Saturday, August 23, 2003

Launch Report

For the last few days we’ve suffered oppressive heat and humidity, but a thunderstorm-spawning cold front passed through last night. Today was absolutely beautiful, with temperatures in the low 80’s, just enough wind to be comfortable, and a bright blue cloudless sky.

Mookie’s trip to Michigan last week put her behind on her summer homework, so she decided to stay home and buckle down. I only took three rockets today, deciding to concentrate on the higher end of the motor range I normally fly.

First up was a veteran named the FY2K. You can tell what was going on in my life when I built this rocket. It’s rather small, but takes a relatively large motor for it’s size, so it screams off the pad and gets great altitude.

Which is exactly what it did this time. People don’t expect a rocket this size – not much bigger than your standard Estes stuff – to be this loud and smokey, so as usual folks jumped and kids screamed in fright and wet themselves (just kidding). But it does get their attention. So she’s boosting arrow-straight, on a slight angle into the wind, and leaving a thick dark line of smoke behind her and just as she arches over at the top the neon-yellow parachute is ejected and fills instantly. Perfect.

I noticed something tiny fall away, and someone says it must be the ejection wadding (protects the chute from the ejection charge). So as we’re watching the rocket descend under chute from almost 2000 feet, out of the corner of my eye I catch a glimpse of something.

Wheeeeeeeee-thunk! The freaking nosecone screams down and hits the ground about 10 feet from where a group of us are standing. It weighs more than a quarter of a pound, and to have that sucker freefall down and almost hit us was way too much excitement. I’m embarrassed about it, but kinda proud too that I judged the wind that well. Thank goodness it didn’t hit anybody. It’s plastic and rounded – not pointy – but it still would’ve hurt.

The rest of the rocket, still under chute, drifts much farther than it should because a large portion of its total weight took the express back to earth. It finally settles down beyond a barn silo, and I walk about a half mile to find it in good shape in a meadow.

Now it’s time for the main event: Ain’t Misbehavin’. And I immediately run into a snag. I’ve forgotten the binder I keep the checklist in. This is far and away the most complex rocket I’ve ever attempted to fly, so I have a detailed checklist to make sure I remember everything and do things in the right order. Step 1 should be: “bring the checklist, stoopid”.

Fortunately, some friends with lots of experience are there to help. This is my first hybrid-motor rocket, and the first flight relying entirely on electronics to deploy the parachutes, so I’m grateful for the assistance. Everyone likes my design to arm and disarm the ejection charges, and since the wind is picking up we decide to go with a slightly smaller chute to bring it down faster.

Three quarters of an hour later we’re ready to go. I get a quick lesson on how to use the remote box to fill the tank with nitrous, and as soon as we see a plume venting from the side of the rocket we do a quick countdown and I press the button.

She hesitates on the pad for a second, and then an electric-red flame erupts from the nozzle and she starts to climb. This is the smallest possible motor I can use in this rocket, so the flight is slow and low, and at apogee the altimeter fires the ejection charge and the parachute deploys perfectly. A very sweet flight.

The altimeter measured 608 feet, which is just fine for a maiden flight, especially one full of personal firsts. I’ve already figured out how to trim at least a pound off of her weight, and can double the motor power with no problem on the next flight, so 2000 feet plus isn’t out of the question.

So that’s what I flew today (didn't get to fly the third rocket). There were many other interesting flights. Roger brought his television rocket. It transmits a rockets-eye view of the flight to a receiver station on the ground, which feeds it into a video camera to record the flight. Neat stuff. There were also several RC rocket glider flights made, and a very interesting monocopter (1-bladed helicopter – weird but cool). There were also a lot of kids and parents flying little rockets. I enjoy watching the kids make flights, their wonder and joy is contageous.

Today was a great day.