Saturday, September 26, 2015

Soggy Scout launch....

The alarm went off this morning at 5:15 AM, giving me just enough time to ready myself and my stuff to meet Woody, who pulled up around 6:15. The day was a wet mess, and we experienced drizzle and light rain throughout the 2 hour drive to Camp Westmoreland, which is over in the northwest corner of Alabama. The poor weather had us both convinced that we would be dealing with just a handful of kids, so imagine our surprise when we pulled into the camp and found at least a hundred milling about. Checking in with the scout leaders, we found that they were expecting at least a hundred more, very close to the 250 cub limit they had placed on this event. Woody and I exchanged glances, both of us realizing we were going to be working our rears off for the next few hours. 200+ rockets is an awful lot to launch in a morning, even in sunny weather!

Fortunately, it was not just the two of us - the leaders informed us that the U.S. Space and Rocket Center had provided someone to help with the rocket construction, which left us free to focus on the launching. We also found out that Tracy and Lee from Russellville were out at the launch area trying to assemble some launch gear. The rain had slacked off, so Woody and I moseyed over there, only to find our Russellville colleagues starting to assemble some Estes Porta Pads. I must confess that I fought down a smirk at the idea of launching over 200 scout rockets using single pads and individual launch controllers; it could be done, but it would be an unholy chaotic mess, and take much longer than the 3 hours or so we had in the launch window. Lee and Tracy were much relieved at the sight of the HARA launch equipment, and thanks to their help, we had the range set up in no time. Sometimes the presence of a well stocked rocket club is a wonderful thing!

Akela 1's motor ignites (Click to enlarge).The candy bowl saucer starts its journey (Click to enlarge).

The selected clear area was small and surrounded by trees, but it was just big enough to accommodate the scouts' Estes Dinks on 1/2 A motors. Red barricade tape cordoned off the pad area, and we placed some more around the battery packs and cables to indicate a no walking zone. I launched my Akela 1 rocket on an A8-3; it reached about the same altitude we expected of the Dinks, and recovered comfortably within the field. Knowing I was going to be really busy very soon, I also launched the Target Halloween Bowl saucer on a C6-0. My colleagues were impressed by how straight the ungainly purple oddroc flew. After these flights, the range was declared operational around 8:50, and we settled in to await the first wave of Cub scouts, expected around 9:20.

But the rain came first...
Waiting out the drizzle (Click to enlarge).
A light rain set in, continuing for the next 40 minutes. The first group of launches would involve scouts who had built their rockets in advance; they lined up under the porch of the camp bathhouse to receive their wadding, motors, and igniters. The rain was getting less, but even so, the first rack of 15 rockets was launched in a light drizzle - umbrellas were in much use when loading the pads. Scout Wave 1 involved launching 3 racks, about 45 rockets in all. By the time rack 3 was completely launched, the rain had finally stopped; I suppose it had deemed things were sufficiently soggy and decided to move on. The rockets in this first group were well made, and there were no parts falling off or ballistic returns.

Loading the final rocket of the rack (Click to enlarge).
A full rack of Cub scout rockets (Click to enlarge).
There was a lull of a few minutes before the next wave of scouts, who were the first to build their rockets in the camp activities building this morning. We expected two more groups after that, but what actually happened is that we had a more or less continuous influx of scouts for the rest of the morning. You could tell these rockets were built in a hurry - some had fin cans that fell off and had to be re-glued, while others had shock cords that were dangling. 11 more racks of rockets would take to the air, and while most performed well, some would not survive the morning. About 3 were lost in the trees, and 5 landed on building roofs; 4 came in ballistic, a couple re-kitted themselves at ejection, and 3 caught fire on the pad when the igniters pulled loose, igniting the plastic fin units. I felt particularly bad for one determined young lady; after 3 misfires, her 4th attempt resulted in the rocket catching fire, melting the fin unit and burning the lower portion of the body tube. I gave her one of the spare Sky Duster ready-to-fly rockets I bring to these events, and we were able to get this one up into the cloudy sky, which made her happy.

This video gives good idea of the pace of the launch

We were finished right about noon, and Lee and Tracy helped pack the very wet equipment back into Woody's SUV. I didn't take many pictures, because we were constantly occupied with pad duty, loading motors, and launching; there simply wasn't time. This launch was busy, even hectic at times, but it was good fun - the scouts thoroughly enjoyed themselves, and we put a bunch of rockets into the air. This is enough to satisfy any old rocketeer, even one a bit on the damp side.

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