Tuesday, October 27, 2020

An awesome present!

Today's mail consisted of the usual junk ads and bills, with one exception - a large envelope with Ed Mitton's return address in Colorado. Ed has been in rocketry as long as I, and he was a NAR contest rocketeer while I was still futzing around in the Estes Aerospace Club. I keep track of his very nice rocket blog, Blast from the Past, enjoying the build threads and flight reports. Needless to say, I was very curious about the contents of this envelope and wasted no time opening it. Here's what I found inside:

Letter and NARAM 11 flight card (Click to enlarge).

A flight card from NARAM-11? Holy cats! I could not think of a better present for an old rocketeer like me, with a passion for the history of our hobby. If you look at the flight card, you see that it was designed to allow for the recording of information pertaining to all events flown at that NARAM, including scale. You will also notice that there are sections for recording the tracking information for the altitude flights - azimuths and elevations given by rocketeers manning trackers similar to theodolites. Using some trig formulas and tables of sines and cosines, the altitudes were computed (see here for the old Estes technical report on altitude tracking); if they agreed to within a certain percentage (10% in this case), "the track closed" and the flight's score was valid. A "track not closed" meant no score and a reflight - a real bummer to most rocketeers.  Many rocketeers put colored powdered chalk or equivalent in their models so that the trackers could fix on the bright colored cloud produced at ejection.  It helped, but the model got covered in the powdered chalk - kinda messy, to say the least. So you can understand why there were many pre-contest prayers for the trackers to have keen eyesight and be familiar with the equipment. 

Charles Russell and Bill Roe (right) at NARAM-11, which was held at the U.S.
Air Force Academy in Colorado (Click to enlarge).

This flight card is a very cool glimpse into 1969 contest rocketry, about a year after I started in the hobby. After scanning the card and letter, I placed them back in the plastic bag and put it in my stash of rocket memorabilia. Thanks very much, Ed - your gift made my Tuesday!


  1. Wow! Very cool! Love that it was printed on scraps. I ran a printer at work for years and was amazed at how much scrap paper it generated. I brought it home for my kids to draw on. Bet you anything I could go downstairs and find half a ream in the Hoosier cabinet in the hall.

  2. A little history on tracking at NARAM 11...The Peak City Section of Colorado Springs owned a pair of tracking theodolites that featured a 90 degree bend in the optics near the eyepiece and some pretty hefty magnification. This combination made them extremely difficult to follow and mark rocket flights. On the first day of NARAM 11 only a small handful of egglofter flights enjoyed a closed track. Thankfully, one of the East Coast sections in attendance had brought along a set of straight line tracking devices which were pressed into service for the remainder of the contest.
    Fast forward a few years - the Peak City theodolites were part of the range equipment donated to ROMAR in 1973, so I had first-hand experience with trying to use them. No wonder there were problems at NARAM! I practiced with one of the scopes for probably a dozen club sport flights, and not one of them could be kept in the field of view. A major fail!