

Q: Isn't model rocketry like launching fireworks?
There are some basic differences between rocketry and fireworks.
To start with, model rockets are never launched by lighting a fuse. The ignition is electrical, with the power supplied by batteries. This lets you stand back a ways from the rocket when it is launched. Much safer.
A second difference is that model rockets are designed to be recovered. This means that you can reuse a rocket over and over. There are various ways of recovering a rocket, such as parachutes, streamers, gliding, and more (there's more about recovery later).
Another difference is the use of a launch rod. This is simply a guide for the rocket to follow for it's first few feet of flight, keeping it straight up until it's going fast enough to be stable on its own. Once again, it's a safety thing.

Q: Is this really safe enough for kids?
Model rocketry is an amazingly safe hobby, provided you follow the Safety Code. When you read it over, you'll find most of it is just common sense. Over the years, there have been literally millions of rocket engines fired safely.
As for kids doing rockets, if you insist on following the safety code, and have adult supervision, it's almost impossible to get hurt. Explain that each and every one of them is responsible for safety when launching rockets.
I have normal kids, they get into their share of mischief. But when we launch, they know what is expected of them, because it's been that way since day one. A brief example that really happened:

My youngest, Rachael, was doing the countdown. When she got to '3', her brother TJ yelled 'STOP' from where he was standing (about 100 feet away). Rachael immediately pulled the safety key and put the launch controller down. Then we saw a mom chasing a toddler, who was running full steam towards the rocket.
After mom corraled her child (he never even got within 20' of the rocket), we made sure the area was clear again, and started the countdown over. It was a perfect launch.

Some rules we use:

The countdown is LOUD.
ANYONE can stop a countdown at any time, for any reason.
When someone yells 'stop', that's it. No exceptions.
The only time the safety key is in the launch controller is during a countdown.
We don't resume a countdown from where it stopped. We start over.
Before a countdown starts, everyone has to give an 'OK', meaning they're in position, ready, and the area is clear.

We have never had anyone hurt, or been even remotely close to having an accident. It's not luck, it's designed to be that way. And by the way, that mom and child stayed and watched us for about an hour that day, and still stop by occasionally when we are launching a few.

Q: What's the easiest way to get started?
I'd suggest an Estes Starter Set. They start around $15.00 [~$20.00 in 2003], and you can get them at stores like Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Toys-R-Us, hobby shops, and even some craft stores like Michaels or MJDesigns. The starter set includes almost everything you need, except batteries and glue. There are even some 'Ready To Fly' starter sets out now, where the rocket is pre-built for you. Other sets have a variety of rockets (1 or 2) that you have to build yourself. Rockets like the Alpha 3 and Sabre goes together quick and easy. Other sets have 1 simple rocket, plus another that takes a bit more skill to assemble. Another company, Quest, also makes starter sets, but I've never seen one. I hear they're pretty much the same.

Q: Launch controller, recovery wadding... What's all this stuff really do?
I'm going to assume that you are looking at a starter set, and I'll just run down the assembled parts.

* Launch pad - Usually has 3 or 4 legs, with a blast deflector and launch rod sticking up from it.
The launch pad holds the launch rod and blast deflector. The wide legs keep it from tipping over in a breeze, and you can adjust the pad to tip the rod a few degrees for launching into the wind. The launch rod is what guides the rocket until it's moving fast enough for the fins to keep it stable. In the starter sets, the launch rod is usually sectional, always use both pieces. The blast deflector keeps the engine exhaust from hitting the pad and ground. Safety again. There is also a rod cap included. Put it over the tip of the upright launch rod, and it helps prevent injuries where someone leans over the top of the rod while preparing a rocket for launch. Make sure you remove the rod cap just before the countdown, and replace it immediately after.

* Launch controller - This is where the batteries go, usually 4 AA size. It has a continuity light or buzzer that tells you when the rocket is set up properly for launch and the safety key is inserted. The safety key must be inserted before pushing the 'fire' button has any effect. In other words, keep the safety key with you when you work around the rocket, and no one can accidently launch it when someone could get hurt. Coming out of the launch controller is a long wire (about 15 feet) that ends in two small microclips. These clips connect to the ignitor, explained below. When you launch, the length of the wire makes it easy to stand back at a safe distance.

* Rocket - A simple rocket is 3 or 4 fins and a nose cone. These are connected to each other by the body tube. On the side of the body tube is the launch lug, a small tube or loop which is slipped over the launch rod prior to igniting the engine. Connecting the nosecone to the body tube is the shock cord. This keeps the pieces of the rocket together as it comes down. Inside the rocket is the recovery system, often a parachute (there is a whole section on recovery later on). The recovery wadding protects the parachute from the ejection charge, which is what deploys the recovery system. Finally, at the bottom of the rocket is the motor mount. This is the place where the engine goes, and it transfers the thrust of the engine to the rocket itself.

* Engine - The 'whoosh generator', also called a motor. This small cardboard cylinder is actually quite complex in design and function. That doesn't mean it's complicated to use. First turn the engine upright so the small hole is facing up. That's the nozzle, the business end of the engine. The ignitor is a small U or V shaped piece of wire. Drop the point of the ignitor into the nozzle, and gently make sure it goes in as deep as possible. There will be two wires sticking out of the nozzle quite a bit. Next take an ignitor plug (color coded, check the directions in the set), and gently push it into the nozzle. This holds the ignitor where it needs to be to fire the engine. Insert the engine into the rocket motor mount and you're almost ready to go!
When ready to launch, connect the controller clips to the ignitor. After everyone is away from the rocket, insert the safety key, and the light should light (or buzzer buzz, depending on your controller). This means that the rocket will be launched when you push the button.

Q: What do the motor numbers and letters mean?
This is an easy code to provide complex information. Here's the bare minimum needed to start with.

A sample engine code might be: B6-4

The 'power' range of an engine is indicated by the letter, in this case a 'B'. The codes start with 'A' and keep right on going up the alphabet. So B is twice as powerful as A, C is twice as powerful as B (and 4 times more powerful than A), and so on. This is overly simplified, but you'll absorb the details as you gain experience.
Bigger engines (higher letters) achieve higher altitudes, or lift heavier rockets.

The '6' is the average thrust of the engine. It's measured in 'newtons', but don't worry about it for now. Just keep in mind that a '6' has a higher average thrust than a '4'.

The '-4' is the delay, measured in seconds. This means that 4 seconds (more or less) after the propellant burnout, the ejection charge fires. That deploys your recovery system.

There are '-0' engines. These are booster engines designed for multi-staged rockets. As soon as burnout occurs, the ejection charge fires to ignite the next engine. Don't use these on a single stage rocket. '-P' engines are plugged, and have no ejection charge. They're made for gliders.
Some Estes engines have a 'T' listed after the delay time. This means it's a mini-motor, and has a smaller diameter casing.

Q: Where can I launch a rocket?
We launch at the local middle school (Jr. high) field. This is a football field, a baseball diamond, and 2 soccer fields, all bent around an L shape. The bigger the field, the better your chances of recovering the rocket. We've had a few rockets drift away on the wind into, or over the trees. Be aware that it can be calm on the ground, and fairly windy a couple hundred feet up! Because of the L-shape of our regular launch field, we limit ourselves to A and B engines on most rockets. We've got a few heavier birds that fly normally on C's, and on one spectacularly calm day, we launched our little rockets on C's. Straight up well over 1000', and recovered on a parachute less than 30 yards away. For more information, read about rocket clubs below.

Q: How do the recovery systems work?
You spend time to get your rocket looking good, and to fly well. You hate to lose them! Recovery is one thing that keeps this hobby from being glorified fireworks (I'm not knocking fireworks hobbyists). There are many ways to recover a rocket. Here's the most common:

Featherweight - for the lightest rockets. The have such a high surface area compared to weight that they 'float' to the ground, like the name says.

Tumble - for very light rockets that are too stable for featherweight recovery. Usually the nose cone is ejected (it's all connected by the shock cord, remember), and the whole thing comes down. If something wasn't done to ruin the stability, it might come down like a dart. At best, hitting the ground like that could damage or destroy the rocket. At worst, it could hit and hurt someone. There are terms for rockets that accidently come down hard, they're called Prangs or Lawn-Darts. No fun, and very hard on the rocket.

Streamer - this is a long, thin piece of plastic or crepe paper. It creates enough drag to bring the rocket down gently. These are good for days when the wind causes too much drift in a parachute.

Parachute - these range in size from 8" up to 24" for model rockets. To minimize drift, you can cut a spill hole in the center of the canopy. This will help the rocket come down faster, but it hits harder when it reaches the ground. If you cut a spill hole, cut it large because too small a hole can actually increase the lift the parachute generates as it descends. Estes parachutes have a spill hole marked with dotted lines, just cut it out if needed. Another technique to minimize time in the air is to 'reef' the shroud lines. Take a piece of masking tape and wrap it around all the parachute lines about halfway between the rocket and the canopy. This prevents the chute from opening fully.

Glider - It goes up like a rocket, and comes down like a glider airplane. Really cool.

Helicopter - Ever see a maple seed fall? Spinning on one wing is one method of helicopter recovery. Another is to have rotors deploy at ejection, causing the whole rocket to rotate.

Q: What about rocket clubs?
The National Association of Rocketry (NAR) is America's model rocket organization. Their site can be reached from my links page, and from there you can find a local chapter near you. Flying with a club is a great way to learn from others' experience. The NAR also offers insurance for rocketry activities. Sometimes the deciding factor on whether you can fly in some areas (a public park, for instance) is whether or not you have this insurance. On top of that, you receive the NAR rocketry magazine, full of useful tips, plans, and articles. NAR also offers it's Technical Services division, called NARTS. This is where you can get anything from rocket designs to wind tunnel plans to baseball caps. Check out their site, it's worth it!
Another organization devoted strictly to high power rocketry (HPR) is the Tripoli Rocket Association (TRA). Since this is Q&A for beginners, I'll mention that they're there, and not go into HPR. You can find a link to TRA from Rocketry Online.
A new organization is just starting out, the Independent Association of Rocketry (IAR). They are very new, and not yet completely organized. They're worth checking into. [years later, I take this back. they've gone nowhere.]

Q: Can you recommend a book or something to learn more?
Some very good books:

The Handbook of Model Rocketry by G. Harry Stine.
Model Rocket Design and Construction by Tim Van Milligan.
The Art of Scale Rocketry by Peter Alway. [out of print]

At least the first two can be found in your local library, NARTS also offers these books and more for sale. See my links page for Saturn Press, they have the entire collection of Peter Always' rocket books. There's also a link to Apogee Components, where you can find Tim Van Milligan's books. Apogee has a complete line of educational rocketry publications, including 69 Science Fair Projects with Model Rockets: Aeronautics.
The Rocketry Online webpage has all kinds of links to good sites on the web related to rocketry. See my links page for a link to them.
The Rec.Models.Rockets (RMR) newsgroup is a vast source of experience. I've always found the folks there to be willing to answer questions without talking down at you. A great group of people.
The RMR FAQ (frequently asked questions) file will answer many questions you may have. I keep a copy of this handy by my workbench, because it's that useful.

Q: Couldn't I save money by making my own rocket engines?
No. When you factor in the cost of the chemicals, equipment you'd need, and materials, the store bought motors are actually a pretty good deal. Also consider that a home-made motor is more likely to malfunction, which could destroy your rocket or, worse yet, hurt someone. The commercial motors are reliable and consistant performers, and you'd have to make literally hundreds of motors yourself to even come close to that kind of reliability.
Now let's talk about safety. It's dangerous to deal with some of these chemicals unless you know what you are doing. Even among experienced rocketeers, there is a surprising amount of 'lore' and common knowledge that is just plain wrong. It's not safe to try to make your own motors, please don't do it.
If you absolutely have to make homemade motors, check out the RMR FAQ (links page) where there is information about a course in making rocket motors. The Rec.Pyrotechnics newsgroup has folks that can help too.
Simply put, Model Rocketry means using commercially available motors. To save money on these, you can mail order them (or order from companies on the internet), or buy them in bulk packs at your local store.

Q: I remember these cool rockets I saw as a kid. Are the old companies still around?
Estes is still with us. They absorbed Centuri a while back, and once in a while release an old Centuri design. There are many small companies producing quality rocket kits today, check the Rocketry Online website for links.

Q: I can't believe that white glue is strong enough for rockets. Shouldn't I use model glue or epoxy?
For gluing plastic to plastic, model airplane glue is best. There are some times and places where epoxy is handy. But for Estes kits, white or yellow glue is king (yellow is superior). A bond you make between the cardboard body and the balsa or cardstock fin will be so strong that the tube itself will tear before the glue joint breaks. Two secrets to getting even stronger joints; lightly sand the body tube to remove the glasine coating (the glossy stuff), and use the double glue method. The way to double glue is to apply a small amount to the pieces to be joined and press them together. Pull them back apart, and let the glue dry for a few minutes. Apply a little more glue, then join like normal. This technique results in super strong bonds that will easily handle A-D engines. I've heard of rockets built with just yellow glue that fly on G motors. [I've flown H motors this way.]

Q: It goes up, it comes down. What's next?
If you look at rocketry webpages out there, you will find a hundred people experiencing rocketry in a hundred ways. I mentioned in passing cluster rockets, staging, scratchbuilding, high power rocketry, scale modeling, gliders, and more. I didn't mention payloads, or contests, or arial photography, or altitude records, or... The list just goes on and on, and you can decide what suits you best.

Do it safely, and have fun!

Posted by Ted at 05:18 AM | Comments (3)

October 13, 2003

Rocket motor sizes

If you click on the extended entry, you'll find a picture of the common rocket motors that Mookie and I fly, to give you an idea of the range available. The 3.5" diskette in the background gives some scale. These are commercially available motors of three basic types.

The back row, from left to right:
Quest MicroMaxx, about 1"x.25" diameter.
Estes mini-engine, 13mm diameter.
Estes standard engine, 18mm diameter.
Estes "D" engine, 24mm diameter. These first four can be purchased in a lot of Wal-Mart type stores, as well as some craft stores. They all use a kind of black powder for propellant.

AeroTech "E" engine, 24mm diameter.
AeroTech "F" engine, 29mm diameter.
AeroTech "G" engine, 29mm diameter. These three all use Ammonium Perchlorate based propellant. In general, each 'letter' is twice as powerful as the one before.

Second row:
Two Dr. Rocket Reloadable Motor Casings for "H" motors. For these, you buy reload kits that provide solid slugs of Ammonium Perchlorate propellant and all of the necessary parts to assemble the motor. The casing on the left holds one more slug than the one on the right, so it's the more powerful motor. The casing on the right is a fully assembled motor. There's no danger here, because the motors need to be electrically ignited to fire. These are both 29mm in diameter.

Front row:
This is the motor for the Air Munuviana. It's a RATT-works "H", again in 29mm diameter. The reason for the length is that this is a hybrid motor, and a tank for nitrous oxide is incorporated into the design. The fuel is a slug of PVC plastic. I've designed the Air Munuviana to handle up to "J" motors and the motor mount will accept motors up to 38mm in diameter.

A little about the diameters. Standard diameters for rocket motors are 10.5mm, 13mm, 18mm, 24mm, 29mm, 38mm, 54mm, 75mm, 98mm, 3 inch, 4 inch and 6 inch. As you can see, I still fly at the smaller end of the range, but I'm slowly working my way up. [insert Tim Allen grunting noises here]


Posted by Ted at 01:48 PM | Comments (1)

October 04, 2003

Team America Rocketry Challenge

(Note: I originally posted this in three parts when I first started blogging. I never moved it over from the old site, so I'm reposting it here in revised form.)

See the link on the right side of the page (under "I'm involved") for the official word about the Team America Rocketry Challenge. One thing for sure is that the TARC is proof positive that kids will rise up to expectations.

The task for teams of high school students was that they had to plan, design, build and fly a rocket. Because you can buy kits in Wal-Mart to do that much, a lot of required complexity was added. The rocket had to fly as close as possible to 1500 feet, and since altitude measurement was a required, the team had to plan on using an electronic altimeter.

The next requirement was that the rocket had to have two stages. In other words, the first motor has to stop burning before the second motor fires. If you've seen pictures of the old Saturn V moon shots, that's how it worked. Three stages, each one dropping off as it was done.

The last requirement was that the rocket had to carry a payload. Two fresh hens eggs, to be brought back to earth unbroken.

Now that is a challenge!

The organizers expected a couple hundred teams to enter, and planned for twice that. Instead, almost 900 teams of students signed up.

Designing a rocket is like any other engineering project, it boils down to tradeoffs. Think about a car for example; designing for lots of people room means a larger body which means a heavier vehicle which means a bigger motor which means less room for people which means…

For the rocket design, the only set dimension was the size and weight of the eggs. The teams were provided with eggs that were weighed and measured to be within contest tolerances (and candled to make sure there were no unseen hairline cracks).

Other than that, the design was freeform. Each team was given a list of commercially available rocket motors that they could use for the flight. These motors ranged in size and power – the largest allowed motor was 256 times more powerful than the smallest. The teams had to come up with a combination of staged motors to meet the requirements. There were other considerations too, because some motors required additional electronics to ignite the upper stage.

There are photos of the teams accessable from the TARC page. In particular, look at the rockets they flew in the finals, and how teams devised different solutions to the same problem.

Each team consisted of high school students and a teacher. There were entries from every state and one from an American school overseas (APO address). Over 9000 students were participants. The teachers were there for adult supervision, but the students were required to do the actual design and construction work, and to fly the rockets themselves. Some teams were only a few students, while other teams comprised a whole class. Some schools entered more than one team. Looking at the team photos, you’ll notice a fair number of young ladies involved, including a few all-female teams.

Each team received sophisticated rocket design and simulation software so that they could build and fly ‘virtual’ rockets before starting construction. Teams were not required to use the software, but I think the benefits far outweighed the time spent learning to use it well.

The team photos were taken at the Finals, held in Virginia in May. Many teams couldn’t afford to send the entire team, but I thought it interesting to see that the teams from small towns often had banners or shirts listing their sponsors and local businesses who donated money to help them meet expenses for the contest. For some, it looked like everyone on ‘Main Street, USA’ chipped in!

An unofficial member of many teams were the mentors, who were experienced rocketeers volunteering time to help. Few students and teachers had experience building and flying rockets, so the teams were encouraged to contact their closest rocket clubs for assistance.

And what is a contest without prizes, eh? From the AIA site:
A grand prize pool of $59,000 in cash and savings bonds was shared by the top five teams. In addition, the top ten teams will compete for three $2500 grants to design, build and launch an advanced rocket with NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. Each of the top 25 teams is being invited to send one of their teachers to an advanced NASA rocketry workshop.

This is real rocket science.

The TARC was originally concieved as a one-time event, but the response from students, teachers and industry was so overwhelmingly positive that the 2004 Challenge has already been announced.

A couple of good articles about the 2003 Challenge have been posted this month (.pdf files).

Posted by Ted at 11:39 PM | Comments (1)

October 02, 2003

Rocket Science

Over on the Rec.Models.Rockets newsgroup, Jesse asked:
"How come on real rockets they always have funnel like things on the back of the thruster thingo?"

To which Peter Alway* replied:
"Because the hot flamey stuff that comes out of the thruster thingo is accelleratized to the fastness of that noisy stuff you hear by passing through an other-way funnel-like thingy before it reaches the funnel-like things you see, and by going through the funnel-like things it embiggens, which acceleratizes it to several times faster than that noisy stuff you hear. The faster the flamey stuff leaves the thruster thingo, the faster the rocket travels when it runs out of the gunk it burns."

He's absolutely right you know.

*Peter Alway wrote Rockets of the World and its many supplements as well as historical reference and scale modelling data books. He also raises rabbits and teaches astronomy at a college in the midwest.

Posted by Ted at 07:57 AM | Comments (7)

September 26, 2003

Size doesn't matter

Nic was surprised by the description of the Air Munuviana rocket. She was thinking model rocket, like you might find in a hobby shop, toy store or Wal-Mart. High power rocketry works on the same principles, it's just bigger. Here's a picture I posted before of one of our larger rockets.

Posted by Ted at 09:40 PM | Comments (0)

September 25, 2003

Unconventional thinking

Just for fun, I thought I'd share some of the more unusual rocket designs I've come up with. Each of these rockets has made successful flights. I just don't like to fly boring rockets.

First up is a tube-finned rocket, the Bad Medicine. Like the description says, the fins are lengths of tubing, which makes for a tough and very stable rocket. It adds more weight than you'd have with regular fins, so they're not as popular as standard designs. I prefer the cool factor though.

The Vampyre is one of the first rockets I ever designed from scratch. This one is a ring-fin. I'm still flying this little rocket, and she amazes people with the sheer speed and altitude she gets.

Still playing with the concept of asymetrical fins, I next designed the Starbow. This design flies acceptably, but it's not really a great flyer. The pictures suck too, this is pre-digital camera days.

Undoubtably the oddest design I've ever done, the Cinderella doesn't look anything like what most people think of as a rocket. She does, however, look like something you'd see in Earth orbit in a Chesley Bonestell painting. The picture shows the prototype, which worked so well I literally flew it to pieces (over 30 flights). She's now hanging from my workshop ceiling. A second model was built and finished with silver paint, but it didn't fly nearly as well. I've also partially constructed an upscaled version to fly on bigger motors.

Finally, the Barenaked Lady was a project that Rachael and I did together. Extremely lightweight despite six fins and her hefty size, she rocks on mid-power motors.

I just realized I don't have pictures posted of another odd-roc we did, named Invader Zim's Song of Doom. She used a funnel for drag stability instead of fins, and the nosecone was a green plastic easter egg with silver alien eyes made from duct tape. This one had problems from the outset. Not with the going up part, but with the coming down part. As in parachutes not wanting to work correctly. She finally destroyed herself by becoming a lawn dart, and we have the video tape to cringe over anytime we want to watch it. Embarrassing.

Posted by Ted at 09:31 PM | Comments (0)

September 24, 2003

Special Effects Rocket Motors

An ongoing debate among rocket hobbyists is the use of ‘effects’ motors. By adding carefully selected impurities to the chemical composition of a motor, you can create a variety of results. Common among these are smoky motors, sparky motors, and even exhaust flames of different colors. Such impurities can also produce sound variations like a crackling during the motor burn. In order to keep their product lines distinct, propellant formulations are closely held by commercial motor manufacturers (all of this applies to Ammonium Perchlorate motors and not the common model rocket motors available from Estes or Quest).

A high-efficiency propellant formula produces almost no smoke and very little visible flame. Most of the power of the motor goes to producing thrust and not the visible byproducts. That’s the bottom-line purpose of the rocket motor.

But what fun is that? A small but vocal group of rocketeers are devoted to pure power and maximum thrust for a given engine size. Anything less than the ideal have been dubbed ‘knob’ motors.

I am a knob. I love the knob motors. So what if I lose some power or efficiency, when my rocket takes off trailing a thick plume of smoke, or leaps into the sky atop a long tongue of neon green fire? That's what's fun for me, and I think the majority of rocketeers agree with me. Here's a description of some of the knob motors that I love to fly.

Aerotech makes motors in a variety of sizes and propellants, including Blue Thunder which has the most power, a thin blue flame, and almost no smoke, White Lightning with it’s orange flame and thick white smoke, Redline with an intense red flame and moderate smoke, and BlackJack which roars and produces thick black smoke. They also manufacture EconoJets, which are smoky, loud and crackly motors, but you pay for the effects at the cost of motor power. Their selection is probably the best all-around available.

Ellis Mountain makes the Thor’s Hammer line, which are super-aggressive motors with lots of thrust right from the get-go.

Animal Motor Works started a couple of years ago, and is slowly expanding their line. Their offerings include Green Gorilla, White Wolf, Blue Baboon, and Super Tiger. I’m looking forward to Skidmark Squirrel, which is a sparky motor. Imagine a fireworks sparkler about two feet long, two inches around, and going straight up at a couple hundred miles per hour. Definitely not for the dry season!

There are others, but these pretty much show the range available. Of course, the motor and rocket airframe have to be matched up carefully. A rocket that can handle the relatively gentle thrust of BlackJack propellant may shred into confetti under the kick of Thor’s Hammer. Likewise, you might need the big spike of thrust at the start of a Blue Thunder burn to get a heavy rocket off the pad and flying stably.

In my range box right now, I have an H-165 Redline, an H-128 White Lightning, a G-75 BlackJack, plus a handful of EconoJets and some smaller mid-power propellant reloads. I’ve also got a pair of reloads left for my nitrous-hybrid motor. With a rocket launch this Sunday, and BattlePark in Culpeper, Virginia the first weekend of November, I’m looking forward to being a knob.

Posted by Ted at 12:32 PM | Comments (1)

September 22, 2003

Book tour

If you've seen the movie October Sky, or read the book Rocket Boys upon which the movie was based, then you've already met Homer Hickam. Homer was one of the original Rocket Boys, and he wrote the book as well as several more since. You may also remember that Homer Hickam went on to become an aerospace engineer with NASA, and helped design the Space Shuttle.

Homer Hickam will shortly be beginning a tour to promote his seventh book. Details and schedule can be found here. If you haven't read any of his stuff, I highly recommend it. He's also been very supportive of educational programs including the Team America Rocketry Challenge.

I posted this on the old blogspot site once, but it's one of my favorite pictures, so here it is again. Mookie and Homer Hickam, taken at the Team America Rocket Challenge 2003 Finals.


Picture taken by Brian Pratt.

Posted by Ted at 07:40 PM | Comments (1)

September 17, 2003

Yet another reason to hate politicians

Get a load of this.

I've bitched about this before, both here and on my old blogspot site, about how the Homeland Security Act has gotten way out of control, aided by some rather stupid members of congress.

I'll excerpt the part that's making my blood boil, you can read the whole report here.

Briefly, Senate bill S.724 was introduced by Senator Enzi in order to provide relief to hobbyists that were inadverdantly impacted by the Safe Explosives Act passed after 9/11. The key point being that the rocket fuel we use doesn't explode by any definition.

Excerpts are in italics.

As we head into the final months of the first session of the 108th Congress, the substitute Enzi bill, S. 724, is stalled in the U.S. Senate due to holds placed by Sens. Schumer (D-NY) and Lautenburg (D-NJ).

NAR/TRA met this week with the Chief of Staff and Chief Counsel to
Senator Lautenburg. While the meeting was cordial, it was clear that
there is little, if any, likelihood of persuading Sen. Lautenburg to
remove his hold. His concerns are not necessarily with APCP being used
to make a bomb, or with a terrorist actually delivering a payload with
an amateur rocket, but with the potential "mayhem" that such a person
could cause by misusing an amateur rocket or rocket propellant. A
specific example given was a person launching two or three large amateur
rockets in close proximity to Newark International Airport during a busy
flight schedule, the theory being that such an act would cause
widespread panic. Arguments about the low probability of such an event,
its actual impact, the fact that such an act is already illegal, etc.,
were not persuasive. We were told that the mere potential for such an
act warrants "heavy regulation regardless of the burden imposed" on
[emphasis mine]

The low-probability potential for an already illegal act is enough to cause these two to take away your freedoms. According to these guys, if the government doesn't specifically allow it, you can't.

Several calls to Sen. Schumer's office have not produced a return call or meeting, but we have nonetheless gone to the Senator's office to provide them with a direct rebuttal to the ATF "views" letter sent to Sen. Hatch in June.

And the other 'servant of the people' won't even talk about the issue. Hobby rocketry is small potatoes in the grand scheme of things, but they've already begun to make moves against RC airplanes and cars as well. It's the baby steps people, that'll get you every time.

Posted by Ted at 08:49 AM | Comments (3)

September 09, 2003

It beats bingo

Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, I present to you not one, but two opportunities to meet the nicest group of technology geeks and cowboy-biker hobbyists ever to count backwards to zero.

Right around the corner, on September 20-21, in Muncie, Indiana, the Rocketeers of Central Indiana (ROCI) will be hosting a high-power rocket launch. The field is the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) International Aeromodeling Center located just outside of town, and I've flown there before, it's beautiful. See the ROCI site for details. If you live in the area, stop in and check out something different.

Slightly farther out there on the calendar, as well as several hundred miles eastward, the fall BattlePark 2003 Launch is scheduled for the weekend of November 1-2. Located in Culpeper, Virginia, this is one of the premier events in the east, with rocketeers attending from all over the eastern U.S. and Canada. I'll be there both days, and Mookie usually makes at least one if not both. This launch features some of the most interesting projects and flights around. As usual, spectators are free, kids fly their rockets for free, and you'll never meet a friendlier group of people. Come on out, walk around, talk to folks, ask questions, and be prepared to say 'wow'. Oh yeah, they've already obtained an FAA waiver for flights to 15,000 feet.

You are invited and welcome.

The extended entry is just me bragging about my project from last years BattlePark launch.

She was a smallish rocket about 2 1/2 feet long, constructed out of balsa, cardboard and Elmer's wood glue. I wanted to push the limits of the materials, so I loaded it with a big honkin' motor* and it flew to over half a mile straight up at almost 300 miles per hour. It was a neck-snapper! After I recovered the first flight, I put in an even bigger motor* and did it again! Perfection. Got it back again too.

* first flight on an EconoJet F23-7 Fast Black Jack, second flight on an EconoJet G38-7 Fast Black Jack - if that means anything to you or if you care.

Posted by Ted at 09:01 PM | Comments (4)

August 28, 2003

Lightning Research

Two guys are talking, and the first says, "My wife drives like lightning."

"Drives fast, eh?", says his friend.

"Nah. She hits trees."

Over the last couple of days, we've had massive waves of thunderstorms plow through the area, leaving thousands without power. The storm last night put on a spectacular light show, with frequent lightning in every direction.

Other than flying a kite in the rain (not recommended despite historical precedence), how do we learn about this phenomenon?

It is possible to artificially generate lightning to study it, but it's difficult and expensive. In addition, you're not necessarily duplicating the environmental conditions that produce lightning. An alternative is to use rockets to induce a lightning strike in a specific area where scientific instruments are located.

There are some spectacular photos on that page, as well many interesting links. If you're interested in seeing the process in action, there are QuickTime movie clips here and here.

Posted by Ted at 11:01 AM | Comments (2)

August 27, 2003

If a tree fell on Ashcroft...

...and no Americans were around to see it, would you still hear cheering?

Alphecca has mentioned it, and I’ve ranted about it a couple of times. I wish I could have put it as eloquently as this.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) now claims in a letter to Senator Orrin Hatch, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee that hobby rockets can be used to make "light anti-tank" weapons with a range of up to five miles. The best the United States military can do is only 3.1 miles with the LOSAT anti-tank missile system. How ridiculous is it to claim that a terrorist can cobble together anti-tank weapons superior to what is produced by Lockheed-Martin for the US Army? This absurd claim strongly suggests that Department of Justice and ATFE simply fabricated claims without any research or supporting analysis.

It’s clear that many Senators, Representatives and the media simply accepted the Department of Justice & ATFE claims at face value. This blind acceptance was dramatically illustrated by the Senator Schumer and Lautenberg press conference on July 29. During the press conference, they repeated the false claims, which were then repeated in the New York Times and various wire stories.

The Amateur Rocketry Society of America has been conducting research to show the truth about the false claims made by the Department of Justice and ATFE. Every claim made in their letter on the dangers of rocketry in America is provably false. The ARSA has since published reports on the technical feasibility of using hobby rockets as anti-aircraft or anti-tank weapons.

Or as one rocketeer put it: “I'm going to put in a resume to the DoD, as it's obvious I can do better the Thiokol, or Lockheed who are wasting millions of my tax dollars.”

(the above includes excerpts from numerous posts in the Rocket newsgroup)

Posted by Ted at 11:20 AM | Comments (0)

Aerial Photography

Ray Dunakin flies camera-carrying rockets and gets the most amazing photos. See lots more in his online photo-albums.

Posted by Ted at 11:10 AM | Comments (0)

August 23, 2003

Launch Report

For the last few days we’ve suffered oppressive heat and humidity, but a thunderstorm-spawning cold front passed through last night. Today was absolutely beautiful, with temperatures in the low 80’s, just enough wind to be comfortable, and a bright blue cloudless sky.

Mookie’s trip to Michigan last week put her behind on her summer homework, so she decided to stay home and buckle down. I only took three rockets today, deciding to concentrate on the higher end of the motor range I normally fly.

First up was a veteran named the FY2K. You can tell what was going on in my life when I built this rocket. It’s rather small, but takes a relatively large motor for it’s size, so it screams off the pad and gets great altitude.

Which is exactly what it did this time. People don’t expect a rocket this size – not much bigger than your standard Estes stuff – to be this loud and smokey, so as usual folks jumped and kids screamed in fright and wet themselves (just kidding). But it does get their attention. So she’s boosting arrow-straight, on a slight angle into the wind, and leaving a thick dark line of smoke behind her and just as she arches over at the top the neon-yellow parachute is ejected and fills instantly. Perfect.

I noticed something tiny fall away, and someone says it must be the ejection wadding (protects the chute from the ejection charge). So as we’re watching the rocket descend under chute from almost 2000 feet, out of the corner of my eye I catch a glimpse of something.

Wheeeeeeeee-thunk! The freaking nosecone screams down and hits the ground about 10 feet from where a group of us are standing. It weighs more than a quarter of a pound, and to have that sucker freefall down and almost hit us was way too much excitement. I’m embarrassed about it, but kinda proud too that I judged the wind that well. Thank goodness it didn’t hit anybody. It’s plastic and rounded – not pointy – but it still would’ve hurt.

The rest of the rocket, still under chute, drifts much farther than it should because a large portion of its total weight took the express back to earth. It finally settles down beyond a barn silo, and I walk about a half mile to find it in good shape in a meadow.

Now it’s time for the main event: Ain’t Misbehavin’. And I immediately run into a snag. I’ve forgotten the binder I keep the checklist in. This is far and away the most complex rocket I’ve ever attempted to fly, so I have a detailed checklist to make sure I remember everything and do things in the right order. Step 1 should be: “bring the checklist, stoopid”.

Fortunately, some friends with lots of experience are there to help. This is my first hybrid-motor rocket, and the first flight relying entirely on electronics to deploy the parachutes, so I’m grateful for the assistance. Everyone likes my design to arm and disarm the ejection charges, and since the wind is picking up we decide to go with a slightly smaller chute to bring it down faster.

Three quarters of an hour later we’re ready to go. I get a quick lesson on how to use the remote box to fill the tank with nitrous, and as soon as we see a plume venting from the side of the rocket we do a quick countdown and I press the button.

She hesitates on the pad for a second, and then an electric-red flame erupts from the nozzle and she starts to climb. This is the smallest possible motor I can use in this rocket, so the flight is slow and low, and at apogee the altimeter fires the ejection charge and the parachute deploys perfectly. A very sweet flight.

The altimeter measured 608 feet, which is just fine for a maiden flight, especially one full of personal firsts. I’ve already figured out how to trim at least a pound off of her weight, and can double the motor power with no problem on the next flight, so 2000 feet plus isn’t out of the question.

So that’s what I flew today (didn't get to fly the third rocket). There were many other interesting flights. Roger brought his television rocket. It transmits a rockets-eye view of the flight to a receiver station on the ground, which feeds it into a video camera to record the flight. Neat stuff. There were also several RC rocket glider flights made, and a very interesting monocopter (1-bladed helicopter – weird but cool). There were also a lot of kids and parents flying little rockets. I enjoy watching the kids make flights, their wonder and joy is contageous.

Today was a great day.

Posted by Ted at 04:27 PM | Comments (0)

August 21, 2003


At the rocket launch this weekend, I plan to fly a couple of my big projects. I talked about our hybrid-powered Ain't Misbehavin' before (pictures here), but I also want to launch a rocket that my oldest daughter and I worked on together. Tinkerbelle was a real learning experience for us, because it introduced us to some new construction materials and techniques. That's what I love about this hobby, you learn something new with each and every rocket you build and launch.

Now here and here are a couple of big projects. This is the kind of stuff that Bill Whittle talks about in his essay Trinity. People pushing the envelope and doing awe-inspiring things - as a hobby. Because it's fun.

Have I mentioned lately how much I HATE the BATFE and Ashcroft and the asinine Homeland Security Act?

Once, a group of us were discussing 'rocket-widows' and 'rocket-widowers' (yes, there are lady-rocketeers), and one friend talked about her husband who worked with satellites. His point was that the rocket is just a vehicle to get the important part - the payload - to where it needs to go. To him, rockets were about as interesting as a bus.

Probably like most of you are thinking, eh?

Posted by Ted at 08:13 AM | Comments (0)

August 20, 2003


What really happens when you ignite a rocket motor? I'm talking about the magic inside that makes everything go whoosh and get gone real fast. Here's the best explanation of the process I've ever seen, courtesy of Peter Clay. I wish he was my chemistry teacher way back when...

Burning Nitrocellulose BP* is sorta like a party that gets WAY out of hand.

Think of the Saltpetre molecule as an unhappy family. Handsome, dashing, not too faithful Mr. K (Postassium) is stuck with homely, unresponsive Ms. N, who is kind of a loner generally but is very protective of her three lovely daughters, all named O. Actually, it was the daughters that attracted Mr. K in the first place. There are eight such families in this party, all exactly alike. Pretty dull, huh?

Think of Sulfur as eight attractive middle-aged women holding hands in a circle.

Think of Carbon as an eligible young sailor, who is not much interested in the ladies in the circle but has his eyes on the lovely daughters.

Still, nothing happens until some additional couples come into the room behaving in a romantic and suggestive manner. Then:

Each Mr. K gets excited, lets go of Ms. N and grabs an S from the circle. Each Ms. N gets disgusted, lets go of her daughters; thus 24 of them are turned loose.The twelve C-men descend upon the now-free O's like wolves, and each one ends up with an O on each arm. Each Ms. N, alas, ends up alone, but it's OK; she's used to it.

Now all the happy new couples are looking for space and some distance from the others. They push hard against everybody else, and rush for the door. If the door isn't big enough, they may just push out the walls.

8KNo3 + S8 + 12C ==> 8KS +8N + 12C02 + heat.

21 molecules that are solid at room temperature have *suddenly* become 28 molecules, of which 20 are gases at room temperature. In addition, a great deal of heat energy has been released, forcing these products to expand further. Of course the reaction is never pure, and further reactions take place after all this is exposed to the outside air while still hot.

* Nitrocellulose BP is simple black powder held together with Nitrocellulose binder. It's the kind of rocket motors you buy at hobby shops, and it's safe and reliable.

Posted by Ted at 08:20 AM | Comments (0)

July 25, 2003

A Good Day

My friend John is an educator. I call him that because the term 'teacher' seems inadequate in his case, although he's proud of that title too. I haven't known him all that long, but every time we talk he just amazes me with what he accomplishes.

Today I visited a school where he's set up a program called TEMS, for Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Science that runs over the summer for economically disadvantaged kids. Basically, these kids are exposed to as much career information as possible during the weeks of the program, including several field trips, a job-shadowing program, and many guest speakers. They also do lots of hands-on projects like robotics, environmental science, and marine studies.

There were (I think) four teachers and one 'administrator' for around 60 kids, so the personalized instruction is intense. The kids have to volunteer and be recommended by their teachers during the year, and come from several local schools around the district - free of charge. They're pretty proud of the program, and so is the school district, because the GPA's of these kids has increased significantly after taking part in it.

John invited me to help with the students doing a rocket launch. We (Rachael came along to help too) arrived bright and early (Rachael's prefix for that phrase is 'way too') and met all of the teachers. I could only stay until noon, because I had something to take care of at work that I couldn't let slide all weekend. Next thing I know, they'd completely rearranged the schedule around mine, and I'm being led into the cafeteria to talk to everyone about "A Career in Computers".

Huh? How'd that happen?

I quickly mentally dusted off an old presentation from my kids elementary school Career Day and talked for about 15 minutes, and then spent 15 minutes answering some very good questions. Afterwards, Rachael critiqued me by saying she'd seen worse. Wow, thanks sweetie.

Next came three rotating classroom sessions on rocketry. Same kids, just broken into thirds (the entire group, not individual children - ick). A quick few minutes talking about Newton and physics, Wallops Island and answering more questions. Mostly "how high can it go?"* and "can we launch a frog?"**.

We'd brought three rockets; one that deploys helicopter blades at apogee and rotors down, one biplane that ascends like a rocket and then glides back to earth, and a goofy little UFO type saucer. We picked these because they were least like what people think of when they hear the word 'rocket'.

Next came a short building session. Their rockets weren't ready to fly because the robotics projects took longer than expected. Rachael and I pitched in, helping the kids attach fins and showing them how to fold the parachutes and such. They're going to finish up their rockets next week and have their own day launching.

Finally, we went out and launched one of our three rockets in the school field. We had fun, everyone seemed suitably impressed, and then we did it all over again twice more with the other two groups of kids.

(Rachael's critique: I got better with each session. I assume that by the last one, I didn't suck.)

Some day, when I have totally and completely burned out in the computer field, I'd like to become a teacher. I've come to appreciate just how hard they work and how much more there is to it than just standing in front of a class and talking. No way do they get paid enough. Not even close.

Back to the day. Rachael and I said our goodbyes, grabbed some lunch, and headed to my workplace. I finished up the stuff in the "couldn't wait" pile and we headed home. I mowed the front yard while Rachael picked up in the back so we can have a fire tonight if we feel like it.

All in all, it was just a very cool day. And after everyone goes to bed tonight, I think I'll watch The Evil Dead.

* How high can it go? We brought low-flying models today because of the small field. Our highest flying rocket will reach a mile.

** Can we launch a frog? We don't, mainly because there's nothing we could learn from launching a frog in a rocket that we couldn't learn easier and better on the ground. I'm not a PETA-freak, but I don't believe in casual cruelty to animals either. And no, I don't consider killing them to eat them to be casual cruelty, I am definitely a carnivore.

Posted by Ted at 12:07 PM | Comments (0)
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