To launch a rocket

Family Hobby Personal

When I was a kid, and I want to say around 11 or 12, my friends and I used to all go out and get model rockets and spend the weekends building them and launching them. If you’ve never built one, you really are missing out.

I can’t really do justice to the feeling of watching a rocket you’ve built with your own hands take take off in a small blast of fire and smokey thrust and the unadulterated sound of speed as it flies off the launch plate into the sky after you’ve done the countdown and press the launch button. It jets up quickly and then hangs for a moment before the engine fires again to force the nosecone out which brings the parachute with it. There is a moment of worry before it happens, will it actually pop it out, where will the wind take it? And all you can do is watch and wait for it to lazily drift back to earth for you to retrieve it. And the the thrill of picking it up off the ground (or out of a tree) and seeing it’s just fine and wants to fly again. It’s awesome and it makes me wonder what the folks at NASA used to feel before money and war became more important then science and exploration.

My son and I have been building model rockets for a few years now, it’s something we can do together and it also requires a bit of precision and working with tools so it is a good opportunity to demonstrate teamwork and longer project skills as well. We like to build them and paint them, sometimes we use the right colors, sometimes we get artistic, it’s really nice and I love it (I’m pretty sure he does too 😀 )

He got four rockets for his birthday last year, which is in the winter, so it gave us a good amount of time to build and paint them. These are all Estes brand rockets, I assume they have competitors but Estes is the only name I can ever remember hearing. There was a Big Bertha, an Amazon, a Crossfire. There is a fourth, but we haven’t built it yet.

So today, my son, my friend, and myself went out in search of the perfect field to launch them from. My son and I have built and launched a number o9f rockets in the past, but all of my old launch spots are not around or can’t be used for that anymore and for the say past 5 rockets we’ve built and launched, we’ve only recovered one, that’s right 1 single successful launch and recovery. It’s all my fault in bad spot picking, but I tell you, sometimes you just gotta take a chance. Sadly, never worked out well for us in this regard.

My friend to the rescue! Recently, at a cookout, I had mentioned my dillema to my friend and he had two spots that sounded like prime locations, and they were in my area, always a win with that.

So my son and I picked up my buddy and off we went. On the way to spot 1, an old polo field, we came across a potential field to try, but on closer inspection, the brush was too high, we’d never find the rocket once it touched back down.

As we are pulling up to the old polo field, a police car pulls up and sets up shop for a speed trap, it was a damn good spot for the police, but I felt a little nervous about walking past him with ordinance (the rocket engines)  as well as the rockets. I am not sure of the laws in the are for launching model rockets and we decided better to play it safe than sorry.

Spot number 2 is an abandoned small airport. Well I’m not even sure the building are there anymore but the runway is. However, to get to the place you need to park in a local metro park and hike through the woods. The only parking area however was closed and gated up today. Very disappointing, I was actually hoping we would be able to launch here for the coolness factor alone.

Going deep, my friend pulled one more spot out of the air, but cautioned it is usually pretty busy, but at this point my son is getting antsy, and darn it, I want to fly a rocket, so we give it a go.

The place was absolutely empty, huge field, no trees in the area, everything you could ask for! It was on my friends! I built the launching pad while my son prepped the first rocket, the Amazon, we were pumped. It launched like a dream! The wind had picked up slightly since we first set up the pad, so it did drift a bit with the parachute on it’s way down and of course landed in the only tree around… Fortunately we found a long piece of 1 inch PVC  tube that we were able to poke it out of the tree with.

I mostly had A engines (which are the weakest and meant for small and light rockets) so we tried the Big Bertha and the Amazon again with an A engine. Don’t do this, it is sad, they are way too damn heavy for A engines. Don’t get me wrong it’s always cool to launch a rocket but they barely got high enough of the ground to eject their parachutes before touching back down in a very unflattering low arch. They really should have mid grade B engines at the least, and C’s worked great!

We launched the crossfire a twice as well. The A engines worked great there. The second crossfire launch (and last of the day) did encounter a problem, the shock-cord (a fat rubber band that hold the rocket to the nosecone) was damaged in the building process and got caught during ejection with the nosecone, this caused the flash paper to burn and also burned the parachute. Now these things are thing plastic parachutes so it’s not a big deal at all and at least it can be repaired, unlike a rocket you never recover 😉

Anyway, it was a great day thanks to everybody involved. Can’t wait for the next time, hopefully I will have some pictures to post soon!

[Update: 9/4/2011] My friend uploaded his pictures and video, Thanks!