There are few better ways to celebrate an American holiday than with fireworks and other varieties of high explosives, which as an enthusiastic rocketeer, I took as a challenge happily accepted this past Memorial Day weekend at the Central Indiana Regional Fun Fly (CIRFF) in Muncie, IN. The land was spacious and flat (at the AMA Headquarters campus) and the waiver was just enough at 6,000 feet. The only menace on the field was a questionably-placed set of power lines and a confuddled wind that wasn’t quite sure which way it wanted to blow, which would only have posed a problem due to my 72″ parachute.
I had recently acquired a CTI J360 motor from Wildman Rocketry for a very reasonable $89. To be quite honest, I’m not sure whether I was more excited by the fact that the matching motor case came free with the motor or that the motor was loaded with Skidmark propellant. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to install a CTI motor, and I can see myself consuming more of this fine Canadian product in the future. (AeroTech, I’m not giving up on you. I have too much invested in your hardware!)
After prepping my rocket, the custom-designed Apache I, a process that took no more than 10 minutes (extremely short by these kinds of standards), I was paid a visit by the RSO/LCO/local club president (he was all three) Mario who wanted to know how high I was planning to launch. All my models for this introductory flight (more flights = bigger motors) pointed at 5,200 feet. Apparently, Mario had only called in 5,000 feet to the FAA, but upon calling them back, was cleared to the 6,000 feet from the waiver. Because of its size and power, Apache was given a priority launch, which was a good thing since the entire flight took about eight minutes and five other rockets were launched and recovered before Apache even came close to the ground. The flight was fantastic, but even more spectacular was the launch. Skidmark motors are always a great show, but the J360 really thundered. The launch was so loud, that model aviators on a field between a half mile and a mile away were startled and scared by the launch, according to the delegation that abandoned the flying field after that to come watch the rocket launches instead.
The launch is the easy part. Every high-performance rocketeer holds his or her breath for the deployment event. At 5,000+ feet up, it wasn’t easy to spot the deployment, but when the rocket came floating down, it sure wasn’t difficult to spot the vehicle then. The vehicle was a giant (over 7.5 feet tall), safety orange (that was the name of the paint color) beam. Twenty feet of neon yellow shock chord linked the vehicle to a 72-inch diameter orange and white parachute reminiscent of the Apollo splashdowns. The parachute was insurance for my landing. I estimate a docile landing speed of under13 feet per second, which coupled with the 1/4″ plywood fins, made for a touchdown free of structural compromise. Mission success!
Also launching that day was the classic Patriot I, flying on an AT I225, its most powerful flight yet. The I225 is a Black Jack motor, so the ascent was a lot of fun to watch (not as much as a Skidmark/Metalstorm launch, but still quite fun). Unfortunately, on the deployment event, the payload bay detached from its bulkhead and came crashing down to the earth, splitting the bay along the seam. I have deduced that this failure occurred because of Patriot’s previous water landing, which got a lot of the air frame really soggy. I believe that this water absorption compromised the cardboard structure of the coupler, leading to the detachment. The greatest irony? The bulkhead was attached to the coupler with a bond of marine epoxy. Go chew on that one. The rest of the flight, on the other hand, went quite spectacularly, so all I have to do is cut a tube to rebuild the payload bay. The hardest part is going to be matching the colors on the paint…
The final flight of the day for me was the SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon, a very appropriate flight given the concurrence of SpaceX’s historic flight to the ISS. I thought about flying on a D10 motor, but reconsidered because of the wind and went with an Estes C6. Everybody in the crowd was thrilled with the rocket, particularly the novelty of a separate capsule descent.