Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Rocket Geek Stuff

OK, I promised I'd post about my return to model rocketry, in a contest held a week ago Sunday at my local rocket club, CATO. Well, I was waiting for the contest results to become official, but they still haven't been posted, so I'll go ahead and report what I think the results were. I competed in four competition events sanctioned by the National Association of Rocketry (NAR): Open Spot Landing, in which you try to land your rocket as close as possible to a predetermined spot in the field; 1/4A Parachute Duration, in which you try for the longest timed flight with a rocket launched on a 1/4A power motor and recovered using a parachute; 1/2A Streamer Duration, in which you try for the longest timed flight with a rocket launched on a 1/2A power motor and recovered using a streamer; and A Rocket Glider, in which you try for the longest timed flight with a rocket launched on an A power motor and recovered intact by gliding.

I competed representing my NAR team, The Tappet Brothers (yes, named after the Car Talk guys!), which consists of me and my buddy Andy Jackson, who runs his own small rocket kit company, Aerospace Speciality Products... but since we were the only team represented, we were (which is to say I was) combined into the division for individual adult competitors. Here's what I think our results were:
  • Open Spot Landing: Last I checked, I was in second place... but there were other flights after that point, so who knows. Interestingly, the target spot was marked by a life-size cutout of Austin Powers, which randomly blurted out digitized Powers-isms like "Do I make you horny, baby?" Too cool!
  • 1/4A Parachute Duration: These models are very small, and the trick is to get the parachute to open after having been jammed into such a tight space. I didn't master that trick: Both flight attempts came down with partially wadded up 'chutes. Even so, I think my total time was good enough for second place, or at least third.
  • 1/2A Streamer Duration: I had two solid flights here, and I'm pretty sure I won this event.
  • A Rocket Glider: The trick here is that what makes a rocket stable during boost is not the same as what makes a glider fly well... so the model has to change inflight to transition from stable rocket boost to good gliding flight. I used a model called the Xebec IIIA, designed by long-time competitor George Gassaway, in which an elevator tab pops up after the rocket motor burns out. I had one good flight (little over a minute) with this model, and needed only the shortest possible qualified flight on my second attempt to win the event. The second flight was great -- it disappeared out of sight after flying for over 5 minutes, and it was still up in a thermal (rising warm air), not coming down. But there was a problem: Because the second flight behaved differently in flight than the first, observers on the ground thought the motor might have been ejected from the model, which is grounds to disqualify the flight. In such cases, procedure is that contest officials request the model be returned to the judges for inspection. Since my model flew away (otherwise perfectly legal), I couldn't return it for inspection, and the flight was disqualified. I had to settle for second place.
All in all a great day. There's something really satisfying about returning to a cherished hobby after a long absence. I can't wait to go flying again!

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