As I catch up on missed posts, I come to a high power launch in Talladega, Alabama, on March 31, 2012. The original plan for the day was to venture to Lilly, Georgia, to launch with Southern Area Rocketry (SoAR), a NAR club just north of Atlanta, where the Ramblin’ Rocket Club is, but due to questionable weather southern Georgia for the day and a couple other reasons dealing with NAR and Tripoli politics, we decided to head to Talladega for the Phoenix Missile Works (PMW) launch instead.
The PMW site was very nice, with a 24,000 ft AGL waiver that dwarfed SoAR’s 5,000 ft AGL waiver. The only problem was that PMW has taken to classifying all their launches as research launches, so only Tripoli members can fly. That meant that I could not fly my Level 2 certification that day, which was quite disappointing; however, we did get two of our club members Level 1 certifications under Tripoli.
After getting two of our guys to get Level 1 certifications, I prepped an AeroTech H112 Black Jack motor for my Patriot I rocket. (I wasn’t going to come all the way to fly nothing!) I’m a big fan of the Black Jack propellant due to the incredible dark smoke trail it leaves. It is second only to the Metalstorm/Skidmark propellant series.
The flight was incredible. I estimate a maximum altitude of about 2,400 ft AGL for this flight. The rocket soared out of sight on a pillar of black smoke, only to reappear a short time later under chute, gently floating down to a location just a few yards away from the launch pad. In true US space program fashion, my rocket landed in a giant puddle of standing water, which effectively compromised my coupler for the next 24 hours (which was okay since this was the second to last flight on the day).
Not every flight was perfect. One of our cert flights had to fly a second time after popping the motor case on the first try. (He found the case pretty quickly after hearing how much it would cost to replace.) Another poor chap failed his Level 3 certification after a magnificent flight that ended with a landing at an odd angle, splintering one of the fins. Even the Dude was not immune from failure when it snagged on a rusty launch rod and hilariously flailed like a fish under thrust, stalled on the rod. The failure story of the day, however, was the flight of the Ramblin’ Rocket, now in its second incarnation. Just the night before, another club member and myself were finishing the first stage fins, recovery and retention in a late-night session in the rocket lab. The idea was to employ spring-loaded heli-fins that would act as fins on the ascent phase and would convert into blades for a helicopter recovery following the ejection charge. It turns out that to make this successful, one must use material other than 1/16th-inch basswood laminated with office paper for fin material (especially if the the basswood core has giant lightening holes cut to reduce the rolling moment of inertia). Basswood is (apparently) an extremely flexible material, and we verified this the hard way. The springs ended up introducing excessive bending to the already-warping fins. This deformity was amplified under thrust when the free stream flow caught the fins and did aerodynamic magic on them. Just milliseconds after launch, the fins exploded, causing the rocket to lose stability (again) and perform five cartwheels in the sky before free-falling down to the spot where one of the PMW members was hiding behind his four-wheeler.
Despite this, we all had a great time at the launch and plan to return to the PMW site. Next time, we will have more Tripoli members to launch more rockets, and maybe the Ramblin’ Rocket will fly successfully, or maybe it will humorously fail again.