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"Lead Sled" Level 3 Project
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By Jim Ballard


"Lead Sled" Level 3 Project
Odessa, TX
NAR 83161 L3
TRA 10883 L3

My road to level 3 began in September '05 at AirFest 11 in Argonia, Kansas. A good friend of mine, Tim Sapp, put the bug in my ear that I might think about attempting a level 3 flight at LDRS 25 since it would be so close in Amarillo, Texas the next summer. At the time, I thought it was just a pipe dream, but the thought never really left my mind over the next couple of months.

When I got home from AirFest I began research on construction materials, thrust profiles, design, and scratch built vs kit built. I finally got all my ducks in a row and decided to contact Tim who was an L3CC. I asked Tim if he was willing to oversee my L3 documentation and build. Tim happily accepted the challenge and the construction of "Lead Sled", my L3 rocket began.

Pic 1 Pic 2

Since my L1 and L2 flights had been with scratch built rockets of my own design, I decided to keep the tradition going with my L3 rocket. With input from Tim, the final design was a 9.5 ft. tall, 8.5" diameter, 4FNC monster that would weigh 59.5 lbs ready to fly. The airframe would be based on 8" (8.5" OD) mailing tubes from Yazoo Mills. The nose cone, fins, centering rings, coupler, bulkheads, and 98mm to 75mm motor adapter were all scratch built. The motor mount I used was 4" HD MMT tubing from LOC.

Pic 3 Pic 4

Construction of "Lead Sled" was straightforward and very simple using accepted HPR construction techniques. The ¼" thick airframe tubes and 3/8" Baltic birch fins were covered with a single layer of 6 oz. glass cloth. The nose cone was a little more challenging but easily accomplished using my lathe. The motor mount adapter used forward retention for the AT 76-6400 case, and 4 ¼ x 20 bolts for aft retention. Construction took place from November '05 to April '06.

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Early in the process, Tim and I decided on apogee deployment of the main chute. With the flight attempt taking place at Wayside, TX, recovery space would not be a problem. To handle the recovery timing I used two Perfectflite MAWD's that were proven reliable through numerous flights in my L2 rockets.

Tim and I met in May at NSL '06 in McGregor TX to conduct ejection testing for "Lead Sled". We tested the charges twice just to make sure we had it right. The tests were nominal. I returned home and applied the victory red and gunmetal gray finish and I was ready to go.

Actually, the LDRS experience started for me in January of '06 as the Vendor Rep for the event. During this time I juggled my time between my work as vendor rep, work on my L3 project, and work that actually yielded a paycheck. I left home for LDRS a week early on June 23rd to help Pat G. and the POTROCS crew with set-up of the range. By this time I had begun to feel the butterflies associated with such an important project. (at least for me) Pat kept us pretty busy though, so the real anxiety didn't really hit me until the morning of the launch, Friday June 30th, which was the second day of LDRS 25.

I arrived early that morning with the plan to launch as early as possible to take advantage of low morning winds. The prep process took about an hour, and with Tim watching, I built the Areotech M1550R. After securing the motor retention, and with Tim's blessings, I made my way to the RSO for a safety check. Out to the "M" pads with my step-son TJ and my brother Chris carrying the rocket, Tim taking pictures, and my lovely wife Teresa recording the event on video.

Set Up Liftoff

Rocket loaded on the 1515 rail, electronics armed, igniter installed, and nerves frazzled, we made the long walk back to the LCO. When it was my turn to launch, Dan Stroud made the announcement and began the countdown. "Lead Sled" left the pad on a 6 foot red flame and went up straight as an arrow. At motor burn out we heard a distinctive whistle all the way to apogee, very cool! The rocket was clearly visible at apogee and the recovery event went just as planed. We watched as the big white military surplus chute billowed open and the 52 lb.rocket (minus propellant weight) made a leisurely trip back to earth.


Tim and I met at the recovery spot to inspect for damage. Other than a scuff or two she was ready to fly again. Tim stuck out his hand for a handshake, and congratulated me on a successful level 3 flight.

The road to level 3 was most of all, a learning process. There are several people I need to thank, who's help was invaluable. First, my wife Teresa who travels with me to the middle of nowhere to launch rockets. Tim Sapp, who kept me on track and who's knowledge made this project possible. My step-son TJ, for his support and for being my best rocket buddy. Jeff Short, Stu Barrett, Pat Gordzelik, David Bachelder, who have all had great influence on me in this great hobby. Thanks guys!

What now? More "M" flights of course! "Lead Sled" is being modified right now for dual deployment from the same compartment, and is getting a new "pointy" nose cone.


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