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permits - which is not that often these days - I have been digitizing copies of the old HARA newsletter, Max-Q. Now superseded by the Internet and social media, newsletters were the primary means of communication between rocketeers from the 1960's to the 1990's. They were the benchmark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).