Sunday, July 8, 2018

Second time around...

My 30+ year old competition rockets (Click to enlarge)
During the first 25 years or so of model rocketry, the elite rocketeer was not one who had completed a level 3 certification involving a rocket propelled by a M class motor (such things did not exist, except in the wildest dreams of rocketdom). Back then, the "big boys" (and girls) were those belonging to the ranks of competition rocketeers, who built and flew models that tried to milk every ounce of performance from low power black power motors. In doing so, they made use of the lightest weight materials they could find - thin vacuform plastic nose cones, bakelite, vellum, and thin cardboard tubes, and 1/32" thick plywood fins of clipped delta or elliptical shapes. Rockets made from these were launched from rods using pop launch lugs, or towers, or pistons (used by the most driven competitors). The elite assembled in regional meets sponsored by NAR sections, vying to accumulate points for themselves, their teams, and/or their sections, keeping a constant eye towards the NAR's annual meet (NARAM), where the best of the best challenged each other. Winning the national championship was the epitome of the hobby in those years, and the rocketeers who did so earned it by sweat and tears (not much blood, save that caused by hobby knife cuts).

Summary of my first regional meet back in May of 1975 (Click to enlarge).
In my senior year of high school, I decided to throw my hat into the ring, and see how far my skills could take me up the competition ladder. So I built a couple of models based on the Estes Sprint and eagerly thumbed through each newly-arrived Model Rocketeer magazine, looking for a regional meet reasonably close by. In May of 1975, I got my chance - there was a regional, the Music City Competitors Annual Regional-1 (MCCAR-1), going to be held in Nashville on the 3rd and 4th of the month. I persuaded my dad to make the 2 hour drive to the launch site, where I joined about twenty other rocketeers under a canopy, waiting for the rain to stop. This happened about mid-morning, and I eagerly readied my streamer duration entry, loading an Estes B motor into the rear of the model and stuffing into the front the longest crepe paper streamer I could find. The model flew ok, and I logged a qualified flight duration of 27 seconds, which, amazingly was good enough to net me 4th place in A division. I also placed 4th in Class 1 Parachute Duration, so I finished in both events I entered - a good beginning, and I was pretty happy schlepping about in my waterlogged tennis shoes. I learned a quite a few lessons from watching the other rocketeers at MCCAR-1, some of which have stuck with me through the decades:
  • Estes parts may get you an occasional win in duration events, but they ain't going to cut it in other event types. Build lighter.
  • Ditch the launch lug - pop lugs are the minimum, and pistons or tower/piston combinations are best.
  • Competition rocketeers are not so friendly during competitions - they are trying to ready their birds for a win, and usually don't have much time to chat with newbies. Also, bear in mind that you are potentially their competition, so don't expect helpful hints. Learn by watching, not by asking.
  • Egglofting events have high entertainment value - especially the dual events. Lots of messes.
Competition Model Rocket (CMR) Rapier flown at NARAM-30 (Click to enlarge).
That was my one and only regional; I went off to college in the fall of 75, and used my free time during breaks to do sport flying. I did manage to fly at NARAM-30 in Huntsville (1988), where I sucked in a most supreme fashion. My only good thing about NARAM-30 was that it was my first introduction to what we now call high power rocketry, thanks to Matt Steele and his company, North Coast Rocketry. And so it was that my very weak attempts to participate in competition rocketry came to an end. Over the next three decades I read about competitions in the NAR magazines, noting that the ranks of competitors thinned out greatly over time, with the winner lists being dominated by the same people over and over again. And read about it was all I did - My reluctance to getting my butt kicked, plus the fact that the competition folks seemed to have gotten more unfriendly over the years, caused me to give it a wide berth. I'll take sport launches, with friendly and (mostly) happy folks flying for fun any day of the week.

Until now...

At last year's NARCON, I listened to a talk about the newly agreed upon revision to NAR competition. It sounded like NAR had finally gotten the message, creating a team of experts to breathe new life into competition flying. This panel established something called the National Rocket Competition (NRC), which consists of 6 events chosen annually from an approved list. These events are all low power, like 1/4 A Parachute Duration, 1/4 A Helicopter Duration, A Boost Glider, B Payload Altitude, B Eggloft Duration, and C Eggloft Altitude, which means they don't require a big flying field and can be done by anyone who can build an Estes kit - as matter of fact, Estes makes a couple of rockets that could be flown in this year's events (the B & C Eggloft and 1/4 A Helicopter Duration. The egglofter is way heavy, but it will at least turn in a qualifying flight). But the best thing about the NRC is that you no longer have to travel long distances to compete. All it takes are two NAR rocketeers (one of whom must be 21 or over) to set up and fly a NRC launch, after which the scores are logged onto a web-based national scoreboard, for all the world to see. You can fly any event as often as you wish, and can even specialize in certain events. I love this concept, even though I know a lot of old-school competitors are unhappy with it because a) it diminishes the importance of sections, and b) there are no craftsmanship events like scale in the NRC (even though a contest director may choose to have them as part of his launch). Change does not come easy, especially in the face of decades-old traditions.

I am going to give the NRC a try - It will give me a chance to work on some new skills, and enables me to fly competition events at Pegasus field with interested members of my section. That sounds like a lot of fun!

Did I mention egg lofting events have high entertainment value?

You can read more about the NRC here. Consider giving it a try!


  1. I got dragged into my first competition with QUARK about a dozen years ago, and only agreed because they needed me to boost the numbers. I qualified on both flights, but couldn't stand the competition mindset, which seemed to be "I can be a bigger tool than you can!" That's why I quit playing softball. I've done a couple with my current club, again to help boost the numbers, and the mindset seemed to have softened somewhat, so I might give the new format a try.

  2. Forgot to mention that I have a CMR Effy that I got in an eBay lot with an FSI Dart.

    1. An Effy? I’m jealous! I have a CMR Rapier (built) and some parts - that’s about it

    2. I think I've only flown it once. I may have to dust it off for a Dayton trip when the 2018-19 contest season starts in August.