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.

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