Monday, March 27, 2017

An afternoon with the Fort Payne Elite...

The Fort Payne Elite TARC team (Click to enlarge).
Yesterday, Duane and I took a little road trip to the tiny town of Fyffe up on Sand Mountain. Once there, we were supposed to link up with the Fort Payne Elite TARC team, one of three teams sponsored by Fort Payne High School. I had been working with them - by email - on the design and building of their rocket, and yesterday was slated to be qualification day. I was excited to meet the team for the first time, and Duane was his usual enthusiastic self about all things TARC. Plus, it got us out of town, which ain't a bad thing.

We arrived at the field right on schedule at 2 PM, and were joined by the team's supervising teacher and the teens within just a few minutes. Equipment was hauled out and carried over the wet and muddy ground to the launch site, in the southwest part of a nice cleared area. During the course of setting up, we learned that the TARC team's last practice flight had not gone well; the rocket drifted past the tree line and was lost in the woods on the north side of the field. Undaunted, the team put together a new rocket from available parts in a single evening, and it looked ready to fly.

A Fort Payne rocket awaits launch in this near sunset picture taken by
one of the team members (Click to enlarge).
Or so we thought. After setting up the pad, we discovered that the lower launch lug was misaligned - the stand off was not quite thick enough, so the team members cobbled together a new launch lug stand off for the lower section by epoxying some thin mixing sticks to the existing piece. This worked perfectly, with the model sliding easily along the rod. This left only the wind to contend with - my Kestrel showed an average speed of just over 9 mph, with gusts up to 16 mph. I did a little math and figured that the rocket had a good chance of drifting out of the field if launch was not performed during one of the increasingly rare lulls.

This Fort Payne team had an unusual trait - they were actually well organized, prepping the rocket quite efficiently and even putting tools away in the proper place, which floored Duane. He keeps bickering at his teams to do just that, and I was amused to find the 'benevolent dictator' speechless. Anyway, the rocket was loaded with an Aerotech E30 and placed on the pad. The igniter leads were hooked up, the launch controller connected to the battery, and everyone waited for the right moment. When it came, the Fort Payne rocket shot off the pad like a bullet, heading up into the blue sky. The parachutes deployed a little before apogee, and I immediately began wishing I was not so good at math. Sure enough, both parts of the rocket - egg capsule and sustainer - were drifting towards the tree line at a brisk pace. The sustainer landed in the top of a tree, about 60 feet up - definitely not recoverable. The egg capsule landed in the lower branches of a tree at the edge of the field, and it was retrieved by much use of a long stick.

The team loads the rocket on the pad (Click to enlarge).Leaving the rod on an E30 (Click to enlarge).
It was a pretty demoralizing setback, but the team was heartened a little bit by the flight stats - 730 feet peak altitude and down in 42 seconds. Perfect on the time, and just 45 feet shy of the altitude mark. Not bad for a first flight, and I was pleased to see them decide to build a new model and make another go of it later this week. That's pretty decent dedication, given that this is spring break for their school system. Not many kids would be messing around with rockets when they could be out goofing off, or, in the case of their teacher, on vacation. I hope the rocket gods smile on their qualification flights this coming weekend.

Monday, March 20, 2017

What a jerk!

The Falcon Rocketeers get ready to weigh their rocket before a flight (Click to enlarge).
We are now in "crunch time" - those last couple of weeks before the TARC deadline, ones in which the teams make every effort to get some practice in before setting up their qualification flights. Pegasus field hosted the Falcon Rocketeers and Hope Rising on Thursday, which tuned out to be a good day for both teams. Falcon had no catos and achieved a couple of decent flights, so they decided to make a qualification attempt. Unfortunately the rocket traveled a bit too high, yielding a not-so-good 51 as their first score. Disappointing, but at least they have a qual flight in the books - quite a few teams don't turn in a single qualification score. Hope Rising shook off the infamous Estes E cato curse that had been plaguing the team, rallying after an initial cato to produce two good practice flights with altitudes just over 800 feet. They were back at Pegasus on Saturday, when the Z-95 Headhunter demonstrated the "Right Stuff" by soaring to altitudes of 773 and 778 feet, just 2 and 3 feet off the mark! They were having a bit of a problem with thermals towards the end of the day, so they wisely decided to waive off a qualification attempt. This was smart, as their last flight was way long on duration.

Hope Rising prepping Headhunter for its first flight of the day (Click to enlarge).
Which brings us to today...

I stopped by the field on my way home from work to find the Hope Rising team setting up for their first practice flight. The rocket weather cocked a bit in the 8 mph wind, reaching a low peak altitude of 730 feet. Drifting about 100 yards to the northeast, the payload section decided to plop itself in the branches of a tree, about 20 feet or so off the ground. Fortunately, it was recovered without damage. The sustainer... well, that's a different story.

Headhunter on the pad (Click to enlarge).And in the air (Click to enlarge).
The sustainer drifted about as far as the payload section; however, it made for the east side of Pegasus, landing in the road, near the edge of the asphalt. The kids on recovery were almost to the road when it touched down, but had to wait to retrieve the rocket because of an oncoming car. The driver of this vehicle, on seeing the rocket hit the pavement, deliberately swerved his car and ran over the sustainer, crushing it. We were dumbfounded - NEVER, in all the years I have been involved with TARC, have I seen such a display of downright meanness. I have to give Hope Rising credit - they took it in stride, returning the remains of their rocket to the prep table and immediately setting to work to get another sustainer ready for flight. In an ironic twist, these teens served as role models to the parents on the field, who were pretty pissed off, if I may be so blunt. Hope Rising made one more flight, in which their rocket overshot altitude and duration, before packing it in for the day. As I left the field, I found myself admiring their quiet resolve - I really hope they make it to Nationals.

The sustainer after being run over by the car (Click to enlarge).
And I hope karma catches up to that jerk in the car.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Destroyer of X-Wings...

Folks gather round the HARA table at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center (Click to enlarge).
Yesterday, the Jurassic TARC and Hope Rising TARC teams practiced at Pegasus field, but I was not there. HARA has a new arrangement with the U.S. Space and Rocket Center (USSRC) to occasionally perform rocket demos, exhibits, and trainings on the museum grounds, and yesterday - USSRC Boy Scout Day - was one of those. Daniel, Allen, and I arrived a little before 11 AM, and we set up our display and my launch pad in the rocket park, near where the old Saturn V used to lay on its side (It's now safely inside the Davidsson Center at the USSRC, refurbished and protected from the elements). Unlike past Saturdays, the weather was not favorable for flying rockets - gloomy and cold, with a wind out of the north and the looming threat of rain. But, being veteran rocketeers, we decided to make a go of it anyway, hoping to put a few in the air for the benefit of those wandering around the rocket park.

Allen explains rocketry basics (Click to enlarge).
I had brought 3 "sacrificial lambs" to fly - my hardy Estes Snitch saucer,  a Space Camp Research Vehicle (I figured this would be appropriate), and one of the 1997 13mm Estes X-Wings. The Snitch flew several times, amusing spectators with its looks and by never landing on its wire legs. It was kind of battered after the fifth impact on the asphalt - a leg pylon had cracked and there was a break in the plastic above another pylon. I decided to retire it for the day, before another landing rendered it unrepairable. The X-Wing made two flights, both on Estes A3-4T motors. In both cases, the engine pod failed to eject, resulting in the rocket plummeting to the ground. On the first flight, it fell horizontally and landed on a patch of grass, resulting in no damage. However, on the second the pilot must have kicked in the light speed engines on the way down, because the X-Wing shrieked straight in and smashed into the asphalt, sending pieces flying everywhere. The rocket is a goner, much like its bigger brother in 2005, who suffered a similar fate at a launch in north Georgia. I was left wondering if I am secretly allied with the Dark Side of the Force, because I sure am tough on X-Wings.

Daniel hooks up his Estes Gauchito (Click to enlarge).The shattered remains of my X-Wing (Click to enlarge).
Daniel flew his Estes Gauchito - one of the old X-prize kits - on an A10. It too had a recovery failure, and the impact with the asphalt broke a couple of fins. Allen flew his Sonoma a couple of times before landing damage forced him to retire the rocket. The bravest of us all, he dared to fly his Jolly Logic Altimeter 2 in the model, surrounded by rocket eating trees and a harsh, unforgiving asphalt landing surface. The altimeter survived, registering both flights as topping out above 150 feet (I forget the exact numbers). In contrast, I was a chicken, opting to cut my losses by not flying the SCRV.
Allen and Vince talk rockets at the HARA display (Click to enlarge).
The folks in the rocket park enjoyed the launches, especially the kids, some of whom got to press the launch button. Daniel's Jayhawk and Little Joe II rockets got quite a bit of attention, as their large size and beautiful detailing could not be missed by those passing by. Daniel is a true master craftsman, and I can only hope that any high power rockets I may build in the future look 1/10 as good as his. Around 12:30, Vince arrived along with some sprinkles of rain, and we decided to move the display indoors by the Space Station exhibit. I was secretly glad, as the asphalt had claimed enough victims for the day. Or maybe I was being a bit hard on the asphalt, because one could argue that the damage would not have happened if the recovery systems had deployed - maybe the fault lay with the rocketeers more than the environment.

Daniel chats with an interested family (Click to enlarge).
The next hour and a half saw Vince, Daniel, and Allen chatting up rockets to those that passed by our table. The crowd was not the biggest I have seen at the USSRC - I'm sure that the icky weather was a factor - but we did have folks stop and show interest. I was some distance away from the display, sitting down nursing my sore knee, which has a minor stress fracture. At 2 PM, we packed things into Daniel's truck and headed to our respective abodes. All-in-all, it was not a bad day - we got to fly some rockets and sparked some interest in rocketry, which more than offset the model damage. I do think that we need to build some F/G powered saucers for these demos, as they produce a lot of noise and smoke, and are robust enough to take the landings on asphalt. And maybe we need to take a refresher course in parachute packing as well.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

HARA and a 1988 commercial launch from the Cape...

The tech talk at the March club meeting was by Wayne McCain, a former HARA member from way, way back. His topic was the first commercial launch (with a paying customer) from Canaveral Air Force Station, one in which a couple of HARA members (he and Matt Steele) played prominent roles. The rocket was a LOFT-1 (Launch Operations Flight Test), a 10 foot, 6.1 inch diameter vehicle powered by a N5000 motor developed by Vulcan Systems. Imagine - a N class motor back in 1988! Actually, there were three of these beasties made, but the ATF confiscated two when regulations set in - their fate is unknown, but it is probable they were destroyed. Anyway, here is Mr. McCain's talk (about 30 minutes in length):

Inspired by the talk, I gathered together the available data - which wasn't much - on LOFT-1, and concocted an 18 mm BT-55-based downscale in OpenRocket:
OpenRocket downscale of LOFT-1 (Click to enlarge).
3D representation of LOFT-1 downscale (Click to enlarge).
Looks like I have a new entry on the build list...

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Pads galore at Pegasus...

Liberty watches their rocket soar upward into a sunny blue sky (Click to enlarge).
Today was another perfect day for flying, and four TARC teams - Liberty Middle School's Team Bazinga, Hope Christian Academy's Hope Rising, and Pope John Paul II's Falcon Rocketeers and Jurassic TARC - gathered at Pegasus field just after noon for practice, taking advantage of the mild temperature and very light winds. For Liberty, it was a good day; one of their flights achieved a maximum altitude of 768 feet, just 7 feet off the mark. Jurassic TARC had a so-so day - their rocket ("Rudolph") continues to be a bit squirrely when it leaves the rod, prompting Duane, their benevolent dictator, to once again suggest increasing the area of their fins. Even so, they achieved altitudes just over 800 feet; they just need to work on straightening their rocket's trajectory so it doesn't angle off so badly exiting the rod.

Liberty inspects their rocket before launch (Click to enlarge).
The Falcons prep their rocket as the benevolent dictator looks for some goodies in his parts bin (Click to enlarge).
Hope Rising's very nice rocket prep area (Click to enlarge).
You know it's crunch time when the weather gear
appears on the field! This is Hope Rising's weather
station (Click to enlarge).
Jurassic TARC's Rudolph starts another flight
(Click to enlarge).
The other two teams - the Falcon Rocketeers and Hope Rising - had some issues. Whereas Hope Rising's rocket ("Z-95 Headhunter", after a ship in Star Wars), was 150 feet or so low, Falcon's rocket had difficulty even leaving the pad. Improper assembly of reloads lead to motor huffing and puffing and rocket disassembly on the rod. After their last two flights went nowhere, Falcon left the field considering switching to single use motors. Probably a good idea, though it's a bit late in the season for a motor change. Hopefully they can put in enough practice to get good qualification scores.

The Hope Rising team gets the award for the most spectacular flight of the day. On Headhunter's final flight, the Estes black powder motor CATO'd, sending balls of flame everywhere and the rocket's egg capsule on a ballistic trajectory. Miraculously, the damage to Headhunter was minor - the engine block had been blown out of the rocket. I fully expect it to be back to flight worthy status in a day or so. However, this only adds to the notoriety of the Estes E motors - it seems like you have a 50/50 chance of a pad explosion every time you use one.

Smoke and fire erupts from Z-95 Headhunter as the Estes E motor CATO's just past ignition (Click to enlarge).

As usual, there were more than TARC rockets flown today - Doug brought several low power birds, including an old Estes Star Wars X-Wing. He had to perform a little surgery on his 40 year old Estes Big Foot pad to get it operational, after which several more flights were added to this vintage pad's huge launch count. The X-Wing flew just fine, but the parachute got caught on one of the wings (a common mishap for this rocket), causing it to fall horizontally to the ground. Thankfully, the damage was minor.

Doug's X-Wing leaves the Big Foot's rod
(Click to enlarge).
A Swift decides to eat some dirt (Click to enlarge).
Marc flew his Aspire on an Aerotech F motor, followed by two flights of his shiny Executioner, also on F's. Both rockets were equipped with the Jolly Logic Chute Release to ensure recovery within the field, but the Executioner had an additional twist - a programmable "chute reefer" developed by Marc to give himself an edge in Geezer TARC. The thing actually worked, as we could see the parachute pull in a bit towards the end of the flight, a fact borne out by the increased descent rate logged by the altimeter. Nice going Marc!

Marc's Aspire streaks upward (Click to enlarge).Marc's Executioner about to clear the rod of his
Aerotech Mantis pad (Click to enlarge).
I have a rule - no visits to Pegasus without at least one rocket to fly. Today, I brought two - my Estes Trajector and Estes Majestic, both loaded with Estes black powder E16 motors. These rockets are the super easy "just add epoxy" members of the Estes Pro Series II line, found in Hobby Lobby and other such stores.The flights went off without a hitch, with altitudes in the 600-700 foot range and nice soft landings under the nylon parachutes.

My Majestic rides an E16 into the blue
(Click to enlarge).
The Trajector leaves the rod (Click to enlarge).
The flying went on for some three hours - Duane and I left the field just before 4 PM, leaving Hope Rising, who were still flying low power models. Got to admire their enthusiasm!

My Trajector descending under a red nylon parachute (Click to enlarge).