May 19, 2008

Team America Rocketry Challenge 2008

Yesterday was the Team America Rocketry Challenge for 2008, rightly billed as "the largest model rocket contest in the world."

You can look through my archives for posts about TARC from previous years, but the short version is that teams of middle and high school kids design, build and fly rockets designed to accomplish three goals:

1.  Get as close as possible to 750 in altitude.
2.  Be airborne for exactly 45 seconds - from first motion to touch down under parachute.
3.  Carry aloft two raw eggs and return them undamaged.

This year, around 650 teams from all fifty states and Puerto Rico accepted the challenge.  Over 60% made successful flights and sent their results in to be scored.  The top 100 teams were invited to The Plains, Virginia for a one-day flyoff to determine the winner.

There were a few new wrinkles for this contest, besides the usual alteration of the objectives to keep things fresh from year to year.  This time around, the top 18 teams were required to make a second flight, and the scores from these two flights were added together.  This way, consistency was rewarded and the contest was less likely to be won by a team making that one perfect lucky launch.  A presentation event was also added which teams could enter to explain their process and thinking as they designed, built and tested their rocket designs.

Here are some highlights that I remember... (oh, and lots and lots of pictures here!)

Posted by: Ted at 02:34 AM | category: Rocketry
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September 01, 2007

Rocketry Videos

EMRR (Essence's Model Rocketry Reviews) has posted the entrants from their rocket video contest. Quite a few are from on-board cameras and are way cool.

I notice that Dick's Rocket Dungeon posted a link to it as well.

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July 22, 2007

What I Did For Summer Vacation

I promised you a picture of my latest project.


She makes her maiden flight on August 18th. The white part of the airframe is where I had to stretch it to make room for a new, larger altimeter bay. It'll be painted black to match this week. I also plan to stretch the rocket another fourteen inches in the near future to accommodate the "big honkin' motor" that I originally envisioned flying in her.

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July 18, 2007


I've been meaning to post a photo of my latest project, but hadn't gotten around to it. Taking the photo, that is. Probably a good thing, since I discovered last evening that I am going to have to extend the airframe by four inches. Wouldn't want y'all to be seeing this thing all stubby now, right?

So by the end of the week, I'll have pretty pictures for you.

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July 14, 2007

Beautiful Day, But Not For Rockets

I went to the monthly NOVAAR rocket launch this morning, ready to generate some serious thrust. I had two big rockets prepped, but wound up leaving before either could fly due to a family emergency, which turned out to be nothing (and I'm ok with that!).

There's always next month.

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July 13, 2007

Rocket Launch Tomorrow

I've been getting ready for it all week. I'm planning on making a flight using my new Missile Works altimeter and the Contrail hybrid motor, another using a new hemispherical parachute that Liz made for me, and I'll be posting some pictures of my newest rocket.

It's supposed to be beautiful, have a great weekend!

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July 01, 2007

Level 2 Rocket

Friday and Saturday I spent some time doing finishing sanding. Today I shoot the first coat of primer.

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June 20, 2007

Rocket Content

I am now learning the art of making my own electric matches. The point being that you dip the electric match into pyrogen* to create an igniter. The igniter is slipped into the core of a pyrodex pellet which is then placed into the heart of the rocket motor. When the pyrodex pellet is ignited it simultaneously builds the pressure in the combustion chamber, preheats the fuel grain, and burns the fill hose away from the injector which allows the nitrous oxide to make its contribution to the magic of thrust-producing science.

Very. Loud. Science.

*From the Rocketflight Products website comes this description of their Magnelite Igniter pyrogen:

Once ignited the pyrogen burns for approximately one second at a temperature around 5,400 degrees Fahrenheit! Amperage requirement for successful ignition is 5 to 6 amps at 12 volts DC per igniter.

FYI: 5,400 degrees is very close to the temperature of the surface of the sun!

Science, baby!!!

Posted by: Ted at 05:38 AM | category: Rocketry
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June 10, 2007

Launch Report - 6/9/2007

Yesterday was our regularly scheduled rocket club launch out at Great Meadow. Besides the usual sport launching (for fun), there was a regional contest event scheduled and the sky was full of rocket gliders, helicopter recovery rockets and more.

I almost didn't go because I'd worked for most of the week on converting one of my high power rockets for hybrid-engine flight. On Friday night about 10pm I ran into "one more problem" and got frustrated. Rather than try to force things, I just decided to not take anything but small model rockets to the launch. Even then, the weather forecast called for pretty stiff winds and I'd heard that there were several cub scout packs due to attend. Not conducive to improving my mood.

What the heck, I went anyway. The winds were brisk, but not insurmountable, the hordes of cub scouts didn't materialize (or they were the smallest horde on the planet), and I had a good time.

Two other rocket-bloggers were there. Dick Stafford flew his usual assortment of unusual rockets, including his legendary "hat of death", his too-new-to-be-legendary-yet "Yamikazi" and a couple of models made completely out of folded paper. Rich (of Vertical Force Rocketry) was there with his family. Hopefully he'll make it out to the launches a little more often this year. It was good to see them again.

There were several high-power flights made, and towards the end of the afternoon a wedding was taking place up the hill at the Summer House. We all got a chuckle after one particularly roaring flight, when we could hear the wedding guests do a collective "holy shit!" Someone imagined that the Bride's mother was probably having a conniption over our activities, and I impersonated the Groom at the alter: "Whoa... huh? Oh yeah, I do."

I remembered the sunblock, stayed hydrated, flew streamers for recovery because of the wind (and still had long walks to recover most everything), and worked a couple of hours as safety check-in dude. As usual, it was big fun.

Here's what I flew:

1. Vampyre - A10-3T - Original design ringfin. Perfection.

2. YJ-113 - A10-3T - This little beastie is a downscale of the Estes Yellow Jacket, and it's about 7" tall. My Level 2 certification rocket is an upscaled version of this same rocket, about 7' tall. Like all Yellow Jackets, there is a tendency to severely over-engine the rocket and this time was no exception. I didn't have a 1/2A engine so I went for the full A and almost lost it due to extreme speed and altitude. I love this design.

3. Groove Tube - C6-5 - Centuri classic tubefin design from the 70's. Big motor, recovered on twin streamers because of the wind, but still had a long walk because of the drift. With all those tube fins, she gets her nose into the wind and acts like a glider.

4. Zen Doggie - B6-4 x3 - I haven't flown this rocket a whole lot over the years because it is sometimes marginally stable. The fins are rather small, and there is a gap between the front fins and rear fins. It looks cool, but I suspect that the gap is causing the air to be too turbulent over the rear fins to be useful, which makes the rocket squirrelly and not too safe. Couple that to the fact that it's a three-engine cluster, and there's a whole lot of weight at the back end, which is exactly where you don't want it. I've added nose-weight and tweaked the design some, and today I decided to try something different. I put a layer of masking tape between the two sets of fins, effectively turning them into one fin surface, thinking that it might solve the stability problem. Oh yeah. The flight was perfectly straight, so I'll be making this a permanent mod. Rich had a great idea about using clear plastic packing tape, so the fins still look split, but behave like a single fin.

5. Sparrow - A10-3T - This was my original "born-again rocketeer" rocket, and I fly it once a year just for old time's sake. It's a tiny Estes kit and it's battered and worn, but she made yet another flight without falling to pieces.

6. DTR-1 - B6-6 - Great flight from this original six-fin design.

7. Dynamic Carrier - B4-4 - I've done this cool Custom Rockets kit up as an alien space ship. She looks great and flies great too. Perfect recovery.

8. Saturn III - A10-3T x4 - four-engined original design, it looks Saturn-ish. All four motors lit, and at ejection it sounds like popcorn as all the ejection charges go off within a split second of each other. Great flight, long drift again.

That was it for me. No damaged rockets, no lost rockets, no sunburn. Good day.

Posted by: Ted at 07:30 AM | category: Rocketry
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May 23, 2007

Photos from the Team America Rocketry Challenge

A nice slideshow of photos of the Team America Rocketry Challenge, from DoD (just click the "next" button at the bottom to scroll through).

Thanks to Pratt Hobbies blog for the pointer!

Posted by: Ted at 04:57 AM | category: Rocketry
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May 21, 2007

Team America Rocketry Challenge 2007

Last Saturday the finals for this year's event were held. A brief recap for those unfamiliar with it:

Sponsored by the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) and the National Organization of Rocketry (NAR), teams of students design, build and fly a rocket to meet specific mission goals. This year the goals were:

1) get as close as possible to an altitude of 850 feet as measured by an onboard electronic altimeter
2) get as close as possible to a flight duration of 45 seconds, measured from the first motion on the launch pad to the touching down of the payload capsule
3) carry aloft a raw egg and return it unbroken

More than 600 teams (6000+ kids) from across the US entered and made qualification flights, and the top 100 teams were selected to fly in the finals. The students have to do the work themselves with minimal supervision from the adults. Teams can come from middle and high schools, private schools, home-school associations, and scout, explorer and 4H clubs.

The prizes consist of scholarship money, money for the sponsoring school or group for scientific educational equipment and materials, and more. The purpose of the challenge is to promote an interest in the aerospace sciences as a career choice.

I talked about previous events here: 2006, more 2006, 2005 recap, more 2005, 2004, 2003 (now where did I hide that?), and 2002.

I was at the field at 6:30am and didn't leave until almost 9pm that night, and most of it was spent on my feet. I'm just going to touch on some factoids and memorable moments.

Every year, we've had uber-cool flyovers by military aircraft as part of the opening ceremony. This year, an F117 stealth fighter opened the show. It's bigger than you'd think, a *lot* quieter than you expect, and the head on profile is almost invisible.

England did their first rocketry challenge contest this year, and their winning team was treated to a trip to the colonies to attend our event. Their first place score would have placed them in 5th here, which is no shame at all. Quite a few people from the British embassy were present as well.

There was a contingent from the German aerospace industries, checking out the event with an eye towards holding their own.

Buzz Aldrin attended again this year. He still looks good, he's still a hero.

Among the many, many, many VIP's, the biggest this year was Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. He gave a really nice non-political speech and has lots of serious-looking security agents swarming around him. I was close enough to nod and say hello but I didn't take the step forward to shake his hand.

The winning team was half and half male/female and had an almost perfect score. Lower is better, and theirs was 1.86 (zero is perfect). As a bonus, Raytheon (I think) is footing the bill to send them to the Paris Air Show next month. Raytheon also chipped in an extra five grand in prize money for each of the top three teams.

The skill-level of these kids is improving to the point of near-perfection. I can only remember three flights that were disqualified for safety reasons, and one of them was borderline. For all I know, that one wasn't DQ'd because our main goal is to let the teams win or lose on their own, not because of nit-picky rules violations.

I heard something like "Three years ago, the cutoff to make the finals was 99 points. This year, it was 38." That, my friends, is massive improvelence.

I got sunburned, as usual. Afterwards, we had a catered steak and rib BBQ, and then broke down the range and put away the equipment. At the end of the day I was dog tired yet feeling good.

Instead of sleeping in the next day, I got up early enough to get to the ballpark to watch the afternoon game. More sun, but I remembered the sunblock this time.

Posted by: Ted at 08:36 PM | category: Rocketry
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May 20, 2007

Help Me! I've Vacationed and I Can't Get Up!

Wife Liz said it best... "whirlwind" vacation. We had a great time, but it wasn't chock full o' rest and relaxation, despite my best intentions.

We saw Steely Dan in concert, and it was disappointing. Technically, they were very good (as expected) and very jazzy and improvisational (as expected), but the show was only about a dozen songs, each one stretched out by long solo runs. Liz is a casual fan and she didn't recognize anything they played until the seventh song, which is criminal when you consider how long they've been on the radio. There was almost nothing that you'd consider their "Greatest Hits". I enjoyed the heck out of it and would've been thrilled to see the show in a club, but when I pay concert prices I expect to hear familiar music done well, not the fifth song on side B of their second album from 1973.

As we were in line to get into the concert, they were patting folks down. At their request I started to empty my pockets, and the guy says, "you don't have any knives, do you?"

I said, "yes I do, my Swiss Army knife", and I pulled it out of my back pocket where it almost always resides.

After consultation with the head of security, I was told that I couldn't bring it into the concert arena. Ok, so I left Liz there - let them deal with her wheelchair clogging traffic, they're the ones causing the problem - and ran back to the parking garage to put my knife in the car. Back to the arena and the fool wants to pat me down again.

This time, I said, "excuse me, but I just ran back to my car and put the knife away. Do you really think I just wandered around for 10 minutes before coming back here to sneak in a knife that I voluntarily told you I had when you asked?"

I think that confused him. He waved me through. I didn't even want to get into the whole "weapon vs. tool" debate. Not the time nor place. Besides, only a wuss would classify a Swiss Army knife as a weapon.

Posted by: Ted at 07:47 AM | category: Rocketry
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April 04, 2007

Launch Report: 3/31/07-4/1/07

Last weekend was a two-day club launch at Great Meadow Equestrian Center in The Plains, Virginia. The weather was beautiful both days, and even though the forecast called for rain on Sunday, it stayed dry and the winds stayed light.

Saturday was definitely the busier day, with upwards of 50 cars there, many filled with students making flights for the upcoming Team America Rocketry Contest. Lots of practice flights and more than a few qualification attempts.

Fifty cars might not sound impressive, but for a rocket club it's an almost unheard number, and it's become our norm. It wasn't too many years ago when a typical club launch was a dozen people. Very relaxed. For NOVAAR, those days are long gone, which is both good and bad.

On Sunday the crowd was lighter, but we were joined by a Cub Scout pack who upped the energy and enthusiasm levels considerably. I volunteered to work a shift at safety check-in both days, and in between socializing I still managed to get in quite a few flights of my own.


1. Snitch - D12-0 / C6-0 - I CHAD-staged (CHeap-And-Dirty) this Estes ready-to-fly UFO saucer. Great flight and recovered very close, but I cracked the plastic after recovery while pulling out the motor. A little epoxy will fix it good as new.

2. Pacifyer - D12-5 - This is my flying blood-dripping battleaxe and as usual it got a lot of attention. Nice quite boost but the ejection sounded very loud and the bottom half of the rocket (with fins) came tumbling down as the rest drifted slowly under the parachute. A "bonus" ejection charge blew out the baffle and scorched everything inside, including burning through the shock cord. Easily fixed.

3. Flying Jenny - B4-2 - The Jenny is a balsa bi-wing rocket glider that originally came out in the 60's or 70's. I love 'em, and this is the third or fourth I've had in my collection. She hasn't flown since last year, and winter can do some strange things to balsa, so I wasn't sure what kind of flight to expect. Straight boost and really high altitude, but not much glide. She went into the (soft) grass nose first and snapped the upper wing off. I found that the tail weight was missing, which probably accounted for the poor glide performance. No problem, I'll just build a new one.

4. Saturn Wannabe - A10-3T x4 - This original design turned in my first "perfect" flight of the day. All four motors in the cluster lit and at apogee it sounded like popcorn as the ejection charges went off. Perfect recovery under chute, and I got it back undamaged.

5. Angel - D12-5 - Sweet flight from this original design ring-fin. Recovered undamaged.

6. Groove Tube - C6-5 - Typical flight profile from this rocket: arrow-straight boost and recovered undamaged. This is a clone of the 70's model tube-fin originally offered by Centuri.

7. Der Red Max - C6-5 - Another clone, this one from Estes. Another great flight and excellent recovery.

After a shaky start I quit breaking everything I flew. The winds were very cooperative, so I was using maximum motors for almost everything (except the Flying Jenny).

Before heading over to do my shift as range crew I talked to Ken Allen of Performance Hobbies. He's been dealing with some very directed harrassment from the BATFE, who're still fighting our hobby every step of the way through the court system. We keep winning the judgements, they keep throwing up new and inane regulations in an effort to maintain their "power". Ken finally quit selling high-power rocket motors because of their actions (including confiscating his phones and computers) and has gotten more into kits and parts. In a wonderful development, his business is thriving even moreso than before, which is the best way I can think of to get back at those government assholes.

Saturday night I got home very tired and very happy with a day well spent.

Sunday morning I woke up to find that tick in my arm.


Another great day watching student teams make practice and qualification flights. Next weekend is the last day to submit results, so these kids are working hard and achieving impressive turnaround times between flights. Once again I put up several of my own.

1. Vampyre - A10-3T - I think this is the oldest rocket in my fleet that I still fly regularly. I designed it to fly on mini-motors and it's very quick and gets super altitude. The ring-fin makes for great stability too, even in windy conditions. Today we notice early on that the ground-level winds are blowing about 10mph, but maybe 100 feet up the air is still. Recovered nicely under a streamer.

2. YJ-218 - C6-7 x2 - Another cluster, this one an upscale of the Estes Yellow Jacket. Both motors lit. Great flight, fine recovery.

3. Edmonds Tinee - 1/4A-3T - This glider needs a 1/2A for altitude, but all I had was the 1/4A. It did glide, but pulled out of it's dive just above head level and made a strafing run on the people around the check-in table. It's light enough not to hurt if it had hit anyone. It landed in the grass about five feet from where I was standing.

4. Alchemy - D12-5 - Folks are noticing that I like ring-fin rockets. This one was an experiment in paint finishes. The aft end is done in that textured granite spray paint, and fades up through hammered silver to chrome at the nose. Flies great and recovered undamaged.

5. Dynamic Carrier - C6-5 - This is an interesting kit design. I finished it as an alien spaceship and she looks pretty cool. Nice flight, but the chute didn't open fully and she came down quickly. No damage because she landed on the soft grass.

6. Honest John - C6-5 - Scale version of the old US tactical nuke. She took a big arc off of the rod, but the chute ejected on time and I recovered her undamaged.

7. Sparrow Upscale - C6-5 - This is a slightly larger version of my very first rocket. It's not all that big, which points up that the original was *tiny*. Nice straight boost and good recovery.

8. Barenaked Lady - E11-3 - Super flight with a big honking motor in a very light rocket , but she drifted a long way because of the extreme altitude. Still got her back and she was fine and ready to fly again.

That was it for my weekend. I flew everything I'd brought, and after helping to take down the range went home very very tired but happy. Plus, I get to do it again next weekend! Yay!!!

Posted by: Ted at 08:15 PM | category: Rocketry
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March 30, 2007

Rocket Launch

This weekend and next, our rocketry club will be holding two-day launches. The main reason is so that the students participating in the annual Team America Rocket Contest can have the opportunity to make their qualification launches. With thousands of dollars in scholarship money on the line, not to mention trips to the Farnborough Airshow for the winners, we're giving them every chance to succeed.

Of course, I have a box o' rockets prepped and ready to fly myself, including a UFO-style flying saucer that I'll fly as a two-stage, a couple of small rocket gliders, a couple of clusters, and several others. The trick for me will be to remember the sunscreen, because I traditionally get burnt to a crisp on the first couple of launches of the year.

I'm also hoping to pick up the last of the parts and supplies I need for my new high-power hybrid system, which will inspire me to get back to work on my Level 2 project.

The weather is supposed to be beautiful tomorrow, and I hope the wind cooperates, because I loaded up some maximum motors in most of my rockets.

Enjoy the weekend!

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February 01, 2007

Rocket Launch Saturday

Unfortunately, I can't make it. Liz and I are headed down to see newlywed daughter Robyn and Henry this weekend. To make up for the lack of smoke, fire and noise, we've got tickets to see a minor league hockey game Saturday night. Go Norfolk Admirals!

Posted by: Ted at 07:28 PM | category: Rocketry
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December 02, 2006

Launch Report - 12/2/06

Our rocketry club NOVAAR held its monthly launch today, and I managed to make it out there for a few hours. It was a bit windy and quite cold (or quite windy and a bit cold), so I dressed warmly and decided to help out and not worry about flying anything myself.

I'd heard that at the last launch there were mobs of cub scouts trying to fly their rockets. Today wasn't nearly that bad, but we had a small batch of cub scouts as well as an open meet contest.

The kids did great, and the contest flights were pretty interesting. The events included helicopter recovery (duration: how long can it stay up there), boost glider (duration), spot landing (how close can you drop your rocket under chute to the target), and a new event where rocket gliders carried payloads for duration.

Aside from the contest flights, the most impressive of the day were a father/daughter team who flew a 3-stage Estes Commanche *twice* fully loaded (D12-0 to C6-0 to C6-7) and got everything back both times. Excellent flights, easily topping 2000 ft.

That's the last club launch for the year, although I did learn that next weekend is Culpeper! Battlepark 2006... hmmmm, I wonder what my plans *were* for next Saturday?

Posted by: Ted at 07:49 PM | category: Rocketry
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November 12, 2006

Rockets don't have to be boring

Normal rockets are often called "three fins and a nosecone". This entry in the most recent EMRR rocket design contest is anything but. Wicked cool.

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November 05, 2006

I had to post this

A lot of guys in hobby rocketry volunteer their time doing educational outreach things like talking to students or putting on demonstration launches. Doug Pratt blogs about a recent Q&A he had with some students. You should go read the whole thing (it's short), but I'll give you this much. After explaining that no, he doesn't work for NASA, one of the kids asked Doug how he knew so much about it. Here's his reply:

“I’m not a scientist or an engineer. I know a lot about this stuff because I love it. That’s all you need.”


Posted by: Ted at 08:19 AM | category: Rocketry
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August 20, 2006

Launch Report - 8/19

I had a very nice day launching rockets, in a screwed up, cruddy sort of way.

The weather was beautiful for our regular monthly club launch out at Great Meadow. The wind was occasionally gusty, but it was almost 180 degrees from the normal direction, meaning that it was blowing down the long direction of the field.

Today I was accompanied by my future son-in-law (it's official as of this week), since we men-folk were kicked out of the house whilst the ladies did wedding-dress things.

We slept in and got to the field a bit after 10am - nice crowd already - and almost immediately I was asked to pull a shift as launch control (countdown and button pusher guy). That's always fun and I love helping out, but doing a two-hour shift of this when we were only going to be there about 3 or 4 hours kinda bit rocks.

Next month the Internats (World Rocket Championships) are being held at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Russia, which is their version of Cape Canaveral. Getting in some last minute practice were several members of the team, launching helicopter, streamer and parachute duration models, and making lots of RC rocket glider flights.

After my shift as LCO (not the full two hours - thanks Bart!), I went and prepped my original Level 1 certification rocket, an upscale of the Centuri Groove Tube. Because of the wind, I really stepped down on the size of the chute. After safety check we headed out to the high-power pads.

1. Groove Tube Upscale - H128W-M - Great boost, slightly weathercocking into the wind. Chute just after apogee and then a long walk to recover.

The guys who launched just before me wound up going in the same direction, as both our rockets were over the treeline at the edge of the field. Henry wound up jumping a barb-wire fence and recovered the Groove Tube, and the other guy found his rocket hanging over some high-voltage wires. Bad news, that. Hopefully the power company was able to send someone out right away and get it down. They try to get to them quickly so they don't cause line damage.

At some point in the flight, my Groove Tube kicked the motor casing. Normally, when the ejection charge fires the pressure ejects the chute, but occasionally the motor will be spit out the back instead because it wasn't secure enough. In this case, the chute came out just fine, but it looks like the motor was kicked backwards enough to bend and twist the brass retention clip, and at some point
during descent the motor dropped free without our seeing it.

The rocket is fine, but I'm mildly annoyed because I have one last motor reload kit that will only fit that casing, and I'm not going to buy a new casing for one more flight. Either I'll borrow one or give the reload to someone to use.

After Henry and I spent a while searching for the lost motor casing (hoping for a lucky break because finding it falls within the realm of 'needle in a haystack'), it was time to go. So I made a grand total of one flight all day.

On the plus side, I got to visit with several good friends and helped a couple of kids make their first-ever rocket flights. I also did a blog-meet of sorts with Dick Stafford of Rocket Dungeon fame (check out his launch report here, he was way more successful than I). He always has something wacky and interesting to fly and I had a great time shooting the breeze with him.

So, bottom line on the day: rocket launch = good. Even when things don't go so great.

Posted by: Ted at 08:21 AM | category: Rocketry
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August 05, 2006

Short Rocket Video

I have one of these motors, and 3 reload kits to fit.

*grinning like an idiot*

Note: The audio part of that clip, using the limited microphone of the video camera, doesn't come close to capturing the deep, bone-rattling roar of that beast when it ignites.

Posted by: Ted at 07:56 AM | category: Rocketry
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