Saturday, October 31, 2015

A short Halloween launch...

HARA had scheduled an afternoon Halloween launch today at Pegasus field, but the threat of impending rain moved the launch time up from 1 PM to 10 AM. A good thing too, 'cause this afternoon has sucked in a weather sense. Duane and I arrived promptly at 10 and helped Chuck, Woody, and Art set up the range - a rail, Woody's tower, a mid power pad, and a single LPR rack. Everything was ready to go in just a few minutes, but we discovered problems with both HARA controllers when we tried to launch the first rocket. After dinking around for a few minutes with test lights and multimeters, it was decided the batteries were low on juice, which forced us to use Duane's hand held controller for the launch. It was switched from pad to pad - not very ideal, but it got the job done.

Some friends of Woody's also showed up with their kids, who were very excited to recover the rockets. This was fine with me, as I have been not feeling my best this week - thanks to these young folk, I did not have to chase after a single rocket. I know... It ought to be considered cheating and beneath a true rocketeer, but being tired, old, and fat should occasionally allow one a little slack. The recovery team was very fast and efficient; all rockets were returned undamaged, and I was most appreciative at not having to schlep my ancient rear across the field.

Duane's Death Star was first off the pad, riding a C6 motor in a long arc to the southeast. It did its usual break apart into streamered fragments upon ejection, which elicited oohs and aahs from the kiddos. My Target bowl saucer was next on a C6-0, followed by Woody's 29 mm scratch built on a composite D. It truly got up and left - burst mode caught only a single frame of it in the tower, and it was gone in the blink of an eye to us human watchers. I don't know how Woody managed to keep track of the rocket, but he did, and was able to direct the recovery crew to its landing spot.

Duane's Death Star lifts off for Alderaan (Click to
My Target saucer on a C6-0 (Click to enlarge).
Normally most creative fall rocket kudo goes to Chuck and his flying corn rockets, but this year Art Woodling gave him a run for his money by creating a "pumpkinik" - an orange hobby store craft pumpkin perched on top of 4 long orange dowels. It had two stable flights, albeit with a tendency to fly nearly horizontal after motor burnout. Chuck did fly a corn rocket - a plastic corncob perched on top of a long green body tube with leaf like fins; however, the F motor may have been a bit too much, as the rocket lost a couple of fins on the way up. The parachute deployed, but the motor casing was kicked from the rear and still lies somewhere on the field. Not to worry - I am confident that with all of the TARC activity at Pegasus, it will be found fairly soon.

Art's "Pumpkinik" rises on a plume of fire (Click to
The F motor in Chuck's corn rocket ignites (Click to
One of Woody's friends flew a nekkid payload model on a C motor, followed by Vince's venerable Big Bertha. I am always impressed by the serene and stately flights produced by the Bertha; it is truly a classic design. Vince also had good luck in the flight of his skull-topped "Death's Head", which surprises me with nice straight flights despite its ungainly looks. However, his luck ran out with a reflight of his Rocketarium Mega Vortico, which he put back together after it was rekitted by an E motor CATO a couple of months back. This time he chose to fly with an ancient Estes E15, a now discontinued motor notorious for its failure rate. The motor lived up to its reputation, erupting into a spectacular fireball just above the pad. The failure ripped the motor casing in half and blew the Mega Vortico into many small pieces. I had great sympathy for Vince as he picked up the fragments from the field, knowing that there was no way he could rebuild it this time.

Vince's trusty Bertha turns in yet another flight (Click
to enlarge).
The recovery crew in action (Click to enlarge).
Vince's "Death's Head" gets going (Click to enlarge).A Woody rocket clears the rod (Click to enlarge).
I had brought 7 Halloween-themed rockets to the field. The Target candy bowl was followed by my Estes Zoom Broom clone on an A10-3T motor - old Witch Hazel was happy to spend some time in the air after a year of resting on the shelf. The Goony Ghost jumped off the pad after Chuck's corn rocket flew, the B6-4 powering it to about 400 feet. A B6-4 was also the motor of choice for the "Ecto 1", a Ghost Buster-themed Red Max; it flew like an arrow into the overcast skies, and landed softly on a ripstop nylon chute. My Quasar One Spooktacular blasted off the rod on a C6-3, immediately followed by a clone of the Estes "The Bat", which flew on an A8-3. My final flight of the day was the newly-built Goblin, which performed spectacularly on a C11-5 (I don't want to think about flying it on a D12).

Witch Hazel goes for a ride (Click to enlarge).The Goony Ghost bemoans another flight (Click to
Ecto 1 awaits launch (Click to enlarge).The Spooktacular climbs out of the smoke
(Photo by Woody - Click to enlarge).
The Bat spreads its wings on an A8-3 (Click to enlarge)My Goblin starts its maiden voyage (Click to enlarge).
There were several other flights, many of which I did not image because my phone ran out of memory (stupid thing - it should simply expand its storage to accommodate my hundreds of rocket pics). Chuck flew a saucer and his "Crappernaut" Porta-Potty a couple of times on F motors; I always love seeing it deploy the toilet paper streamer along with the parachute. Duane flew his treasured Cherokee-D on a B6, and brought the launch to a close with a flight of his yellow and black "Beast" rocket from last year's TARC season. All-in-all, it was a pretty good day; outside of Vince's shredded Mega Vortico and Chuck's engine casing, we didn't loose anything. The only real negative was the failure of the HARA launch gear, which will receive some attention over the next few days. Plenty of time for a fix, though - our next club launch is in March.

Duane's Cherokee-D sets out to poke a hole in the
clouds (Click to enlarge).
The Crappernaut emits noxious smoke
leaving the rail (Photo by Woody - Click
to enlarge).
The F motor in Duane's "Beast" gets it moving (Photo by Woody -
Click to enlarge).

Friday, October 30, 2015

I fly a few during TARC practice...

The skies were overcast last Saturday, but that did not stop me and Duane from joining Nate and his two Liberty Middle TARC teams at Pegasus field. We showed up around noon to find the young folks already hard at work prepping their rockets to fly. As with any TARC practice, there were some things that went right, and some that went wrong. A couple of the rockets had fins that were too small, making them marginally stable - they were noticeably squirrelly when they flew. Good altitudes though; one flight turned in an altitude of just over 870 feet, and another achieved a phenomenally good mark of 848 feet, just 2 feet shy of the goal! Recoveries, though, were another matter - there were several separations, resulting in damaged rockets and broken eggs. The Jupiter VII rocket was sufficiently damaged that the team was talking about building Jupiter VIII (one wonders what the Jupiter model number will be by the end of the season). This was a shame, because it was the only Liberty TARC model with the proper size fins. One team also learned - the hard way -that you do not use snap swivels to attach the parachute to a heavy TARC rocket; they just cannot take the stress.
The "Atomic Bomb" TARC rocket. The name would prove to be prophetic when it fell from the sky after a
 parachute separation (Click to enlarge).

Liberty TARC team members prep their rockets for flight (Click to enlarge).
Why you do not use a snap swivel to attach a parachute to a TARC rocket (Click to enlarge).
A TARC bird takes to the air on an Aerotech F32-8 (Click to enlarge).
I was not going to pass up the opportunity to launch a few, so while Liberty was launching TARC birds, I put up 5 of the 6 rockets I had prepped the night before. First up was the Quest Astra, making its maiden voyage on a Quest A6-4. It reached a nice altitude under the cloudy skies, but the streamer did not deploy. Fortunately the model was light enough that it still made a soft landing in the grass, and inspection showed that I had a melted streamer - too little chute wadding. The Squirrel Works pirate-themed Vulture was next on a B6-4; its flight was very nice, with no spin, and a nice recovery on the 12" ripstop nylon parachute. Encouraged by the fact that both rockets had landed relatively close to the pad - and by the presence of an eager young recovery crew - I launched the Semroc Centurion on a C6-3. Another good flight, and a soft landing under a 15" parachute. I really appreciated the kids helping me recover the rockets, though I must confess to a wee bit of anxiety seeing them approach the models at a fast run. I do not deny visions of crumpled body tubes and flying painted balsa occasionally danced through my head.

The Quest Astra's A6-4 motor ignites (Click to enlarge).The Vulture starts its first flight (Click to enlarge).
The Centurion is a blur leaving the pad on a C6-5 (Click
to enlarge).
The recovery crew in action (Click to enlarge).
The Aerospace Specialty Products NEO Standard rocket was the next bird to leave the pad; it flew surprisingly high on the Quest A6-4, landing to the south under a 12" parachute. I then ended my part of the day's launch by launching my Estes Avenger clone. Powered by a B6-0/B6-4 motor combination, this two stager achieved my best altitude of the day, and landed undamaged under a full parachute. I was very glad of the recovery crew, as the upper stage drifted about a hundred yards downwind; it was beginning to drizzle and I was eager to get my rockets into the SUV before they got wet. Everyone began to pack up, but we did launch one of the Liberty kid's Laser Lance as the final flight of the day. It too turned in a good flight, despite the launch lug being held on by tape.

First launch of the NEO Standard; the bright orange of
motor plume provides a contrast to the dull day (Click to
The Avenger clears the rod (Click to enlarge).
We managed to get everything loaded before the rain worsened, and then Duane and I then caught a bit of lunch at the closest Rotten Ronnies (McDonald's). I was pleased - 5 rockets up, 5 back with no damage. One of my better tallies.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

TARC session at the University of North Alabama

Time to catch up on blog posts - work has been kicking my rear lately and I haven't felt like writing when I get home. The rain outside is providing some motivation today :)

Lee Brownell starts the ball rolling at UNA's first TARC session (Click to enlarge).
Last Saturday, the University of North Alabama located in Florence (over in the NW corner of the state - about an hour and a half drive away) hosted a session for all interested TARC teams in north Alabama. It had a threefold purpose:
  1. Acquaint newbies with the basics of building a rocket
  2. Introduce TARC to first time teams
  3. Highlight a competition that UNA is conducting using current TARC rules. Basically, it's going to be a launch where kids fly their TARC rockets, with the best score(s) winning a prize. These launches can also be one or more of the teams' qualification attempts.
At least half of the three hour meeting was spent going over basics. After that, each team built a rocket - the ASP NEO Standard - which was flown in the last 30 minutes of the session. Chuck, Duane, myself, Vince, and Woody had a primary job of setting up the range in the very small, tree lined field near the building where the meeting was held; some of us also helped the kids construct the rockets, which was done with superglue because of the lack of time. I must confess I was surprised that things went rather well, as I fully expected the usual messy stuck fingers and motor mounts locked only halfway in, but that happened in only a few instances. Most of the 20+ rockets were completed without much trouble.

Members of the world champion Russellville TARC team demonstrate the basics of the Open Rocket design
software (Click to enlarge).
Building rockets! (Click to enlarge)
Once all the rockets were built, the kids brought them outside to the RCO station to receive motors and igniters; they were then sent over to the launch pads, where Woody showed them how to connect the clips to the igniters. The launch went rather smoothly - there were the usual igniter misfires, but no rockets disintegrated, though several did land on the roof of the building (they were later recovered). It is most fortunate that only A8-3 motors were used in the rockets - anything more powerful would have resulted in many tasty snacks for the rocket-eating trees.

A perfect day to fly! (Click to enlarge)
My Quest saucer kicks off the launch on a C6-0
(Click to enlarge).
A NEO Standard heads skyward on an A8-3 motor
(Click to enlarge).
We packed up around 3:30 and headed back to Huntsville. We had eaten lunch at an Arby's about 1 mile from UNA on the way in; as we passed it on the return journey, we noticed that it was surrounded by fire trucks and some firemen were hosing down the building. Apparently the place had caught on fire while we were launching our rockets (Note: we were WAY too far from the Arby's for any rocket on A motors to reach it). I suppose we might have jinxed the place by eating there - maybe next time we should eat lunch at a place we don't like.

UNA is doing an excellent job in motivating the schools down the TARC path. They are planning to have a follow-up session in December, and are nicely supporting the local teams; expect great things out of northwest Alabama this season.

Sunday, October 4, 2015


The weather has positively sucked the past several days - dreary, dismal, and wet. Our Fall seasons are normally very nice, but this one has started out poorly. The forecast shows some potentially better weather tomorrow, Tuesday, and Wednesday, so I am hopeful that I will be able to get through some of the painting backlog. I have a Squirrel Works Vulture and Estes Vampire clone awaiting paint, and two Der Red Maxen needing primer. I need to get these guys finished and off the bench.

The poor weather hasn't stopped me from building though. Last night I put together an Aerospace Specialty Products (ASP) NEO Standard. It's one of their 18mm starter kits, and I must say it is very nice. High quality parts - a strong body tube with practically no seams, thick laser cut fins, a kevlar shock cord attachment, and an appropriately long sewing elastic shock cord (those in most kits - especially Estes - are way too short). The motor tube protrudes about an inch from the bottom, which gives the rocket a somewhat unique appearance. Here's a pic of it tacked together:

Nekkid NEO Standard - Der Red Max to the left, Vampire clone in the
background right, and another Red Max's fin visible at right edge. The
work bench is crowded (Click to enlarge)!
The NEO went together fairly quickly, but you do need to pay a little attention to the well-written instructions to make sure you get the centering rings in the right position on the motor tube. A lot of beginners like to use super glue when they build a rocket - this one is a white/wood glue bird, at least when assembling and installing the motor mount. You definitely do not want things to get stuck in the wrong place.

A finished NEO Standard from the ASP web site. I will try to duplicate this
paint/marking scheme (Click to enlarge).
There was some big news from Estes this week, which sent ripples throughout the universe of rocket geezers. The old 1/45th scale Centuri Little Joe II is one of the most sought after kits in Rocketdom, commanding prices of hundreds of dollars when they make rare appearances on eBay. Well, those prices are about to get lower, because Estes is planning on re-releasing this kit in December, for the bargain price of $49.99! I say re-release, but it's really not - John Boren, the chief designer for the big E, says that the only things used from the old Centuri kit production were the molds for the capsule and tower; everything else is new for this model. He posted some pics on the forums and on Facebook, and the rocket looks absolutely beautiful!

Upcoming Estes Little Joe II (Click
to enlarge).
Closeup showing detail (Click to enlarge).
I NEED a couple of these - Santa, are you listening?