Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Corporal joins the ranks

I had been struggling with the paint scheme for my Corporal scale model. The markings that came with the ASP kit seemed rather simplistic - just a basic roll pattern - especially when compared to the online photos of the JPL or White Sands test versions. They also did not match the operational missile scheme, which was white US Army letters on an over all military green paint job. From where did the kit manufacturer get this pattern? Was it something simple they made up to keep the painting to a minimum? This does happen in "sport scale" kits, after all.

It turns out the answer was right in my back yard. I did a more exhaustive Internet search, and ran across photos of the Corporal missile in the rocket park at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center here in Huntsville. Guess what? The markings were an exact match to those in the kit! ASP did do their research, providing markings that matched an actual Corporal on display. With that, my choice was set. How could I not decorate this model to match the hometown boy? It would be an act of rocket blasphemy to do otherwise.

At left below is an image of the USSRC Corporal; my recently completed model is at right. It turned out pretty well, except that there are no antennas sticking out from the smaller conduits. I could reproduce those with pins or stiff wire, but that would be asking for perforated hands every time I picked the model up. A masochist I am not, so those got left out (they weren't in the kit anyway). It's good enough for sport scale.

Left: USSRC Corporal - Right: My finished ASP model
(click to enlarge)
This puppy takes to the air on a D12 motor next launch :)

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Little Beth flies again!

Last night Nate messaged me about a launch today at the Harvest horse farm - The Falcon Rocketeers were going to get a little more practice before the TARC Nationals on May 10. With bad weather in the forecast, I had my doubts, but morning saw the Sun shining and a moderate wind, so I contacted him for a pickup around 11:40 am. No sense in wasting a chance to fly a couple of rockets! The chosen victims were my ever reliable clone of the Estes Big Bertha, which was loaded with a C6-3 motor, and the recently repaired Little Beth X-2. Little Beth was 0-2 in terms of successful flights, and I figured today might be her day. She was loaded with 2 B4-2 motors and a B6-0 in the booster, and a B6-4 in the upper stage. I also strapped a keychain camera to the upper stage - I was going to get video whether she sailed to the heights of glory or plunged to another devastating disaster.

Pink Floyd is prepped for flight as a small crowd looks on
We arrived on the field just after noon. The sky had already begun to darken and the wind was picking up - rain was not far away. The Falcon Rocketeers had set up the range, and were in the process of prepping Pink Floyd. There was a nice modroc launch pad made by Duane and belonging to one of the team's dad, so we left my pad near the truck and hauled the rest of the stuff over to the launch area. Nate had brought his Estes Satellite Interceptor to fly and it didn't take too much effort for me to convince him that a B6-4 motor was a better choice than a C6-5, given today's wind. He did want the rocket back, after all.

My Big Bertha on the pad

I launched my Big Bertha with the C motor first - she achieved an altitude of a few hundred feet (as the name implies, she is a bit on the heavy side) and landed undamaged about 50 yards away. Nate launched his Satellite Interceptor, which drifted a bit farther. He was visibly relieved when it missed the roof of one of the horse barns by a few yards; for a moment, it looked like he might have to find a ladder. Pink Floyd had perfect time of 49 seconds on his flight, but was a little low, at about 760 feet. The strengthening wind was causing a loss in altitude and a lot of walking; Nate was offering the kids a couple of bucks to retrieve his rockets (which I thought was an excellent idea, btw).

It was finally time to fly Little Beth. I inserted the Quest Q2 igniters (which are great for clusters like this), set her on the pad, hooked up the launch controller, and turned on the camera. After a short warning to the crowd that this was a "Heads up!" flight, I gave the usual 5 second countdown and pressed the fire button. All 3 motors on the booster came to life, and she streaked off the pad. To my immense satisfaction, staging occurred less than a second later, and Little Beth continued her path upward until the ejection charge popped the parachute. Success! The jinx had been broken, and all that remained was to recover the rocket. The booster was easy, as it was about 25 yards out. However, the upper stage drifted northeast the full length of the field, and I am very grateful to the Falcon Rocketeer and his dad who retrieved it for me. It saved me quite a walk!

Green Hornet also took to the sky today, for once out performing the more popular Pink Floyd. He was a little over altitude, at 850 feet, but landed with a perfect time of 47 seconds. I am excited for this Falcon team - they have a shot at really doing well at Nationals! The sky had gone from dark to ominous, but Nate managed to get in another flight of his Satellite Interceptor, also on a B6-4; it landed just about 30 yards away. We packed up and managed to load the vehicles just before the rain started.

As it turns out, the Little Beth video was rather disappointing - the camera did not catch staging well, and most of the sequence is spent looking at the parachute; next time I will have to pay more attention to the camera pointing. Nonetheless, here's the Little Beth flight video for those interested (Yes, I know there is a hole in the parachute):

And a few stills:

Leaving the pad behind
Booster begins to fall away… That's a happy me down below
Smoke trails as the Little Beth climbs. You can see the booster's trail
separate from the upper stage's track
The parachute deploys
A gentle descent under grey skies

Friday, April 25, 2014

The RX-16's little brother

With the KSR-420S and the Estes Bat awaiting decals, and the scale model of the Corporal in primer, the work bench is looking a little bare. Time to start another build…

One of my favorite rockets is the RX-16 from the Centuri Power System outfit, a two rocket, "advanced" rocketry set issued back in 1978. The other rocket in the package was the RX-7, a simple 3 finned rocket that could be flown by itself or with a booster (making it a 2 stager) and with an optional payload section. It too was a pretty fun rocket, until it flew to Oz on a C6-0/C6-7 motor combination. Kinda funny how all my 2 stagers ended up disappearing over the rainbow back then - I suppose it is possible that sending them to altitudes of a couple thousand feet was a little too much for my friend's back yard (My dad had banned rocket flights from our yard after I accidentally put a Lil Hercules through the neighbor lady's window; she was a bit upset when the ejection charge went off in her living room. And it WAS an accident! Honest!).

Bill Eichelberger captured a picture of one of these relatively rare birds at NARAM 55 last year. Belonging to Mike Rohde, it sports the instruction recommended paint scheme, which I also intend to use.

A RX-7 on the pad (image courtesy Bill Eichelberger)
This build will be a little different from my standard approach, as I intend to laminate the fins with Avery mailing labels instead of applying multiple coats of sanding sealer. This will add strength to the fins and make them more resistant to breaking. The downside is that if I don't apply the label paper properly, the paper will separate from the fin over time, forming extremely unsightly bubbles. This has happened on a few of my older builds, but sealing the edges of the fins with thin CA (super glue) has helped eliminate the problem.

Time to start building!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The assembly line in action...

I always like Easter weekends - the weather is often nice (yesterday and today were gorgeous!) and the relaxed atmosphere of the holiday make it easy to get lots of rocket work done. After all, I need some distraction from the food!

I managed to repair the Taurus damaged in Friday's launch. The pod glued back on nicely and a little magic marker touch up made it hard to see that it had broken off. However, the Cloud Hopper is going to take some work; the broken fin pieces did fit back together, but the upper wing assembly looks like a glued-together vase - cracks everywhere. I am going to see what I can do with some filler, a lot of sanding, and a little paint. The smart money would be on replacing the entire upper wing, but I am interested in seeing how well I can put this Humpty Dumpty back together.

While I was in the repair mood, I also started fixing my Lil' Beth X-2, which had a disastrous launch last summer. The upper stage did not ignite, resulting in it doing the "dive of death", crunching the payload section nicely. The booster did not fare so well either, loosing a fin and zippering one of the side pods (a zipper, in rocket terminology, occurs when the shock cord cuts through the cardboard body tube at ejection, resulting in a slit that looks like someone unzipped the top part of the tube).  I made a new payload section and cut a new booster fin. They are now ready for paint, after I sanded, sealed, and primed them this weekend. Lil Beth is no longer a shelf queen, but this battle hardened maiden will fly again.

Lil Beth X-2 before and after last summer's flight of doom. Note the 
shattered payload section in Duane's hands (click to enlarge). Built 
from an old Estes plan, Lil Beth has 3 motors in the booster, and a 
single motor in the upper stage. I am 0-2 in successful flights with her.
Lil' Beth does the "Dive of Death" last summer. However, she will fly again!

I did not neglect new construction - the Rocketarium scale model of the South Korean KSR-420S sounding rocket and my Estes "The Bat" clone got their final coats of paint. I'll let them sit a few days, allowing the paint to outgas before applying decals. The rule of thumb is that you wait until you can't smell the paint. Yeah, I know, it looks weird to sniff your rockets.

I also finished adding the conduits to the ASP Corporal missile, sealed the fins and other balsa bits, and applied the first coat of primer. This will be mostly sanded off and there will be a second primer coat before I spray on the white base color. I am still debating the paint scheme - that of the kit instructions does not seem to match the pictures of the Corporal I can find. I may not only do a "more historical" paint job, but could very likely end up making some decals as well. I like my scale models to match at least one of the original types or production runs as closely as possible.

Corporal in primer
Now for the big question - what should I build next?

Friday, April 18, 2014

School yard launch at Horizon Elementary

This time of year is Space Week at the schools here in the Huntsville area. There are all sorts of activities for the kiddos - egg drops with the cooperation of the fire department (who provide a ladder truck from which the eggs are dropped), exhibits from Marshall Space Flight Center like the traveling Shuttle model, and, of course, rocket launches. Vince is the usual point of contact for the local teachers for demo launches, and today was launch day at Horizon Elementary School. I love the enthusiasm of young kids - they are curious about everything - so naturally I volunteered to assist. Often these events are rained out, but today we lucked out - there were clouds, but no rain.

We arrived at the school a little past 9 AM and checked in. Each of us had brought 4 rockets for the launch, making our choices based on the smallness of the Horizon field (playground actually). My Estes Snitch flying saucer, Cloud Hopper rabbit rocket, Centuri Taurus clone, and Estes Big Bertha accompanied me; Vince had an Art Applewhite saucer, a Fliskits Thing-a-ma-jig, a Semroc Javelin, and a Quest bird (I can't remember the name). Wind was a little breezy and blowing towards the trees in the west, so we set up on the basketball court, which was as far east as we could get - this turned out not to be wise, at least for me.  A and B motors were loaded in the conventional rockets; my Snitch was powered by a C6-3, and Vince prepped his saucer with a D12, the most powerful motor flown today. Did I mention that the Horizon field is small? And that concrete is hard?

Cloud Hopper ready for launch! (click to enlarge)
We set up two pads, and agreed that we would alternate flights to keep up a decent pace. The Horizon teacher had provided us with three young lads to act as the recovery team, which they did very well (Why can't I have a recovery team at Manchester where I have to waddle hundreds of yards to fetch my rockets?). Vince launched first and I followed with my Cloud Hopper, which flew well enough on an A10-3T motor. Unfortunately, it landed right in the midst of the kids on the concrete basketball court, and I don't know what did more damage - the rocket hitting the pavement or the children grabbing the bunny rocket. Anyway, here's the Cloud Hopper after its flight - not pretty, but I am going to try to repair it.

Broken bunny rocket
Vince's next flight drifted a bit far and ended up in a small tree; however, a kind adult managed to get it down, so he brought home every one of his rockets, which is not the norm at Horizon. I launched my Taurus on a B6-4, which flew nice and straight. It too landed on the pavement, and one of the pods broke off. 2 flights, 2 damaged rockets - not looking good for Bill on this launch. Next up were the saucers, which did their usual low and slow thing. I was happy that mine was undamaged - things were looking up!

Centuri Taurus clone (left) and Estes Snitch
I ended the demo launch with the ever reliable Big Bertha on a B6-2. It too landed on the pavement, but, being built like a tank, there was just a minor ding on a fin. I taped one of my keychain cameras to the side of the rocket, which acquired the video below. You can hear how fired up the kids are - that's what makes these launches fun!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Deuce's Wild onboard video

Here is the video taken yesterday by the keychain camera strapped to the side of my Fliskits Deuce's Wild. It's not too shabby.

Below are some frames I have extracted from the video. Since rocket flights are so quick, you really need to step through the video frame by frame to see the cool stuff.

Leaving the pad.
Parachute ejection charge firing
Cars and canopies.
The HARA trailer and folks looking up at my rocket.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

HARA launch - Saturday, April 12

Today was a good day, even if I had to get up early on a Saturday. My compadres, Nate and Duane, picked me up at 7:45 am (ugh), and we made the 2 hour trip to the Manchester sod farm. Duane, having done the trip several times in the past, knew a few tricks in navigating the Tennessee back roads, so we arrived at 9:45, about 30 minutes quicker than in my past trips. Chuck and Dan showed up with the HARA trailer shortly thereafter, and, after a slight pause to verify we were in the right part of the field, the range was quickly set up. The weather was gorgeous - clear, slightly breezy, and just the right temperature!

Setting up the range. Lots of talking in front of the model rocket pads.
I should mention that our club would not be where it is now without the efforts and energy of our president, Dan Cavender, and Chuck Pierce, who hosts our trailer and is da man when it comes to setting up and running a launch. These guys and the other HARA officers make it possible for us and other residents of north Alabama to launch rockets. I don't say "Thank you" enough!

My rockets -  clones of the Estes Alpha and Yankee - were the first birds taking to the sky this day; there would be many more before it was over. Flying on B motors, the flights were nice and straight, with no recovery issues. My Yankee's paint job got a little banged up, but that's normal "wear and tear."I build 'em to fly, not sit on a shelf. Other model rockets soon followed - the launch had been underway for a couple of hours before the first high power bird blasted into the wild blue yonder.

A dad is hooking up the igniters on his Estes 2 stage CC Express as his kids 
look on. My Cloud Hopper and blue/white Apogee II clones are in the foreground.
The dad in the above picture stole the show early on with his carefully built Apogee Saturn V. This G powered beauty put in 2 flights, and really wowed those of us who know how much work goes into building a kit like this. I probably would have doused myself in gasoline and lit a match halfway through the build. Here's a iPhone video of its first launch:

Things go by quickly in videos, so I created this gif animation showing the launch sequence at 1/8th normal speed:

Saturn V launch (click to enlarge)
Nate and Duane's level 1 and 2 high power certification attempts were a major reason I was at the launch. Both flights went well, though Nate was a little hesitant to fly his Arcas after having deployment/stability difficulties with his first 4 model rocket launches. However, a successful flight of his Estes Satellite Interceptor gave him the confidence to push ahead. I did not envy him the walk he had to retrieve the H powered rocket, but it was worth it. Welcome to the HPR fold Nate!

Duane's scratch built level 2 rocket ("Mighty Mo") flew beautifully (onboard video here), so he moved up in the HPR rank and file (Congrats Duane!). However, his second rocket, an upscaled Estes Cherokee D, came in ballistic, performing a textbook core sample of the Manchester dirt. Upper part of the body tube crumpled, but probably flyable after a little work. There were at least 3 other certification attempts today, along with 4 SLI teams on the field - it was a good day for high power!

The Mississippi State SLI team launched their 2 stage, M motor in each stage, beast of a rocket. After a few false starts, it left the pad with a terrific roar, which was sustained throughout the flight. Cheers erupted when the second stage M motor lit - staging composites is no easy thing - and the rocket looked to have hit pretty close to the projected 16,000 feet altitude. Unfortunately, it drifted well beyond the western tree line, and the MSU team had not returned to the field by 4:30 PM, which is when we left for home. I hope they recovered that rocket - it was really impressive!

I made a total of ten flights:

  • Estes Alpha clone on a B4-4. Good flight and recovery by parachute.
  • Estes Yankee clone on a B6-6. Normal recovery by streamer.
  • Estes Cloud Hopper ("the bunny rocket") on an A10-3T. Straight flight, gentle landing by parachute.
  • Estes Apogee II clone on A8-0/A8-5 combo. Nice staging, decent altitude. Streamer recovery.
  • Estes Meteor clone on an A8-3. Undamaged until after its flight, when SOMEONE stepped on it and broke a fin - repairable.
  • Shrox Bolero on a C6-3. Very nice flight, recovery by parachute.
  • Fliskits Deuce's Wild on 2 B6-4s. Got good onboard video.
  • Estes Nike-X clone on B6-4. Good flight but low altitude. This one needs a C motor.
  • Estes Rogue clone on an A3-4T. Streamer recovery.

The Estes Jetliner made its flight on an A10-3T right after the Apogee II. To say it flew like a pig is an understatement; it barely reached 40 feet before arcing over. The ejection charged fired just after it hit ground and only served to scatter the various pieces around a bit. The fragments are in the trash bin - an A10 is the largest motor this thing can take, and it clearly ain't enough. No sense in building another, but I'll save the nose cone to use in a future model.

Pieces of the Estes Jetliner
I tried all day to capture "good" liftoff shots of my rockets using an app on my iPhone with a (slow) burst mode. I was rewarded with nothing but smoke until my very last flight, when I managed to catch my Rogue in first motion on the pad. I would get a better camera, but I suck at photography, so not much point. Modern technology has limits in compensating for lack of talent.

My Rogue starts its upward journey
I will post the video from the Deuce's Wild tomorrow. It's getting late and I am whipped.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Launch tomorrow!

Tomorrow my club, HARA, has its monthly launch up at the sod farm in Manchester, Tennessee. Normally, I don't attend; it's a long way up there (2-2 1/2 hours), is usually pretty hot, and the launch lasts several hours, meaning the entire day is gone. I much prefer the couple hour local launches, but they are few and far between (except during TARC season).

However, tomorrow is special… My friends Nate and Duane are going for their level 1 and level 2 high power certifications, and I must be there to cheer them on (Duane did not give me much of a choice, come to think of it). There will also be the launch of a 2 stage, M powered beast built by the Mississippi State USLI rocket team, and who can pass up watching that kind of power? Hundreds of pounds of thrust is nothing to sniff at.

So now it's decision time. What do I fly tomorrow? Can't sit around and do nothing at a launch, you know. Here are my choices for the line up:

My Estes Cloud Hopper clone - First appearing in the 1973 catalog, this flying bunny rabbit is an obvious choice with Easter just around the corner.

The Estes Jet Liner - a recent release, it will make its maiden flight tomorrow. Hope it doesn't crash and burn!

Shrox Bolero - Get ready to eat missile, E.T.!

Estes Nike-X clone - The missile look of this bird made it a favorite, both now and 40 years ago.

Estes Meteor clone - Hey, I'm a meteor guy! This is a natural choice :)

Fliskits Deuce's Wild - 2 motor cluster, canted no less! Can't pass this one up. It will probably carry one of my keychain cameras up into the wild blue yonder tomorrow. Stay tuned for the video...

There will be others (room permitting), but these are the first string for the launch. Weather looks good, so I am hoping for a good day of flying!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Pink Floyd is gonna appear at Nationals!

Today, the 101 top TARC teams were announced; these are the hard working young men and women who will compete for the money and foreign travel at the Finals in The Plains, Virginia on May 10. Only one team from Alabama made the list - the Falcon Rocketeers from here in Huntsville, who had a 50 total score from their two qualified flights. Congrats to the team, to Bobbi Murphy, their sponsor, and to Duane Mayer, their mentor and "benevolent dictator"! I am especially pleased that their rockets, Pink Floyd and Green Hornet, will be in the national fly off - the other teams had better beware!

Pink Floyd is readied for launch
I also want to congratulate the other teams from north Alabama and Tennessee who turned in qualified flights. This year's challenge was difficult, and it was no small feat to design, build, and fly a rocket that could turn in a decent flight. Well done, and hope to see you in next year's TARC!

Now that the scores are in and the final teams chosen, I would like to make a few observations on this year's TARC:

  • This year's challenge - 2 raw eggs to 825 feet and down safely in 48-50 seconds using two parachutes of the same size with all parts of the rocket connected - was hard. I know I underestimated the difficulty in the beginning, and I think some of the teams did as well. I suppose the take away here is "don't think it's going to be easy."
  • The new scheme in which the two best flights were summed for the final score largely eliminated the luck factor. Many teams got a score in the teens, but were unable to score that low in the other flights. In the past few competitions, the cutoff was around 15; this year, the cutoff for nationals was 54, or an average of 27 for each flight. This is a full 12 points higher than past years, and illustrates the difficulty the TARC teams had in consistently hitting the altitude and duration marks. It is tough to do, especially given the 10% or so variability in the thrust of the motors. Huntsville would have had several other teams at the finals if the scoring had been the same as last year. I like this year's, as it rewards work and practice rather than a single lucky shot.
  • In past TARC competitions, you could separate the rocket and have the payload with the eggs and altimeter descend separately from the rocket. This year's requirement that it all come down connected resulted in several disqualifications due to the shock cord pulling free of the main sustainer. The opening of the two parachutes caused a double impulse to the shock cord mount, which would give way if it was not strongly secured. Something to pay attention to in the future.
  • There were many more disqualifications due to cracked or broken eggs than in past years. I observed that many teams seemed to devote far more attention to the rocket and parachute packing than to the padding in the egg capsule. Again, a lesson for future competitions.
  • Finally, some teams designed their rocket around a given motor, rather than the competition's altitude and duration goals. The latter should dictate the former, not the other way around. As a result, we had some very high (bad) scores and a few unstable flights.

Next year's challenge should be announced sometime in July - I look forward to seeing what the TARC organizers devise for the coming year.