Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Bill's NARCON adventure...

Inert Black Brant sounding rocket in the hotel parking lot. We got a visit from the police - who fortunately had a
sense of humor - when someone reported this to the authorities (Click to enlarge).
This past weekend, I checked off one of the items on my bucket list by showing up at NARCON, the annual convention of the National Association of Rocketry (NAR). This was my first time at this event, and my expectations were at the modest level, set there by so-so reports of past NARCONs. However, I figured it was worth the flight to Dulles and the cost of the hotel to see what one of these critters was like, and so I showed up at the Crowne Plaza Dulles Hotel late Thursday night. The hotel accommodations were ok, not great, but I am pleased to report that the 2017 NARCON exceeded my expectations by a considerable amount - simply put, this gathering of rocketeers was fabulous!

The first event of this year's convention - a tour of Aurora Flight Sciences - occurred on Friday afternoon. Unfortunately, I did not go, hesitant to risk making my injured right knee worse. I was disappointed, for the honcho of Aurora is John Langford, who is an acquaintance from my misbegotten youth. Back in the summer of 1974, John and I attended the Georgia Governor's Honors Program at Wesleyan College - he was an ace rocketeer, readying an Athena scale model for international competition, and I was the enthusiastic pain-in-the-butt sophomore dogging his steps. John was very patient, taking my annoying behaviors in stride, and I learned a lot from him; my sojourn into competition rocketry was fueled by the Governor's Honors experience. Despite missing the Aurora tour, I did get to briefly catch up with him on Saturday. Even though he operates a very successful company, John is still a rocketeer, helping NAR and serving as manager of the U.S. team in international competitions. The success that was evident in 1974 has manifested in multiple arenas over the years.

John Hocheimer presents the 'State of NAR' at the town hall (Click to enlarge).
Friday night was the NAR town hall, where the 'State of NAR' presentation is given. Bottom line, NAR is doing well, but we still need to attract young folk - a significant fraction of the membership are tottering old baby boomers like me. I passed a few minutes before the town hall ogling some rockets from an estate that were being sold by the host section, NOVAAR (Northern Virginia Association of Rocketry). It was a sore test of will power, for there were some mighty sweet deals in those bins!

Matt Steele presents his analysis of the S1 Altitude event at the R&D session (Click to enlarge).
The town hall was followed by the R&D presentations, the topics of which ranged from designing better competition glider wings (done by a high school student!), to analysis of the factors influencing competition altitude (mainly weight), to building a pressure simulator that can be used to investigate altimeter filtering algorithms, to looking at the consistency in the added boost provided by piston launchers (it adds up to 30 meters per second to the rocket's speed). I also enjoyed Tim Van Milligan's presentation on the drag of launch lugs and rail buttons; he used Adobe FlowView as a virtual wind tunnel in his investigations, which showed that a) rail buttons are draggier than launch lugs, b) longer launch lugs are less draggy than short ones, and c) angling/beveling the forward end of the lug reduces its drag. There is quite a bit of research going on within NAR, no doubt helped by the generous cash prizes given to the winners of the R&D competition.

Jim Barrowman talks about the factors governing rocket stability (Click to enlarge).
The sessions started on Saturday at 9 AM. There were four parallel tracks, which forced me to choose which talk I would attend in each time slot. This was not easy, as there were some pretty interesting presentations that made the picking tough. If HARA ever hosts a NARCON, I will push for 2 parallel tracks and a half day longer convention to reduce anguish caused by this choosing of talks. Anyway, I opted to attend the following:
  • The Stine and Desind Collections at the Smithsonian, by Brian Nicklas (one of the archivists)
  • Making Lightweight Fiberglass Bodies, by Tim Van Milligan of Apogee
  • Finishing and Painting Rockets, by Carl Curling of NOVAAR
  • RockSim Design and Flight Simulation for TARC, by Tim Van Milligan of Apogee
  • Model Rocket Stability and Aerodynamic Equations, by Jim Barrowman (who developed the Barrowman equations for calculating rocket center of pressure - this guy is a legend in the community, with good reason)
  • Flight Testing in TARC, by Trip Barber, NAR TARC Manager
  • The New Look of NAR Competition, by Ed LaCroix (one of the folks trying to make rocket competition more attractive, thereby saving it from extinction)
Can you believe this fiberglass rocket weighs only
10 grams (Click to enlarge)?!
One of the TARC rockets used to develop this
year's rules (Click to enlarge).
My brain was about to burst when the last session ended at 5 PM, but I had to jump across the hall to attend the manufacturers presentations. There were nine of these, each song and dance allotted about 5 minutes:
  • Matt Steele, who announced the Hobgoblin (a 29 mm pseudo upscale of the Estes Goblin) and a scale SLS kit.
  • Gary Rosen of AeroTech, who showed off the new Arreauxbee-Hi and Monstra rocket kits (the Monstra can be used to certify level 1 and level 2). The 18 mm composites are coming along, but no release date as of yet (we did get to see some cool looking A3-4's in their packaging though).
  • Randy Boadway of eRockets, who showed off the new Maple Leaf and Jaybird rocket kits. He also displayed a re-engineered Scissors Wing that may also be released later, provided Estes doesn't bring it back.
  • Tim Van Milligan of Apogee Components, who talked about future plans, some of which involve releasing Shrox designs, such as the SkunkWulf (alas, no RockSim update was announced).
  • Wes Oleszewski (the infamous Dr. Zooch), who was promoting his line of "Growing Up With Spaceflight" books. I have read the first one on Project Mercury, and it is VERY good.
  • Andy Jackson of Aerospace Specialty Products, who proudly displayed his line of 29mm scale kits.
  • John Beans of Jolly Logic, who got me very excited about the upcoming Altimeter 4, which is small and incredibly powerful. I cannot wait for its release later this year!
  • Doug Frost of Frost Rocketry, who was promoting his rocket golf kits. He goes around challenging golfers to best his models in rounds of golf - they use clubs, he uses his rockets.
  • Cosmic Vests and Ties, who were modeling their line of space-themed vests and ties.
Randy Boadway of eRockets displays the Maple Leaf and Jaybird (Click to enlarge).
The new Arreauxbee-Hi and Monstra from AeroTech (Click to enlarge).
AeroTech 18 mm composites (uses Blackjack formulation - Click to enlarge).
Matt Steele shows off the Hobgoblin. He is also developing a line of motor retainers that look like nozzles - he's
holding one to the back of the Hobgoblin (Click to enlarge).
I then rushed up to my room to "freshen up" before the banquet began at 7. The guest of honor was Lee Piester, who is the founder of Centuri, one of the big two rocket companies of the 60's and 70's (the other being Estes, of course). My first rocket was a Centuri Javelin, so I was very eager to hear Lee's perspective on those days. His talk was terrific, and he kindly autographed one of my old Centuri catalogs - an excellent end to a good day. I also have to give a shout-out to John Beans, who donated 17 Chute Releases as door prizes for the banquet. Naturally, I got nothing, but Vince, who was seated next to me, won one of those beauties. Some people just have all the luck!

Lee Piester presents his "Centuri Memories" at the banquet (Click to enlarge).
After the banquet, I spend some time at the hotel bar talking with Daniel, the Rocket N00b and one of three hosts of The Rocketry Show podcast. He and one of the other hosts, C. G., were there at NARCON, interviewing the rocket luminaries for the podcast. We spent about an hour discussing various aspects of rocketry, which was the perfect way to end the evening. For those of you who haven't heard an episode of The Rocketry Show, you ought to mosey over there and give it a listen - lots of good rocket stuff crammed into an hour!

Steampunked rockets on display at registration table (Click to enlarge).
On Sunday morning, I joined the other NARCON attendees for a special showing of the Space Station IMax movie and a docent-guided tour of the Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum. It was very nice to be back amongst all that aerospace history - planes and rockets in abundance - but we got the extra cool bonus of a behind-the-scences look at the Air and Space archives. Very impressive!

Back at glorious Udvar-Hazy (Click to enlarge)!
NARCON formally ended with the tour of Udvar-Hazy.  I returned to my hotel room and collapsed, very happy to have been part of this year's convention, which had over 200 attendees. Good company, lots of learning, lots of memories - what more can you ask?

Monday, February 20, 2017

Sunday flying...

The 'Cherokee nation' loaded on the pads (Click to enlarge).
Our streak of nice Saturdays was broken by the rain that started this past Friday night, continuing through Saturday morning. It put a damper on TARC practice, but left hope for some personal flying on Sunday, which was absolutely beautiful - blue sky, temperatures in the low 70's, and a light wind out of the North. Not being able to pass up a day like that, Duane and I showed up at Pegasus around 1 PM, with our range gear and a SUV full of rockets. For me, it was 'scale day' - I had packed 6 of my semi-scale birds and the indomitable Beulah, equipped with a Perfectflite PNUT altimeter and an HD keychain camera. Duane brought his 2 member 'Cherokee nation', an Estes Leviathan, the yellow and black Beast, a Death Star from the old Estes Star Wars series, a red Semroc Scout, and a purple and yellow mid power rocket. Set up took just over 10 minutes, and there was mucho flying in the 2 hours that followed; here's the short flight log:

My Little John gets started by an A3 motor
(Click to enlarge).
The Little John under chute (Click to enlarge).
Estes Little John clone - flying on an A3-4T motor, my olive drab Little John was first up, serving as the 'wind test vehicle.' Flying straight as an arrow, it grabbed some very decent altitude before descending under a 9" ripstop nylon chute to a soft landing near the pads. A good way to start the day!

BMS Mini Bomarc posing on the pad
(Click to enlarge).
And leaving it (Click to enlarge).
BMS Mini-Bomarc - Unlike its past flight, this model deviated sharply from vertical after leaving the rod; I am still puzzling over the cause. The A10-3T managed to put it at a decent ejection altitude, but the shock cord snapped near the nose cone, causing the rocket body to slowly fall horizontally to the ground. The nose landed only a few feet away from the rest of the rocket, which was undamaged.  Fortune had smiled upon me - I have enough rockets in the repair queue.

Duane's yellow and purple rocket rides red fire up the
rail (Click to enlarge).
And sticks the landing (Click to enlarge).
Yellow and purple rocket - this mid power bird of Duane's was loaded with an old Aerotech Redline motor, which took 2 tries to start. Even then, it huffed and chuffed quite a bit before leaving the pad (kinda like me at the field). The bird achieved a modest altitude before ejection, which snapped the shock cord - I was worried a trend might be developing. Both parts were recovered with little damage, though the body did "stick the landing" on one fin in the soft ground.

My Patriot on the pad (Click to enlarge).And leaving the rod on a B6-4 (Click to enlarge).
Estes Patriot - Always a good flyer, my semi-scale Patriot headed into the blue on a B6-4. Ejection was near apogee, and landing was soft and gentle. I was very relieved that the shock cord did not break.

The Thrustline D-Region Tomahawk starts to
move on a D12-5 (Click to enlarge).
Duane tries to get it out of the tree (Click to enlarge).
Thrustline D-Region Tomahawk - I figured that this model was due some time in the air, so it was next up on an Estes D12-5. It soared to maybe 800 feet or so and popped the ripstop parachute just past apogee. Everything was looking good until I noticed it was headed for the line of small trees at the edge of the field on the east side. Sure enough, it plopped itself into the branches of one, just out of reach, requiring the use of a nearby pole and some jumping on the part of Duane for recovery. It's a bit scratched from the extraction, but a little touchup should have it ready for more flying.

The Beast on the pad (Click to enlarge).And emitting a cloud of smoke on its way up
(Click to enlarge).
The "Beast" - Duane's old TARC rocket nearly gassed us both as we strove to get away from the dark sooty smoke cloud left behind by the Smoky Sam Aerotech motor. The Beast performed well on F impulse, landing safely under parachute.

Liftoff of the Falcon 9 (Click to enlarge).And descending by parachute (Click to enlarge).
Falcon 9 with fairing - I picked this model because Space X had just completed a successful Falcon 9 launch from the Cape earlier that morning. The small version flew straight into the blue for some decent altitude on a D12-5, recovering undamaged on a black ripstop nylon parachute (no, it did not have retro rockets like the real one - way beyond my skills). It would fly again before we left, with the same results.

Duane with his upscale Cherokee-D
(Click to enlarge).
It lifts off on the thrust of 3 E motors
(Click to enlarge).
Upscale Cherokee-D - The largest member of Duane's 'Cherokee nation', it was propelled off the pad by a cluster of 3 Estes E9 motors. The arrow-straight flight was recorded by an onboard camera, and I am dying to see the footage, because - yep, you guessed it - the shock cord snapped. It's a good thing that the Cherokee-D has those big fins, as they caused the rocket body to spin horizontally, slowing its fall to the ground. No damage to the big chief, so I'm sure it will make an appearance at Pegasus soon - hopefully with a stronger shock cord. Watching the video is going to be nausea-inducing with all that spin.

Duane's Cherokee-D on his Tilt-a-pad replica
(Click to enlarge).
On its way to being a sacrificial lamb
(Click to enlarge).
Semroc Cherokee-D - Duane got brave with this model; he actually loaded a D12-7 into the motor tube and broke out the binoculars (the "manual tracking device") in anticipation of the altitude. Sure enough, the Cherokee-D shot off the pad on its way to achieving the highest peak height of the day. I was pleasantly surprised that my old eyes could follow it all through the flight - through apogee and ejection, all the way down to landing - which was 40 feet up in a tree on the south edge of the field. Duane made the required trip down range to wave bye to his sacrifice to the rocket gods, who mocked him by dangling it from a branch. However, I have been informed that there is an almost finished replacement, so the Cherokee nation will not be depleted of members. 

Beulah flight video

Beulah - Powered by a D12-5, Beulah reached a bit over 700 feet before deploying her chute for a soft landing. Last night I merged the data from the PNUT altimeter with the keychain video to create the following vid, which marks the first time I have modified an existing gauge in DashWare.

Beulah on a D12-5 (Click to enlarge).My Viking 7 scale model rises from the smoke of 2
B6-4 motors (Click to enlarge).
Rocketarium Viking 7 - My first scale kit from Rocketarium, it was also the only cluster flown on Sunday. 2 B6-4's helped it along to a nice altitude, where it deployed its 18" ripstop nylon parachute. Landed undamaged in the field.

Duane's Estes Death Star (Click to enlarge).Bound for destruction on a C6-3 (Click to enlarge).
Estes Death Star - Next up was Duane's Death Star, which lumbered off the pad on C6 power. Apogee was around the usual 200 feet, and the Death Star broke into 4 pieces at ejection, each recovered by streamer. The fragments were recovered by a young guest, who was quite delighted by the flight. Duane gave her one of the Estes Make-It-Take-It rockets, which her dad built in a very short time with gel super glue.

The blast deflector glows blue at the ignition of
the Leviathan's F motor (Click to enlarge).
The Leviathan clears the rail (Click to enlarge).
Estes Leviathan - This classic of Duane's rode a pillar of blue fire into the sky, with the F52 motor carrying it to over 900 feet. The Jolly Logic Chute release deployed the parachute at 300 feet, landing the model undamaged on the field. Our club president and his wife had joined us on the field about the time Beulah made her flight, and we quickly impressed Laura into LCO duty. Naturally, she did a fabulous job sending the Leviathan and other models on their upward journeys.

Estes Scout - Duane's Scout got a little exercise at the launch, doing its thing on an A motor. Unfortunately, tumble recovery doesn't work so well when you land on asphalt; one of the fins was broken on landing, to the point where Duane has decided to build another. The Scout was his first rocket way back when, and he likes to have one around as a memorial to those ancient times.

Duane's Scout blasts off (Click to enlarge).The maiden voyage of our guest's Make-It-Take-It
(Click to enlarge).
Estes Make-It-Take-It - The last flight of the day was that of our young visitor's Make-It-Take-It; the red, white, and blue model put in a text book performance on an A8-3, landing softly under the orange and white Estes parachute.

And that was it for the day - 16 flights in 2 hours. A nice bit of fun for a Sunday afternoon.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Syncing video with altimeter data...

If you spend some time watching rocket vids on YouTube and other places you are bound to run across a few with the altitude, speed, and other data merged in with the flight video, often in a very stylish and colorful fashion. I always wondered how they did that, so last night I did a bit of googling to figure out what software was available. The search quickly pointed me to DashWare - a free product bought out by Go Pro a couple of years back. It had fabulous reviews, and seemed like a good thing to try, except for a couple of things - 1) It's a Windows only program, and 2) is no longer actively supported. Fortunately, I have a Windows 10 laptop (don't tell my macs!), which was quickly used to download the software; you can't beat free. I installed DashWare, placed a flight vid and the altimeter data associated with that flight in my Dropbox so I could access it from the PC, and ran the program.

Right into a brick wall...

DashWare would not load my movie, even though it was one of the supported file types (Quicktime MOV) - the preview pane showed nothing but gray. I spent about an hour checking codecs, running Windows 10 video diagnostics, and cursing the Microsoft empire, but nothing helped. I then did what I should have done in the first place - googled the problem. It turns out that DashWare does not support Windows 10, but there is a fix - you have to delete a DLL in the DashWare application directory and run the program from there; if you try running it from the desktop icon (which I deleted), it will "fix" the fix. Once this was done, the video loaded with nary a problem.

The DashWare main screen - Did I mention that it can add a title and end credits too? Click to enlarge.
DashWare makes superimposing data on the video pretty simple, the first step involving importing the video and data files. The software supports numerous data file formats, but the most important from an altimeter perspective is the ability to import CSV (comma separated values) files, which can be created from all altimeter software packages. Once the CSV file is imported, one applies a "data profile", which matches the columns up to variables understood by DashWare. Obviously, the most important of these is time, which is a required column - without it, you can't sync to the video. Creating data profiles is fairly easy, and I made and saved two - one for my Altus Metrum Micropeak and the other for the Jolly Logic Altimeter 3. You can also create computed columns in the data profile, like one that calculates G's from acceleration in feet per second squared.

After you have the video and data imported, you next need to create or select a gauge that will display the data on the video. There are a fair number included with the software, and, given that this was my first time using the package, I chose one of those. After you create or pick your gauge, you drag it to the desired location on the video preview and link the gauge inputs to the appropriate column variables in the data file. Very easy peasy, except that you need to remember to use one of the small gauges for standard resolution vids from keychain cameras and the like - DashWare is focused on HD (not surprising given the Go Pro connection) and so the larger gauges will cover a lot of the screen real estate in a SD movie.

The last step is to synchronize the video with the data, which is done by advancing the video to the frame which corresponds to the start of the altimeter data (first motion on the pad in the two flights I worked with) and check the sync with video box. DashWare will then do all the stuff needed to merge the two, and it is pretty neat to watch the gauges update in real time. I was amazed at how well it works - the altitudes - as judged from rocket turnover near apogee and landing - appeared to be pretty much spot on throughout the flight. Once this is done, you can export the project video to a stand alone file, which can be played, uploaded to YouTube, or whatever.

Standard definition keychain camera flight video with Jolly Logic Altimeter 3 data superimposed in lower left corner.

HD flight video with speed and altitude information from Micropeak altimeter displayed in lower right corner.

It's a shame that DashWare is no longer supported, as it is a very nice package. The searching turned up similar products, but none appears to be as easy to use. If you have a Windows box, or a computer with a Windows VM, you might want to use it to dress up those flight videos. After all, data displays make everything look cooler.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Getting ahead of the rain...

Jurassic TARC readies one of their rockets for flight (Click to enlarge).
There was considerable doubt earlier this week as to whether the scheduled Saturday TARC practice at Pegasus field would take place. The Weather Channel and other online sources placed the rain chances anywhere between 20-40%, with winds 10+ miles per hour out of the southwest; local forecasters gave a more favorable outlook, with scattered showers and a rain chance around 20%. Sure enough, the day began overcast and breezy, but radar showed no rain anywhere near Huntsville - the launch was a go. It was a good call, for the day turned out to be pretty good for rocket flying, despite the wind. However, the gloomy overcast made for sucky pictures, so please excuse the few accompanying this post.

The Falcon Rocketeers load their rebuilt rocket onto the pad (Click to enlarge).
Members of Jurassic TARC were already on the field when Duane and I arrived at 1 PM. As the minutes wore on, more and more TARC team members arrived, giving both Falcon and Jurassic TARC their best turnouts so far this year. It was a very easy time for Duane and I, as the teams have "got rhythm" - the rockets were readied with a harmonious efficiency, with nary a debate. The "benevolent dictator" had very little to do - Duane spent most of his time talking to the TARC parents - and had no room for complaint, as he was also guilty of the only real boo boo committed by one team - someone forgot to turn on the altimeter. It was very nice to see the teams working so well!

The motor in Falcon's rocket ignites (Click to enlarge).
By 2:30 PM, Jurassic TARC had made 3 flights and the Falcon Rocketeers 2. The general trend was for the altitudes to be a bit over 800 feet and the durations long by about 2-4 seconds. Only one flight was excessively off the 775 foot altitude goal (Jurassic TARC's first flight of 675 feet), which is a good sign. The Pope John Paul II teams are close to the final trim of their rockets; a few more practice flights and they will be ready to qualify. I was particularly amused with the Falcon Rocketeers, who had built a new sustainer for the rocket which suffered the spectacular CATO last Saturday; they carried the rocket to the pad chanting like the monks in Monty Python's Holy Grail, with numerous references to the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch. Reflecting upon memories of last Saturday's destruction, I pointed out that this might not be a bad name for their rebuilt rocket.

After last week, a little prayer can't hurt (Click to enlarge)!
Intimidated by the clouds, Duane brought no rockets to the field, whereas I, in a fit of uncharacteristic optimism, had prepped three - a 1990's Alpha in red and black livery, my scratch-built Probe-18 with the Micropeak altimeter in its payload section, and the ASP 24mm Corporal. The Alpha was the first model launched, testing the wind on an A8-5 motor. It reached maybe 250 feet, a 9" ripstop nylon parachute landing it softly on the grass. The B6-4 in the Probe-18 powered it to 357 feet; the 12" nylon chute deployed nominally, causing the rocket to descend at a slow 13 feet per second. As a result, Probe-18 drifted quite a distance to the northeast - or so it seemed, as I had to recover the model while favoring an achy right knee. My final flight was that of the Corporal, which rode a bright burst of flame from the D12-5 as it left the pad. It was my highest flight of the day - maybe 800 feet - and unfortunately landed on the road bordering the field, causing considerable damage to the nose cone (Due to the small fins, the Corporal has a lot of nose weight, which is not good when landing on asphalt). Repairable, but it will take a little work.

The Probe-18 gets going on a B6-4 motor
(Click to enlarge).
Liftoff of the Corporal (Click to enlarge).
Micropeak summary of the Probe-18 flight (Click to enlarge).
Allen and Marc also defied the clouds by bringing rockets to Pegasus. Marc flew two - his Estes Snitch, which made 2 flights, and a very nice Binder Design Aspire mid power model, which got some decent air on an Aerotech F39. Allen brought his Estes Sonoma (Sequoyah by another name), which flew twice, and a green-and-orange Estes Leviathan, christened the BroncBuster II. It was powered by one of the notoriously hard to light green motors - an Aerotech G78 Mojave Green - and required one of the magical Duane Mayer igniters to get going. However, once it got moving, it was spectacular, ascending on a bright green pillar of flame. Both Marc and Allen exhibited incredible common sense in outfitting their mid power models with Jolly Logic Chute Releases; deploying the parachutes at 300 feet or so really cut down on the drift distance.

Allen's Sonoma on an A10
(Click to enlarge).
Marc's Snitch clears the rod
(Click to enlarge).
The recovery crew returns with Marc's Binder Design Aspire (Click to enlarge).
Allen hooks up the BroncBuster II
(Click to enlarge).
The BroncBuster II streaks skyward on its G78
(Click to enlarge).
There were occasional drops of rain after Allen's BroncBuster flight, so we decided to pack up. As Duane and I drove away, he commented on what a good launch day it had been - the TARC teams were doing well, and there were some decent mid power rockets flown. I agreed; all in all, not too shabby for a cloudy day.

The help begins to pack up (Click to enlarge).