Friday, December 23, 2016

True-to-the-name Estes Generics...

Duane recently dropped off the remaining Make-It-Take-It kits from the October Rocket City Blast Off; while in the process of putting them away, I discovered a poorly built Estes Generic buried in the pile. The pathetic thing had a loose fin can, and you could practically hear it screaming "Fix me! Make me worthy to fly!"

So I did...

I re-glued the fin can, filled the spirals with diluted Fill N Finish, filleted the launch lug, and applied two coats of primer. While the last coat was drying, I contemplated what to do with this almost ready to fly (ARTF) Estes model - the standard paint scheme involving the "peel n' cuss" stickers was abhorrent, and I found myself taxing my single creative atom in an attempt to come up with a simple décor that would match the rocket name. After an hour or so of banging my head against the wall, I did what I should have done in the first place - scan the Internet.

Which brought me to a superb blog - Blast from the Past - by Edward Mitton. In a strange cosmic coincidence, he and I were struggling with the same conundrum at roughly the same time. However, Edward obviously has some creative chops, for he came up with a simple and very obvious solution that I can only ascribe to a flash of creative genius.

Paint the rocket white like a generic package, with the appropriate label.

So simple, yet so inspired. I had to create a Generic for myself.

And here it is, with the waterslide decal label. I changed the wording a bit, but the gist is the same as on Edward's model.

My version of the Generic (Click to enlarge).
A closer view of the label (Click to enlarge).
Now THESE are true Generic rockets.

Paying attention, Estes?

Thursday, December 22, 2016

What to do on a rainy day...

From a rocket perspective, rainy days kinda suck - can't launch, can't paint, can't sand. You can start a kit build, but have to stop at the sanding parts - not very satisfying, unless you are putting together something with plastic or fiber fins. These go together in like 30 minutes, leaving quite a few hours needing something to do. Such was the situation this past weekend, and I found myself online searching for a subject for my next build (yeah, I know I have a list, but that's for 2017, which ain't here yet). Glancing away from my monitor, I noticed the Centuri Stellar Hercules clone over in the corner, and I realized that it was high time I built another in the old Stellar series. A few seconds later, I was perusing the Centuri catalogs - I did not like the looks of the Loadlifter, a payloader with a minimum diameter main body tube. The engine hook was on the outside, held in place by a mylar ring, which seems a bit on the tacky side. However, the Stellar Photon Probe was a different beastie - it exhibited a futuristic style, with two part fins and reactor vanes. Classic Centuri... So classic that Estes later adopted a simpler version of the design in their early 1990's Solar Probe model.

The 1970's Centuri Photon Probe and the 1991 Estes Solar Probe
(Click to enlarge).
Before starting any clone build, one must first make sure one can actually build it. This entails searching the Net for plans, parts lists, and decal scans. The plans were easy, as they were located on Ye Olde Rocket Plans, the best source of rocket instructions after JimZ's site. The parts list was more difficult, as the instructions did not specify the part numbers; fortunately, there were a couple of threads on Ye Olde Rocket Forum (my favorite hangout) devoted to this model, and these listed the parts. A quick comparison of this list against my inventory showed I had all the parts needed for the build, including the laser cut fins (Thank you Semroc/eRockets!).

Which left the decals...

They were nowhere to be found - no scans anywhere. The authors of the YORF threads had whipped together their own based on the cover art and kit instructions (which were not in agreement, by the way). I was going to have to do the same, so I pulled out my ruler and started measuring the dimensions of the markings on the model's screen images relative to the body tubes and fins. Once I had these numbers, I fired up the Pixelmator software on my Mac and got to work. It turned out that I did not need to draw everything, for I had some of the markings in scans of other decals. In the end, I only had to create the bottom roll pattern, the numbers, a few lines, and the "NASA" and "United States" markings. The upper roll pattern came from the Centuri roll pattern decal sheet and the hatches were obtained from a scan of the Estes Solar Probe decals. Thus, after about an hour and a half of effort, I had a fairly reasonable reproduction of the Stellar Photon Probe decals.

A few hints for those of you who wish or need to make your own decals:
  • Always scan your kit decals - you never know when you may need to reproduce them for a repair or use them on another model.
  • The convention is 300 dpi resolution - use this when scanning decals and in creating the canvas in your art program. Also helps to place a ruler in the scan to confirm the dimensions.
  • I also set the canvas size to that of a standard 8.5 x 11" sheet of decal paper, so I can tell how much space will be occupied. Any free space is filled with other kit decals or markings, maximizing the use of the paper.
  • If using an ink jet printer, be sure to spray a clear coat on the decal sheet after printing to avoid smearing when they are applied. My HP Envy inkjet sucks at decal printing, so I use Bel decal paper for laser printers and print them out on the office color laser. No need for the clear coat and the quality is acceptable.
Below is my decal sheet for the Stellar Photon Probe, which also includes a scan of the Estes Challenger 1 decals and some markings for a Generic kit bash. I also show a decal sheet created by PaulK on YORF, so you can see the differences in interpretation. I followed the plans more than the kit art, whereas he did the opposite. No right or wrong here, though I do wish someone would post a decal scan from an original kit. Trouble is that these Stellar kits are fairly rare, and it's hard to imagine a collector opening a pristine box just to provide some rocket noobs a scan of the decals.

Paul's decals posted to YORF (click to enlarge)My decal page (Click to enlarge).
The build can now commence...

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Easy interchangeable motor mounts...

Folks sometimes ask me why I like clusters so much - while it is true that I like duplicating reality (practically all launch vehicles of size make use of clustered engines), it is also true that the variety of black powder (Estes/Quest) motors has decreased with time. No longer do we have the "port-burning" B8, B14, or C5 motors, capable of propelling heavier models off the launch rod or serving as the 1st stage booster in 18 mm 3 stage rockets, such as the old Estes Farside or Centuri Arrow 300. This is why the Estes Comanche-3 uses the 24 mm C11 in the 1st stage - no 18 mm motor in the current line up can safely lift the model. So when I need heavy lift, I often resort to 18 mm clusters (yeah, I know - there's the Aerotech D21, but a) it's a composite and b) is fairly expensive). Besides, clustering adds a bit more suspense to the launch and the rocket definitely looks cooler riding multiple pillars of fire into the sky.

My RX-16 blasts skyward on 2 C6-5 motors (Click to enlarge).
So you can easily see why I was intrigued when Centuri released their "Rocketry Exploration Power System Outfit" back in 1977. Designed to teach "advanced" rocketry, it featured a 18mm 2 stage minimum diameter payload model (the RX-7) and, wonder of wonders, a ST-16 (BT-60) based payloader (the RX-16) with interchangeable single and dual 18 mm motor mounts. The motor mount setup, called "Plug and go" was simplicity itself - A JT-60 coupler was glued into the main body tube at a depth corresponding to the length of a JT-60 coupler. Then the end of a motor hook was inserted into a slit cut just below the coupler; this was held in place by gluing a piece of paper-like material (Tyvek) to the body tube over most of the length of the hook. The motor mounts were constructed the standard way using JT-60 couplers. All you had to do was pull back the hook, slide the motor mount into the tube, and release the hook, which prevented the mount from separating at ejection - just like inserting a motor. My youthful self was all over this - I ordered one of these sets, which unfortunately did not last a year (I was pretty hard on rockets back then).

Pages from the Centuri Power System manual showing the construction of the RX-16
Click here for the full size scans.

Flash forward to summer of 2011 - While looking for a new project, I ran across the Power System manual on Ninfinger's site. I remembered how much I enjoyed the versatility of the RX-16, and after confirming that Semroc had all the parts (Balsa version of the plastic cone and laser cut fins being the most important), set about building a clone. However, this time I would add a 3rd motor mount - for 24 mm motors - in addition to the two that were part of the set. Because of its versatility, the RX-16 soon became the workhorse of my fleet, lofting cameras and altimeters to a range of altitudes and testing stuff like the Jolly Logic Chute Release. I love this rocket - I can choose a low impulse B for small fields, cluster A motors for school demos, or cram a D into it for altitude or payload lofting. It is incredibly flexible.

The "easy peasy" motor mount retention system
(Click to enlarge).
The motor mounts (Click to enlarge).
So flexible in fact, that I decided to include the "Plug and go" concept into Beulah, a Big Bertha derivative with a payload section. Good thing I did, for Beulah is built for survivability and turned out to be a bit on the heavy side - I have to resort to C's or D's to get decent altitude out of her, even with an empty payload section. 

Beulah - Bertha and Betty's big sister (Click to enlarge).
There are other schemes for interchanging motor mounts, like the twist and lock approach used in the the Semroc SLS kits and the MRC Concept Series. The Centuri approach has the advantage of simplicity and is very easy to implement - even for novice rocketeers. Give it a try if you want a versatile mod roc.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The 2016/2017 build list...

I admit to suffering from rocket ADD - it is far too easy to distract me from existing or planned projects. One look at a Facebook image of a rocket, an old catalog page, or a thread on Ye Olde Rocket Forum is enough to start an impromptu build, pushing the existing construction to the bottom of the queue. Given this, one may wonder why I bother to compose a list for the winter build season. The answer is simple - I generally manage to construct over half the models on the list, which, IMO, is pretty good. Let's consider the 2014/2015 build plan:
  • Big Bertha - No brainer. No fleet is complete without a Bertha, and mine was put out of commission at the Rocket City Blast Off.
  • Beulah - A Big Bertha derivative, featuring a two motor cluster. Inspired by Chris Michielssen's Big Girtha.
  • Centuri Micro-Probe clone - One of the best looking 2 stage rockets ever designed.
  • S.S. Cestris by Sirius Rocketry - Been wanting to build this kit for some time.
  • Estes Gyroc clone - Always wanted to build one of these "Helicopter recovery" rockets. A classic.
  • SpaceX Falcon 9
  • Estes Scrambler clone - The quintessential egg lofter. never had one of these as a youngster, though I really, really wanted one.
  • Estes Orbital Transport - Yes, it will be a pain to build. But it looks and flies so cool... love the glider!
  • Tiny Tim scale model - Have the parts, have the design, time to get this puppy built
Of these, I built the Big Bertha, Beulah, the Centuri Micro-Probe clone, the SpaceX Falcon 9, and the Estes Scrambler clone. That's 5 out of 9, or about 55% - certainly enough to warrant making a list for this year. However, I must account for my rocket ADD, so I'm going to keep it small to allow for the "impromptu projects." Therefore, the 2016/2017 plan is comprised of only 3 rockets:
  • Estes Gyroc clone - A carry-over from the 2014/2015 list. Important to build this one as 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the kit's release.
  • Centuri Mach 10 clone - Had one of these as a kid, but I could never get a decent glide out of it. Time to try again.
These three will do for a start. I would also like to get around to the Orbital Transport and the Semroc reproduction of the Estes Trident sometime in 2017, but you never know - there are lots of distractions in the rocket universe!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Recovering from burn out...

This is a short catch-up post - have been fighting a cold for just over a week and am not my usual verbose self.

October was filled with scouts and rocketry - we had scout launch events on 3 Saturdays, which kept me and other HARA members quite busy. Busy enough that I began to feel like my hobby was becoming work. And when the fun stuff is no longer much fun, burn out happens. Adding in a couple of out of town trips over Halloween and the 1st week of November resulted in a perfect equation for not getting much rocket building done. Progress on the Mars Snooper stopped, there was one awaiting finishing on the bench, and I had another two in primer, screaming at me for coats of paint. I just couldn't summon the enthusiasm to move these projects along.

Fortunately, some motivation returned this past week, probably because Pegasus Field has now been mowed, clearing the way for weekend launches. I managed to get my Mini Max out of primer into paint and made some decent headway in building the Mars Snooper. Still not done with the construction - there are lots of pieces, and I am sealing the balsa as I build (can you believe 7 nose cones, plus a transition and fins?), but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I also added the final coat of primer to my Enerjet 2250 down scale. Too much sanding, but things are now moving along.

We also held an inaugural launch for this seasons flying at Pegasus - Duane, Allen (a new HARA member), and I managed to put a few rockets into the air last weekend, and I can tell you that it felt good to actually fly some of my rockets! The four chosen were my Ghost Max (Estes Red Max with Ghostbusters markings from Stickershock 23), my Orange Max (a dual engine Red Max with Halloween decor), the Squirrel Works Vulture, and my Estes Bandit clone.  All the flights were flawless, and my birds came away unscathed; it was a good day to fly!

My Ghost Max looking pretty on the pad (Click to enlarge).
Dual A8-3's power the Orange Max up into the blue sky (Click to enlarge).
Duane's Squirrel Works "Pumpkin Pie" is ready to go (Click to enlarge).
Allen's Patriot emerges from the smoke (Click to enlarge).

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

TARC workshops and cell towers...

In terms of rocket events, September has been a busy month. A few days after the Geezer TARC launch, HARA hosted a Saturday TARC workshop at the Educator Resource Center located on the grounds of the Space and Rocket Center. The idea was to condense the information offered in HARA's hour long classes - which took place just before the monthly club meetings during TARC season -  into one day; we figured this would better enable the teams to get a good quick start into the competition. It worked out pretty nicely, and we got some nice compliments and feedback that will make next year's workshop even better.

TARC teams building the BMS School rocket at the HARA TARC workshop (Click to enlarge).
I began the workshop with an overview of TARC and this year's rules, then moved into the details of the Open Rocket design software and how to use it. Duane followed with the practical stuff - building techniques like cutting body tubes and fin slots, the double glue joint, using angle iron to mark body tubes, etc. Then each team applied some of these techniques in building the 3" School Rocket from Balsa Machining Service; it's a beefy 3" diameter, 24 mm powered bird that is perfectly suited for practicing painting and finishing techniques. Thanks to the generosity of HARA, the teams were able to take these rockets back to their schools, along with the tools and stuff they used in their construction. Mid-afternoon saw the end of the session, and I was convinced that the one day workshop was a much better approach than the classes. The kids were pretty fired up as they left, and it was clear that they had learned most of what they needed to know.

I have also been working with twelve 6th grade home schoolers at the Creative Discovery Museum in Chattanooga. Many of these kids participated in an introductory rocket workshop I gave there a few months back, and the museum decided to follow that workshop up with a month devoted to designing and building egg lofters - a "pre-TARC", if you will. The 2 hour sessions were held each Tuesday in September, and I conducted the first one via Skype. It was devoted to designing rockets using Open Rocket, with the students creating rockets capable of carrying an egg to 300 feet. The second class saw me traveling to the museum, where each of the four teams (consisting of 3 kids) built a Quest Courier egg lofter. I was in Europe on business last week, so the students took advantage of the class time to decorate the rockets, and yesterday was the much anticipated launch day.

Egg lofter designed by a team of 6th graders at the Chattanooga Creative Discovery Museum (Click to enlarge).
While I was in Europe, I realized that a frequent attendee at the Manchester launches, Keith Nyman, lived in Chattanooga and figured it might be a good idea to introduce him to the museum folks - an experienced local rocketeer is a handy resource. Fortunately, Keith is not one to pass up a rocket launch, and I was very pleased that he came out to help with the egg lofter launches; the two of us made short work of assisting the student teams in preparing their rockets for flight.

At the first workshop, the Creative Discovery Museum had obtained permission to launch on the banks of the Tennessee River in downtown Chattanooga; the proximity of the river to the north and busy streets to the south made for a less than ideal situation. For this launch, the museum approached Chattanooga High about using one of their fields for rocket flying, and the school kindly gave its permission. However, upon arrival I did not see the football field I was expecting; instead, I was greeted by a tiny baseball diamond, with a line of trees to the north, a construction site to the west, school buildings on the southeast, and a large cell tower at the southwest corner. Not good. Even though there was little wind, the available clear space was very small. Keith was very concerned about rockets landing on the roof of the school, whereas I was more worried about the trees and that menacing cell tower; it just screamed "rocket eater".

The pad was quickly set up and the launch got under way. The first Quest Courier powered off the rod on a C6-3, soaring up into the blue sky. Ejection occurred near apogee, and both parachutes deployed. I was relieved to see that the sustainer section of the rocket would land safely on the ball field, but then my worry became reality, as the egg capsule drifted straight for the cell tower, my $50 Jolly Logic Altimeter One dangling from the attach point. It landed in the middle of a small platform near the top of the cell tower, and I just knew I was being mocked by the rocket gods. There was nothing to be done, and with a sigh I turned to the students and informed them that our means of determining altitude was trapped about 100 feet above our heads. Not a good way to start.

A Quest Courier clears the pad powered by a C6-3 motor (Click to enlarge).
Keith and I adjusted the rod angle slightly, which paid dividends; both pieces of the next Courier landed in the field. The same could not be said of the last two launches - one saw a sustainer hanging out of reach on a tree branch and the other had an egg capsule drift into the forbidden territory of the construction site. This did not seem to matter much to the students, who had a great time despite the lost parts. They were thrilled to see the rockets they had built carry eggs high into the sky and return them safely to the ground - at least for the two eggs we could check. We then had a short Q&A session on the field, after which the kids went home and I returned to Huntsville. The museum was pleased, and I think they will continue with rocketry, which was the objective. Despite the loss of a few pieces, mission accomplished.

And now to find the money to replace the altimeter...

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Showdown at high noon...

This past Saturday was the day chosen for the long awaited Geezer TARC competition launch - a rather auspicious day, being on Labor Day weekend and also the opening Saturday of the college football season. I think we will fix this day for future Geezer TARCs; it's perfect for a rocket showdown.

Duane and I were the first to show at the Harvest Horse Farm, followed in short order by Woody, Art, Nate, Chuck, and Marc. There were only three competitors - myself, Duane, and Marc - but you would have sworn there were more from the volume of the smack talk being exchanged as we set up the range. We also had spectators; Constance and some of the Hope Rising TARC folks were there, along with Marc's family and Duane's daughter and her fiancé. Thankfully some of them brought canopies, as the day was blistering hot, making us quite grateful for the shade of the tents.

Art flew the first rocket of the day, a venerable Estes Sprint that he built way back in 1970 (can you believe a rocket actually survived 46 years?). The Sprint performed well, but Art had replaced the aging shock cord with a new, modern type, thereby requiring the nose cone to separate from the rest of the rocket. Fortunately a bit of searching turned up the prodigal piece, so the vintage rocket can take a bit of rest as an intact whole.

Art Woodling's vintage Estes Sprint takes to the air as Chuck's SR-71 awaits its turn
(Click to enlarge).
Chuck then launched a remote controlled SR-71 on a D12 motor. The boost was good, but he could not pull it out of a shallow dive, which ended in a hard landing and some minor damage. Undaunted, Chuck repaired the model, made some adjustments, and flew it again. However, the SR-71 was quite insistent on heading for the ground, resulting in another crash and even worse damage. Chuck also attempted to get a composite powered Red Max off the pad, but the old motor refused to light, even with an enhanced igniter. Deciding that Fortune was not smiling on his rockets, he pulled a couple of RC planes out of his SUV and delighted those present - especially the kids - with some precision flying.

Marc prepping one of his Geezer TARC birds (Click to enlarge).
Which brings us to Geezer TARC...

Duane launched the first model, which seemed to perform well, at least in duration. The timers measured it to be 39.7 seconds, pretty close to the 41 second time mark. However, the altitude was a disappointing 525 feet, some 250 feet below the goal. Thus it was that Geezer TARC began with a miserable score of 255.

My 2017 Geezer TARC birds - the 24mm powered EggsTerminator (BT-60 to BT-70) and
the 18 mm cluster Omelet Express (BT-60 to ST-18; Click to enlarge).
I would not fare much better; my E12 powered EggsTerminator performed better than simulated, achieving an altitude of 938 feet, 163 feet above the mark. The duration, 49.8 seconds, was also on the long side due to the higher apogee. Staring at the dismal 190 score, I consoled myself with two thoughts - 1) I was ahead of Duane, and 2) the descent rate was about right. I figured the rocket would have stayed aloft for 41 seconds if it had hit 775 feet dead on.

Marc ended the first round with his "conventional" rocket. It reached 731 feet, far closer to the mark than the first two models, and was down in 29.4 seconds - about 12 seconds short on the duration. This was still good enough to put him in the lead, with a 90.5 score.

We began round 2 enlightened with the knowledge that, even with our years of TARC experience, our  scores sucked greatly, being representative of the first flights of a first year team. Very humbling.

Duane's chance for redemption and retaining his title flopped; the duration, measured at 53.5 seconds, was over 10 seconds beyond the mark, and the apogee was still 173 feet low; the rocket struggled up to 602 feet. The 215 score put the two year Geezer TARC champion in last place.

My Omelet Express flew next. Propelled by a cluster of 3 C6-5's, it soared to 763 feet, just 12 feet shy of the magic 775. However, the 12" parachute proved a bit too big for the minimum diameter egg capsule, which descended at a slow 18 feet per second. The flight duration was a long 51.7 seconds, but it was close enough to yield a score of 46.7, the best of the day. Unfortunately, the sustainer parachute was singed by the ejection charges of the the 3 motors (too little wadding) and did not open, resulting in a hard landing. Rules are rules, and so I had to disqualify myself. Nonetheless, I was pleased that my much-ridiculed black powder cluster performed better than any other rocket in the competition. And you can bet that next time I will stuff more wadding into that damn tube.

Marc ended the competition by launching his "complex" rocket, which featured onboard electronic smarts to automatically reef the parachute if the descent rate was too low. This setup was never tested, as the fly-away rail guide attached to the rocket jammed in the rail and broke free, sending the model skidding across the field. No score, a disqualification, and a badly damaged rocket. Surprisingly, the egg (and the electronics) came out of the wreckage unscathed.

The 2017 Geezer TARC champion with his daughter and trophies. Congrats Marc!
(Click to enlarge)
Thus it was, after 2 rounds, Geezer TARC had a new champion - Marc Loertscher. And in an additional bit of irony, he also received the Flying Pig Award for the worst Geezer TARC flight, as well as the winner's trophy. Congrats, Marc! You were the best and the worst! I will say Duane yielded his title very graciously; perhaps it was because he was still scratching his head over why his rockets failed to make altitude.

Duane launches his "altimeter test vehicle" (Click to enlarge).
Ever the engineer, Duane flew his "altimeter test vehicle" on an F motor; designed to check altimeter consistency, it was loaded with 6 altimeters from various manufacturers, which made an awful din with their constant chirping. Next was his upscale Cherokee-D, which was borne aloft on the flames of 3 Estes E9-6 motors. This was Duane's first cluster, and I was pleased to see it perform flawlessly; obviously hanging around me has rubbed off in a positive way.

Duane's clustered upscale Cherokee-D streaks skyward on 3 E9 motors (Click to enlarge).
It was 3 PM, and unbearably hot. We declared the Geezer TARC launch over and headed back to our air conditioned homes and college football on the TV. Hopefully there will be better scores next year!

The embarrassing scores of this year's Geezer TARC (Click to enlarge... On second thought, don't).

Friday, August 12, 2016

Of names and paint schemes...

In every TARC season, you will find a team named "Generic School Team #1" among the Falcon Rocketeers, Jurassic TARC, Team Bazinga, and the Flying Circus. I must confess that I find this a bit annoying, as I am a firm believer in TARC teams - and their rockets - having names; without names, there is no team spirit, no passion, no commitment. "Generic School Team #1 flying rocket #1" doesn't cut the mustard; it has no soul and it is hard to envision this team being successful. However, "The Flying Circus launching Baron Eggster" just screams potential greatness. Names are important, as they impart a sense of identity to the team and personalities to the rockets. In my list of priorities, a team should  make choosing its name #1, right after formation, and the rocket should be named no later than after its first flight.

Which brings me to my Geezer TARC rockets. As mentioned in a previous post, I have two awesome designs, a 3 motor cluster minimum diameter beauty and a sleek 24 mm powered bird with a BT-70 based payload section and upscale Alpha fins. The latter had no name, whereas the former I had tentatively christened Agamemnon, after the mythical Greek king of Trojan War fame. However, the more I thought about it, the more I didn't like Agamemnon; it sounded very unTARC-like. So, I did a little more thinking, and finally hit upon a new name for this rocket - the Omelet Express. Very appropriate, considering the small diameter of the payload section doesn't leave much room for cushions for the egg. 

The name for the second rocket came quickly after Omelet Express... The sims revealed that the best motor for achieving the altitude goal was the CATO-prone Estes E12-6, which is infamous for blowing rockets into tiny bits of flaming wreckage. This brought to mind images of the destruction that accompanied the Terminator in the movies, so TARC rocket #2 shall henceforth be known as the Eggsterminator.

Names assigned. Now for the hard part - the color scheme for each rocket.

Having no sense of style, I suck at colors. That's one reason why I like building kits and clones so much - I can simply duplicate the kit cover art or catalog paint scheme and save myself many hours of agony trying to figure out what color combination looks good. After spending a couple of  frustrating hours surfing the net for good TARC rocket color combos, I realized that I could simply look through old catalogs for roughly similar designs and adopt those schemes. The Eggsterminator was easy - it looked like the upper stage of the Estes Farside-X, so it will have the red, yellow, white, and black decor of that model. The Omelet Express will sport the yellow and black scheme of the Estes Scrambler 2, an egglofter kit produced back in the 80's. Both of these are high visibility, which will make it easier to see the rocket against the sky while in flight and on the ground after landing. Colors to avoid are light blue, green, and above all, camouflage. I actually encountered a TARC team who painted a camouflage scheme on their rocket; they lost it on the second flight. Needless to say, lots of white is also not good for rocket visibility - too easy to loose track while in the air.

The Omelet Express (Click to enlarge).
The Eggsterminator (Click to enlarge).
The Omelet Express and Eggsterminator are in primer. Having settled on paint decors, I now need to get cracking on making some decals.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

A special club meeting...

On Thursday evenings from mid-March to mid-October, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center hosts a biergarten dinner in the Davidson Center underneath the giant Saturn V - A perfect combination of beer, german food, and giant rockets. One of the really neat things about the biergarten is that the Space and Rocket Center donates a share of the profits to the charity or non-profit selected as the focus of that evening's event. Thanks to the efforts of Daniel Cavender, this past Thursday featured HARA as the benefiting organization; naturally, we were there in force, and had the privilege of displaying some of our models among the giant beasts of the past. We answered questions and showed our wares for about 3 hours to a crowd of 700+ folks, who stopped by our tables on the way to the booze and food. Closing time (7:30 PM) came pretty quickly, after which we held our club meeting in the shadow of the Saturn V. How many clubs get to do that?

Curious space campers eye a 3-D printer making a simulated engine bell (Click to enlarge).
Dan Cavender's excellent Jayhawk and Little Joe II HPR models on display (Click to enlarge).
Food and booze underneath the Saturn V (Click to enlarge).
One of the best club meetings ever! (Click to enlarge).
And to add icing to the cake, we got a little extra money for the club treasury. Eat your hearts out, fellow rocketeers!

Also not a bad way to celebrate my birthday...

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

A bit of editorializing...

The above image is the drawing that accompanied editorial bits in the old Model Rocketeer magazine (a 60's/70's precursor to Sport Rocketry). It is very appropriate for this post, as I am about to do a bit of loud editorializing, words which will undoubtedly be lost in the ignorasphere surrounding the TARC universe. However, I feel they need to be said, and now is the time to do it, before TARC season begins in earnest.

Duane, my colleague and the current reigning TARC Geezer, and I are preparing an outline for a TARC workshop we are planning to host at the Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville. His part will consist of the proven techniques he and his teams have employed in building their TARC rockets - through-the-wall plywood fins, thick plywood centering rings, heavy body tubes, and generous applications of epoxy to hold these pieces together. Duane is not alone here, as many, many TARC teams have birds built in a similar fashion, which is a direct application of high power rocket construction techniques to the mid power models used in TARC. Strong and heavy equals survivable in this scheme; if you want your rocket to last, there is no other way.

I have one word for this...


(without the r, of course).

The techniques that Duane and many of my other friends use are overkill, tantamount to using a gun to kill an ant. Yeah, it works, but so does just stepping on the little pest. Let me explain my gripe with these techniques:

  • Through the wall fins are unnecessary in low and mid power - Gluing the fins on the body tube is plenty strong for the E and F motors commonly used in TARC. As a matter of fact, surface mounting the fins has been shown to work well all the way up to H impulse (just don't use a Warp 9 motor). The nice thing about surface mount is that cutting out the fins is easier because you don't have to worry about the fin tabs, and there is no need to sacrifice fingers cutting slots in the body tube. This translates to quicker build times.
  • White/wood glues are more than strong enough - If you follow the Handbook of Model Rocketry and use Aileen's Tacky Glue in a double glue joint, the fin ain't coming off. The body tube may fail, or the fin may break, but it won't come loose. Some rocketeers will tell you that the heat from the motors will soften white glue and cause failures, but I have NEVER, in all my decades of rocketry, witnessed this. I have seen fins on models left out in the summer sun all day get a little wriggly at the end, but this is easily solved by placing them in shade of your tent or canopy. You are never going to launch a rocket so fast that the heat from repeated firings will loosen the fins, even on minimum diameter models. The same applies to motor mounts and centering rings - white glue is simple to use and works very well in the mid power arena. It saves weight because it is less heavy than epoxy, and in rocketry, weight is everything.
  • Balsa/basswood are perfectly good materials for fins - they are lighter than plywood, and far easier to shape/airfoil. Balsa is not only the lightest, but it also can be made very strong with little weight increase by laminating the fin with paper or adhesive labels. This speeds construction because you do not need to apply a sealer to the fins - they will be ready for primer and paint right after fillets are applied.

I know you are wondering why so many TARC teams use HPR construction techniques if the above points are true. I believe I have a answer (not THE answer, but a answer). Many current mentors started out in rocketry with mid power and high power builds; they have little to no low power experience, so they teach what they know. I live in the world of low power rocketry, so I want to build light, efficient, and pretty. Therefore my approach is going to be different from that of my colleagues. And I think they will admit, despite the trash talk, that my birds have survived their flights just as well as their models have. And so I am going to preach a bit at the workshop about the low power approach in building TARC rockets, because I think it will save the teams time, work, and a little bit of money. Duane will have his say, of course, but so will I.

This year, I think I can accomplish the TARC goals on a cluster of 3 C motors, much less impulse than the other guys are using. If I do, they are gonna hear "Build light!" lots over the next several months.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Captain, she's on fire!

The National Association of Rocketry (NAR) hosts two big launches every year - the National Sport Launch (NSL) at the end of spring and NARAM in the summer. NSL is what we call a "fun fly"; rocketeers load up their birds and fly them at their discretion - achieving a certification is the most serious thing going at this launch. NARAM is a totally different beastie - while there is a sport range for fun flying, it is NAR's contest launch, designed and conducted for the continually decreasing crowd of diehard competition rocketeers. These folks square off in events such as parachute duration, rocket glider duration, C altitude, plastic model conversion, scale modeling, and R&D; in these, materials, skill, and knowledge are everything - practically anyone can do a level 1 or 2 certification, but it is very tough to win a NARAM competition event. High power folks are justifiably impressed when a rocketeer joins the ranks of the Level 3 Certified; however, with all due respect to my HPR brethren, I am more awestruck by the person who can win Scale at NARAM, as there are some incredibly talented and skilled competition rocketeers out there.

NARAM 58 is currently underway, and there is a wonderful web site,, where you can get a flavor of the action. I was perusing this site yesterday, and noticed a spectacular series of images taken at NARAM's opening sport launch on Saturday. They depict a rocket suffering a motor malfunction (CATO), and were so striking that I downloaded the set. After I did so, I noticed that NARAMlive had posted on its YouTube channel a live video of the flight, so let's take a look at that first, in real time:

Pretty cool, eh? Now consider this animation I made of the downloaded images:

This is one of the most awesome CATO sequences I have seen, so good in fact, that it prompted me to get off my rear and do a blog post. That is awesome indeed!

If you have some time, check out the NARAM action at Makes me wish I was there (my last NARAM was NARAM 30, back in 1988)...

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Ancient scrolls of wisdom...

February/March 1996 cover of the Max-Q newsletter (Click to enlarge).
When time permits - which is not that often these days - I have been digitizing copies of the old HARA newsletter, Max-Q. Now superseded by the Internet and social media, newsletters were the primary means of communication between rocketeers from the 1960's to the 1990's. They were the benchmark of the active rocket club, containing schedules and summaries of club launches and other events, product reviews, rocket plans, and mixtures of editorializing and humor. The newsletters were of varying degrees of quality, with some looking like small magazines; others were little more than copies (Xeroxes) of handwritten pages. The publication frequency ranged from monthly in the case of the big clubs to bimonthly or quarterly for the smaller sections like HARA. Over time, newsletters like SNOAR News were read by many NAR sections, infamous for their content and off-color humor.
Table of contents for an edition of SNOAR news (Click here for PDF of full issue)
The big rocket companies like Estes and Centuri also used newsletters to communicate with their customers. As a kid, I eagerly looked forward to receiving the latest copy of Model Rocket News, American Rocketeer, or the Estes Aerospace Club Newsletter, for it was there that new products were announced and special deals offered. I lived for those special deals, because the discounts enabled me to buy many kits that were normally beyond my allowance.

Cover of the January 1971 edition of the Estes Model Rocket News (Click here for
PDF of full issue)
Alas, time and technology have relegated the newsletter to musty attics, slowly decaying into dust. However, there is much in the way of plans and tips that can be gleaned from these ancient scrolls, the products of much labor and love. If you have a chance, I recommend a Google search for SNOAR News, MaxQ, Estes Model Rocket News, Centuri American Rocketeer, and so forth. Such a trip down memory lane is sure to provide some useful information and maybe even a laugh or two. It's definitely worth the expenditure of an hour or two.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

A very hot rocket launch...

Today we (Chuck and I) conducted a small rocket launch at the annual Boeing Shrimp Boil, held at the Easter Posey Recreation Area on the Arsenal. Even though Redstone is the home of many Army missiles and Marshall Space Flight Center, launching model rockets is verboten there without special permission. Chuck managed to skillfully navigate through the bureaucratic hordes, which required a fair amount of paperwork, including the dimensions, gross lift-off weight, impulse class, and estimated altitude for each rocket slated to be flown. It came down close to the wire, as we received permission to fly yesterday, barely 24 hours before the event. I have to give kudos to Chuck - a less patient person would have given up or passed the buck back to Boeing.

Today's launch site (Click to enlarge).
Chuck picked me up at 2 PM, and we arrived at the Easter Posey rec area around 2:30. We set up the range - 3 racks of 3 rods with the appropriate banks and the HARA launch controller - in a small clear area surround by trees and power lines; the Tennessee River was just 50 yards to the south. It's a good thing this was a small launch - the heat was stifling, with a temp of 97. Combined with the Alabama humidity, we labored in a "feels like" temperature of over 100. Needless to say, we scurried for some shade as soon as the range was complete, drinking bottles of nice cool water as we prepped the eight Sky Duster and Fat Jax rockets bought by Boeing for the kiddos at the event. Given the smallness of the clear area, these birds would fly on 1/2 A3 motors and, being lightweight, would use "nose blow" recovery.

Chuck helps the kids load their rockets (Click to enlarge).
The launch began at 4 PM, with the kids' rockets taking to the air first. All landed safely fairly close to the pad; I was amazed at the energy of the children, who eagerly chased after the rockets in the oppressive heat. Young 'uns are tough! Our rockets followed next - I flew an Alpha 3 on an A8-3, a Snitch saucer on a C6, a venerable Estes Porta-Pot Shot (flying model of a porta potty) on a C6, and a Estes Color the Sky Pink Crayon on a B6-4. Chuck flew a red, white, and blue Make-It-Take-It rocket on an A motor. We then loaded up the stars of the show - A Real Space Rockets 1/92 scale model of the Boeing CST100 capsule perched on top of a ULA Atlas rocket, and a Dr. Zooch SLS model built by the Boeing guys. The Zooch SLS flew first, on a C6-5; it put in a very nice straight flight, but unfortunately became the day's sacrifice to the Rocket Gods when it landed in the top of a tall tree.  The CST-100/Atlas flew well on a C11 motor, and I gave it to the Boeing folk to commemorate the event. A rush job, it was not one of my best works - the model looked ok, but the capsule paint job left a bit to be desired as I suck with a paint brush.

A Fat Jax clears the rod (Click to enlarge).
After all rockets had flown, Chuck and I started closing up shop, but I began to feel nauseous from the heat and had to sit down. He completed stowing the gear in his SUV, and after drinking some more water, we headed home. It is very mportant to stay hydrated during summer launches, especially if you are old and chubby like me - way too easy to get overheated.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Saturday morning with the Cub Scouts...

Saturday morning, 8:30 AM found Chuck and myself setting up a few launch pads at the Space and Rocket Center launch field; Cub Scout Pack 351 was having its annual "Rocket Blast" and we were running the range. The weather was nice - passing clouds reduced the Sun, keeping the temperature reasonable, and the wind was blowing from the east, pushing the rockets away from the tree line (for once). The USSRC/Space Camp field is very much like the "Sargasso Sea" of rocketry; rockets in varying states of decay hang from the trees like Christmas ornaments; spent igniters, motor casings, engine hooks, and other rocket debris litter the ground. No matter how many times I go there I stand in awe of the carnage around me.

The trees surrounding the field are filled with dangling rockets  - all are like this one. Great source for plastic nose
cones (Click to enlarge)!
Every scout brought a rocket - there was much variety, in style and complexity, ranging from ARTFs like the Chrome Dome to Alpha IIIs to builder's kits like the Estes Lynx. Chuck gave a quick flyers briefing just after 9 AM, and we were off to the races. I would estimate that about 60 rockets took to the sky in the next 90 minutes, with only one landing in a tree, which had to be some kind of record for that small field.  I could almost hear the rocket gods' stomachs growl as this feast mostly passed them by. The only hitch in the launch was the large number of igniter misfires - the new Estes Starters ain't anywhere near as good as the old Solar Igniters; the lack of pyrogen on the Starters really makes a difference, especially when dealing with inexperienced flyers. Care must be taken to insure the tip of the igniter is touching the black powder.

Chuck gives a safety briefing to the Cubs (Click to enlarge).
We packed up about 10:30, just before a group of Space Campers were scheduled to take the field with their birds. I can only hope they were as lucky as Pack 351, but given that the Space Camp pads had rods angled almost straight into the trees to the North, I kinda doubt it. I have a note on my door reminding me to visit the field and pick up some nose cones, engine hooks, etc. from the ground beneath the trees - free parts for scratch builds!

Cub rockets await launch (Click to enlarge).
Cub scout rocket going up (Click to enlarge)...And coming down (Click to enlarge)...
A Space Camp counselor readies the Estes-built pads, which are due to be replaced later this year after decades of
use (Click to enlarge).

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Making Geezer TARC a little more interesting...

This past week I was petitioned to amend the rules to allow second flights for Geezer TARC participants, just like the top teams at the National Fly-off in Virginia. The altitude goal for this second flight is different than the 775 foot mark required to get into the top 100 for Nationals and the first round flights. This year, those that are granted a second flight must hit 800 feet, a switch from past years where the second altitude goal was always lower than the first. At first, it seemed like overkill for our little Geezer competition, but after some consideration, I thought "Why not?" So, in the interest of providing a little variety this year, let us make a new addition (denoted by bold italics) to the 2017 Geezer TARC rules:

Geezer TARC begins with the announcement of the 2017 rules in May and ends with the contestants’ rockets being launched at a single event (date TBD, but well before school starts in late summer).

Each contestant may enter up to two rockets. These rockets may not fly before the official launch date, and the first round score shall be determined by the first flight of each on that date. The contestant's score shall be the better of the two flights, or the score of one flight if only one rocket is entered.

Two flyers with the best scores will then be granted second flights, with the new altitude mark being set to 800 feet. If two rockets were flown, then either model may be selected for this second round. The winner of Geezer TARC will be the flyer who has the best score in this second set of flights.

Any commercial altimeter may be used to determine altitude. However, reflights are not allowed if there is an altimeter malfunction; in this case, the flight will be disqualified (So choose a reliable altimeter). As per the 2017 rules, the rocket may contain only one altimeter, though the use of a Jolly Logic Chute Release is permitted.

There is only one rocket per design, and there are no test or sub-scale flights permitted for the design. Its merit will be judged solely by the rocket’s performance at the contest launch. If two rockets are entered, they must be of substantially different design - different number of motors, fins, or something major - an inch shorter or taller does not constitute a substantial difference, nor does the same design at a different scale (e.g., BT-70 versus BT-80 versions).

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A great Memorial Day weekend!

A high power rocket blasts off from the away pad as racks of smaller rockets await their turn (Click to enlarge).
Well, the National Association of Rocketry's National Sport Launch (NSL) 2016 has come and gone... It was quite the event, spanning Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, with rocketeers as far away as Wisconsin and Germany in attendance - all with rockets to fly! The preliminary count indicates that there were 595 flights during this year's NSL, 2 of which were mine. I probably should have flown more, but HARA, Nashville's MC squared, and Georgia's SOAR were hosting the launch, which meant plenty of work for all. My duty was to take in the launch and capture a lot of pictures so I can write the launch story for Sport Rocketry magazine. A pretty nice and fun job!

Range Safety Officers hard at work (Click to enlarge).
Since I am writing an article, I am not going to go into much detail about NSL here. However, it would be negligent not to write something, so I would like to share a few favorite memories from the past few days.

The PemTech tent, home to some mighty cool kits (Click to enlarge).
Meeting the PemTech folks - Layne and Kristine Pemberton are fantastic folks who have a terrific rocket company specializing in retro and exotic birds. I spent some time at their tent lusting after the offerings and got to witness the flights of some potential new releases. Naturally, I ended up buying a few kits, including a 18mm model of the Space Ark from "When Worlds Collide." Looking forward to building it!

Leo Nutz launches his Marauder (Click to enlarge).Bob Kaplow's Purple People Eater lifts off
(Click to enlarge),
Seeing Leo Nutz fly some unusual low power rockets - Leo is from Germany, and I have been following his internet posts about his home brew altimeter for many moons. It is a fabulous piece of work, and I got to see a version fly in a small, mini motor powered Estes Elliptic II - the world's smallest dual deploy rocket! He also brought along a 1970's vintage Estes Coldpower convertible Marauder, which he flew Sunday. Coldpower rockets were powered by freon, which is banned today, so Leo used airbrush propellant as a substitute. The Marauder flew well, achieving an altitude of a couple hundred feet.

Rusty Ward shows off an upscale Xarconian Destroyer
(Click to enlarge).
Mark Burdick and Whitney Richards compare old
school rockets (Click to enlarge).
Hanging with other rocketeers - I got to meet the infamous Bob Kaplow, noted for his "Kaplow clip" motor retention and propensity for flying strange model rockets. His "Purple People Eater" put in a pretty interesting flight. I also spent considerable time looking at Rusty Ward's collection of upscale Estes rockets - I especially like the upscaled "Asteroid Hunter"  and "Scorpius." Rusty is a master craftsman, as you can tell from the pic. I can only hope to build models that good looking. Introduced myself to a few rocketeers from the Wisconsin WHOOSH section, who brought along a considerable number of birds easier to fly. WHOOSH is one of NAR's more active sections, and it was cool to meet some of the rocketeers who post in that club's internet forum. Rocketeers are a friendly bunch, and I really enjoyed talking with those who came from near and far to fly on the Manchester field.

Scott Goebel from WHOOSH hooks up his tower launched, E-powered Saturn V (Click to enlarge).
Lots of Nike Smokes - Big ones, medium ones, and little ones, flying on Saturday and Sunday.

An E motor CATO damages Rusty Ward's upscale
Starship Vega (Click to enlarge).
My Quasar leaves the rod on a B6-4 (Click to enlarge).
Estes E motor CATOs - Also a fair number of these, unfortunately.

Art Woodling's level 3 flight - Art achieved his level 3 certification on Monday, flying a huge M powered rocket named "Baby Girl." It performed beautifully, generating excitement from liftoff to landing, which was a spectacular splashdown in the pond down range. Fortunately, no damage to the rocket or to the electronics, though Art did say that he was not allowed to bring it into the house because it smelled like swamp. Here's a vid of the flight taken by Max Tohline:

And that's just a few bits from NSL - you can find out more by visiting the NSL 2016 Facebook page or googling it.