The qualification flight goals are fairly simple - single egg to 800 feet and down in 40 to 43 seconds. Rocket has to be painted and at least 25.6 inches long; all parts must come down together under parachute. This is easily accomplished with an E motor, so I was wondering what the catch was until I saw the rules governing Nationals. There's where the second, and biggest, surprise lay. Used to be the first round at Nationals was simply a repeat of the qualification flight marks - no longer. Teams making it to Virginia this year will have to meet a first round altitude goal of either 775 or 825 feet and duration intervals of 39-42 or 41-44 seconds, depending on the results of a coin toss. Nefarious, as this will require the teams to know how to adjust their rocket's altitude in order to have a chance at making it to round 2. This means they are going to have to make extensive use of their flight data - or come up with 3 models, one for each altitude mark.
So what would be my advice to the local teams?
1) Focus on getting good qualification scores - In order to win, you have to first make it to Nationals. Get them done as early as possible!
2) Record everything pertaining to the flight - weather, weights, launch rail angle - everything. Use a PNUT altimeter to get a complete flight record.
3) Learn how to interpret the data! Figure out how to adjust the rocket or rail to consistently achieve the desired altitude. Possible changes include
- Ballast weight
- Rail angle
- Nose cone shape
I can't emphasize #3 enough - our teams in the Huntsville area spend plenty of time practicing (to the point that they run out of motors), but often it seems like they are just randomly putting rockets into the air. Data is logged but not used. That will need to change if they are to advance to Nationals this year.
Time to break out the math skills!