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It Was a Dark and Stormy Night
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By Geoffrey Kerbel

It was a dark and stormy night. No, actually it was a beautiful, bright and sunny day here in Arizona and the first Saturday we could get a club launch in and not fry us in the process. After having some fun at a local park for the last three months with the small modrocs, I was really suffering from an itchy launch trigger finger to get my first cluster rocket and first RMS together and into the air. Not that the small park wasn't fun but we are limited to single A-C engines because of the size of the park and the surrounding rocket eating trees and houses. My son had lost an Estes Skywriter to one tree and I almost lost my scratch build and designed Galaxy Flyer to another. I really don't like flying when the possibility of a tree eating a rocket is very close at hand.

The club launch site in Rainbow Valley, AZ is positively huge with no trees within two miles of our launch area! The only problem is with the abundant dry grass clumps covering the launch site. We can't cut them down because we are on a working cattle ranch and the grass is the main diet of the cattle. In order to safety use the area we carve out twenty foot or so circles in the grass for each launch platform to sit in. There are at least ten fire extinguishers placed about and plenty of hands to grab them and run to the problem in case an errant rocket comes down and starts something. It's amazing how fast one of those things can light up the grass and how fast it can spread!


The launch area has a standard waiver to 7500' AGL and we have a high altitude waiver to 12500' AGL with advance notice. We do, however, notify Luke Air Force base of our using the field each time we are out there. We still get at least two military chopper over flights every time we are out launching. I get a little nervous when one shows up and someone has a six-foot scale Bullpup on the away pad!

Optima I had been flying my rockets in a smallish local park not far from my house and we have managed to launch some D engine rockets with no problems. There were a few nail biters but mostly everything went just fine. I went to Rainbow Valley for the first time last May and was just blown away with the amount of room there was to launch and recover! I had a new scratch built Estes Optima and a scratch built BT-80 size Red Max with an original design, interchangeable motor mount system. Unfortunately, we could not use any staged or cluster arrangements due to the fire danger that month! After flying those two on E9-6 engines, I realized that they both could use some more power. The flights were both picture perfect but they both needed more height for the long delays. The Optima was large and a bit heavy. The Mega Max has a three 18MM cluster and a 29MM mount that could be used as well as the 24MM mount but not that day.

It was a long summer! I managed to obtain a 24MM and a 29MM RMS system with a few reloads during this time, as well as a large number of BP motors thanks to a fellow selling them on ROL. Now all we needed was the September launch date. Of course, it was a Saturday right after an important ADRA (Arizona Drag Racing Association) club race, which would mean I would be at the racetrack till who knows when in the morning and then try to get to the field by 7 AM. It is an hour drive from the house but mostly freeway all the way. At least I could prep all my stuff before hand and if I needed a nap, I could always do so when I got back home. Yes, it's the age thing! Not that I'm that old! As it turned out, I was ok that night but the car managed to go a whole lot faster than I expected which is not a good thing in bracket drag racing. I was home by midnight and had the race stuff unloaded and the rocket stuff loaded by 1 AM.

I made the mistake of setting my watch alarm to wake me instead of the regular alarm so not to wake the family too early. I slept right thru it and no one woke me up. By the time I got going, it was already 7:30. I grabbed a quick cup of coffee with some raisin toast and left. I was also on my own since everyone else had something to do that day. I was very glad I packed the truck before hand. I had to set the cruise control or I was going to be going way too fast in an effort to make up time. And we know what that leads too! As it turned out, I arrived around 9 AM with most everyone in place but not quite ready for launching. I even found a spot not far from the RSO table to back the truck in and set my stuff up. Setting up took very little time, even with the canopy and tables, as I knew I was mostly ready to fly when I got there.

We had broken clouds, light winds and it was not yet into the 90's for temp. It only took about 30 minutes to set up my two launch platforms in one of the clearings. I had planned to set up three pads with 1/8, 3/16 and ¼ rods when I realized I had not brought enough launch platform legs! Since I was sharing the space with a friend whom I knew was flying larger rockets up to level two, I just set up the smaller rods and would use his ¼ rod when I needed to. His set up was on a sawhorse, with the rod on one end and a launch rail on the other. I went back to the truck and finished prepping my first two rockets.

First up would be a QEZ Glider by Quest (review to follow when I can) and my Mega Max with a triple C6-5 cluster. The glider was set up and I waited my turn in the queue. I got the call and was ready to launch. This was the first flight with a B6-4 and a properly trimmed glider. I had used an A8-3 at the park launch last time and almost lost it. The first flight sent the glider almost straight out of the park and the second one was a very wide circle almost into the trees! With some proper trimming in my back yard, I was ready to see what it could do. Talk about a flight! Straight up with a slight twist and a little early on the ejection charge which is not a bad thing with a boost glider. The power pod comes down way too fast on its streamer for my liking, which the LSO was aware of and warned everyone with a heads up call. The glider was a thing of beauty! Nice slow decent with a 300' to 400' circular left hand turn. I was so engrossed in watching it I completely forgot to time it! It must have been a good one as I heard the LSO comment on the duration and maybe using it in a timed event! Not to bad for a simple, easy to build, inexpensive kit from Quest.

Mega Max1Mega Max2

Next was my Mega Max with the cluster. This was going to be my first attempt with three engines and I was very nervous and excited at the same time. I took my time and made sure all the leads from the whip clip were on correctly and the rocket was pointing straight up. When it was time to launch, I crossed two fingers and pushed the launch button at the command. What a sight! All three lit and up she went. I love this rocket design! I have three Red Max rockets. The standard one, a goony max and my mega. Every one of them gives the straightest, non-twisting rocket flights I have ever launched. Now with the triple engines the height was up there (800' at least) and the delay turned out to be almost perfect. Chute pop was just barely after apogee and the recovery was less than 300' from the pad. As I was on my way to pick it up, I noticed a few people were applauding. Man, I was walking two feet off the ground!

Many thanks to the various people who have contributed to EMRR with their tips and helpful hints. By reading of all the ups and downs that they had gone through, I was able to put together a launch system that is simple to use and powerful enough to get multiple engines to fire.

After a short water break, it was time for the next two on my launch list. I had already filled out the launch cards the night before and they were now my method of deciding what was to go up next. First would be an original Estes CATO from Ebay and then my scratch built Estes Alien Explorer. At the RSO desk, he managed to pick up the CATO without realizing what would happen before I had a chance to warn him! While going over the Explorer, I put the CATO back together and then moved out to the launch pads. The LSO didn't know what to say about the CATO except that he had never seen the rocket and was sure the name had something to do with the way it flew. My sons and I flew it once already in our small park on a B6-4 and everything worked as it was supposed to. I now had a C5-3 in it and was expecting the same.

Not this time! It went up fine with nice height and fairly straight. It started to arch over and I definitely heard the ejection charge go off but nothing happened. I knew what was next and could only watch with a knot in my stomach as it came down ballistic and slammed into the hard dirt. I think it actually bounced when it hit. The LSO made a comment about how it was supposed to come apart and not core sample. Now I was trying to walk under the ground as I went to retrieve what was left. What a mess! The nose cone that was a two-piece unit was now shattered into six or eight, the main body tube was pushed in about three inches and the rest seemed fine. I gathered it all up and would do a post mortem when I got home.

Next was my Alien Explorer, which had a few great flights and I was looking forward to redeeming myself with another nice one. It was loaded with a C6-5 and launched beautifully. As it started to arch over the ejection charge went off and out came the chute. The problem was that the chute was way too far away from the rocket this time and again I realized what was next. This one was really heartbreaking, as I had spent about two weeks building this very complicated rocket. Down it came not far from the RSO table with a nasty crunch as it hit. I had to watch, why I don't know. It really folded up with major damage to the upper half of the rocket. Someone was kind enough to retrieve the nose cone and chute and hand it back as I was gathering up the rest of the mess.

Alien Explorer

Wow! I really haven't had any major failures in three or so years of starting back in the hobby and now in front of a crowd, I had two in a row. I guess if there was a good place and time to do it, here it was. Nothing like a good performance in front of a large crowd! The fairly new rubber shock cord had separated right at the tri-fold mount. Why, I have no clue, since the cord was less than a year old with no visible damage from the previous flights. It is also almost two feet from the motor and had no burn marks or damage I could see.

Great! I still had some more I wanted to launch but was now very leery to do so. But hey! I came to fly some rockets and by golly that was what I was going to do. There was nothing I could do about the failures now and besides, rockets are meant to fly and sometimes they do and sometimes they don't! Whatever I can't fix goes into the can and I can almost always make another!

I loaded up the next two and set them up on the launch pads. My twenty plus year old Centuri Avenger was next, flying on a B6-0/B6-6 combo. Down the launch button went and straight up the rocket went. It staged at about 100' and I was very relieved to hear the sustainer hissing as it continued its way up. A quick check on the booster coming down and I looked up for the rest of the flight. Really nice it was as the sustainer coasted up to about 800' and out came the chute at apogee. After a slow float down, I made a long recovery walk to pick up a perfectly landed rocket. I also remembered to breath again as I was walking back to the pads. The booster section had already been left there and I was all set for the next launch.

My scratch built Nike X was next and made another classic beautiful C6-5 flight, which for some reason again brought the sound of clapping to my ears. Why, I don't really know but even the LSO had some nice comments on the flight for me on the way back as I went past the table. I think it may have been one of his favorite rockets and he must have made some nice comments about it prior to the launch. I was so busy setting it up; I guess I never heard them.

By now it was getting close to our shutdown time and I prepped my Optima with the RMS E28-7T motor in it. I made sure I notified the RSO that this was my first RMS and he asked a lot of questions, which I actually had the answers for! Once he signed off the launch card I figured I had done everything right and was getting excited to launch it. It was starting to get a bit windy with some strong gusts and when my turn came up I asked the LSO if the wind would be a problem. He replied that with the engine I was using in the size rocket I had, he didn't think so.

Well the time had come and I thought, this was the one I was waiting three month for. Good or bad I was going to have a flight to remember!

Blue Sky MAN, was it ever! The blue thunder lit up and that rocket just shot into the sky! I love those two-foot long flames coming out the back and the sight of that rocket climbing into the sky! Up it went and just when I thought I was going to loose sight of it, it started to nose over and much to my relief, the ejection charge went off, out came the chute and it started to float down. There was about a half a dozen of the regulars standing behind the flight line and as I turned around to start my long recovery walk, I noticed they and the LSO were all applauding my first successful RMS launch and recovery. What a way to end the day. I didn't even mind the mile walk I had, to go out and come back, to retrieve my best flight of the day with a perfect rocket.

All and all a great day with some drama and some tears but one I hope to at least somewhat repeat again at the next club launch. Thanks for your time for reading all this and I hope you enjoyed it as well as my day went.

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