Friday, March 2, 2018

Back to NARCON...

This past weekend I was in Houston for the National Association of Rocketry's annual convention, NARCON. It's a two day affair, filled with talks, vendor exhibits, and over a hundred rocket geeks - the perfect venue for an old geezer rocketeer like me to hang out and take in this sport we call rocketry. James Duffy and the Texas sections (rocket clubs) hosting the event did an outstanding job organizing and running things, and I can safely say that everyone present thoroughly enjoyed themselves. NARCONs are held in cities that sport some sort of space-related attraction, and this year's convention was held at the Hilton across the street from Johnson Space Center and just down the road from Space Center Houston. This presented mucho opportunity for the participants to experience some space program history, and many did. Who can pass up a chance to see one of the majestic Saturn V's or to climb into the Shuttle carrier aircraft and into a mock Shuttle cockpit?

James Duffy gives tips on how to build a scale Little Joe from scratch (Click to enlarge).
So what was special about this year's NARCON? There were many good talks; Trip Barber gave a presentation with tips on how to win at TARC and there was an excellent status on the Museum of Flight's G. Harry Stine collection. However, there were three that stood out in my mind:

1) Joe Barnard of thrilled the audience with how he developed his thrust vector stability kits for finless model rockets. It was kinda like watching the old Wild World of Sports - there was the idea, the agony of defeat (over and over) in the beginning, then finally the thrill of victory. Joe's stuff ain't safety code legal, but it is cool as the dickens and the audience was incredibly stoked by his presentation. Check out his website for some neat video and details.

Waiting for John Beans' talk to begin (Click to enlarge).
2) John Beans of Jolly Logic gave a presentation on what he calls "Rocket 2.0." He pointed out that we have been using pyrotechnic charges to recover hobby rockets for 60 years, and that deployment charges, while fairly reliable and of extremely low weight, still have a big issue - we use delay time as a proxy for deployment at a specific altitude. Mess up the delay time, or if the ejection charge doesn't work, and it's disaster time. John is musing upon a low energy notion in which a parachute section separates like a fairing, letting the parachute fall outside the rocket. This parachute is then allowed to open by a Chute Release-style device. He produced a 3D printed concept to illustrate his point. Mr. Beans is quite an innovator - his Chute Release has transformed mid power and lower impulse classes of high power - and I really look forward to see what comes out of his shop in the next year or two. Exciting times are ahead!

Folks start to gather for Gary Rosenfeld's "History of High Power Rocketry" talk (Click to enlarge).
3) Gary Rosenfeld of Aerotech regaled us with the history of high power rocketry, taking us from its beginnings with Irv Wait of Rocket Development Corporation (which was bought by Centuri and became their Enerjet line) up to the Aerotech fire, which gave room for Cesaroni to grab a share of the composite motor market. There were lots of pictures, and a lot of good ancedotes (I was amused by the name of an early HPR rocket - the "E-legal", and stunned by the images of the Aerotech facility after the fire). Gary was quite the rocketeer in his younger days - it takes a wild man to cluster composite motors - and was present for many of the events that shaped the development and adoption of high power. The hour went by all too quickly.

Part of the vendor room (Click to enlarge).
There were no big announcements at the vendor forum Friday night, other than Aerotech announcing its 18 mm composite A and B motors, which will be available in 2 packs this month. As usual, I could not keep my money in my wallet - I ended up purchasing a Mercury Redstone skin from John Pursley and an Odd'l Rockets F-104 kit from JonRocket. Only the lack of luggage space prevented me from buying more.

The traditional banquet was held on Saturday night, with the speaker being astronaut Scott Parazynski, veteran of 5 Space Shuttle missions with 47 hours spent outside on EVAs. He recounted his experiences of orbiting Earth, and of climbing Mt. Everest (twice - he succeeded on the 2nd attempt). It was a fascinating presentation, and each of us was lucky enough to receive a free copy of his book "The Sky Below"; Scott kindly took the time to autograph the books people brought to him -   a true gentlemen.

Sunday morning I packed my things and headed off to the airport - it had been a very good NARCON. Good talks, cool rocket stuff to buy and poke at, and lots of people to talk to. The latter is perhaps the best aspect of NARCON; it gives us a chance to link up with old friends from distant parts of the country and to meet new entrants in the hobby, filled with enthusiasm and excitement. A hobby for just one is not very exciting, and I was reminded that there is more to rocketry than TARC launches at Pegasus field. I came back with new goals and with new energy.

My signed 1970 Estes catalog (click to enlarge).
I also got Vern and Gleda Estes to sign my 1970 Estes catalog. It is now right up there with my Centuri catalog signed by Lee Piester. One of my bucket list items is now checked - I have the autographs of the Rocket Royalty.

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