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Two Terms in a Small School Rocket Club
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By Matt Gillard

I was pleased with the 2008 challenge having a section on getting children involved with rocketry. I myself did not get into rocketry until I was in my twenties. Rocketry is not big in the UK and I had never seen a model rocket, despite regularly visiting model shops. My first taste of rocketry was as a teaching aid to a group of A level student studying gas laws: it was a zinc sulphur rocket made out of a biro pen and margarine tube fins. It flew really well - I had several, some of them exploded on the pad (launched the rockets from behind safety screens) and the pupils really enjoyed them, even if the teaching points were lost on them.

Looking back, those biro rockets were boarding on dangerous, there was no recovery system, other than a pen coming in ballistic and when they exploded they sent sharp shards of plastic flying, often blowing the safety screen over. A year later, I stumbled upon an Estes starter kit in a bookshop, the rest is history.

YouthI now run two rocket clubs.

The first club that I started was at my school. I had been using the rockets that I had built for teaching. A few pupils got interested and we built rockets and flew them in our own time, usually at dinnertime or after school. Three years ago I officially started a rocket club at the school. I also have a commission with the Royal Air Force and have organised training days solely donated to building and flying rockets. Last year I started a club in my local town, mainly because I was getting lonely on the flying field. The club is still very small but there are a few members that turn up every monthly launch and there are a few youth members.

The school's rocket club - WCRC

This story is going to focus on three members of the rocket club, I'll call them Z, J and C. C has been involved with the club for a year previous and had built a rocket or two, including a scratch built boost glider. Z had built a scratch built rocket as part of an air cadet training camp, C had just joined the club this year.

The first meeting was in January where we set our goals for the year. After a quick stroll through the Internet it was decided that we were all going to enter the 2008 EMRR challenge. All three of them are intelligent, and within minutes they were trying to find loopholes in the challenge to get the most points as quickly as possible.

The rest of the meeting was spent looking at SpaceCAD, and purchasing rockets online that meet the scale rocket hit list requirement.

Space CADWithin a few weeks the group were well into the 2008 Challenge, C had added the EMRR link to his web page, and had started building a sports scale model rocket, J had mastered SpaceCAD and had built a model rocket from the design and Z had started an up-scaled an Estes SuperNova. Although these were quite easy tasks, all three were already starting to look at one of the most challenging part of the challenge, which was agreed to be the design, this spaceship contest. I tried to steer them away from this challenge so early in the year and with there modelling skills quite limited at this stage. Fortunately, this steering away was made easy by the start of the box of parts competition. I provided the parts, as they did not have any and I was trying to get them away from the Estes quick build trap that I had been stuck in for a year or two.

Before the box of parts arrived, C had built his Semroc Aerobee- Hi, which turned out to be a good flier, Z had built her SpaceCAD build, a rocket called phoenix, which had an unusual fin design, and Z has finished her upscale of the Supernova. With each member of the group having built a rocket, we had our first flying day. C Aerobee- Hi performed very well, and he managed to get three flights in so he could write a review for EMRR and more importantly score five points for the challenge. Z's upscale had its maiden flight which was nearing underpowered on a C motor, afterwards we decides that it would be a good rocket for a cluster, which turned out to be a theme that would crop up on the box of parts competition. J's Phoenix flew perfectly. In all it had been a good day flying.

Unknown to me, the rocketry bug has bitten C quite badly. Over the Easter holidays he had written his review of his first rocket and written his profile up on EMRR who's who list - I was somewhat impressed, the photo part of that had put me off - I'm not great with technology. When he returned to school, he came in with a Quark, A Venus Pancakes and a Sukhoi SU-47, the Quark had been built by his brother, who C had initiated into model rocketry, this was so he could complete the youth participation part of the 2008 challenge. His Sukhoi SU-47had also been built, which the group looked at. We looked at the choice of motor mount that C had chosen, it was generally agreed that the choice of eighteen mm over twenty four mm was wimpy. J suggested that R should have fitted the twenty-four mm motor mount and used an adapter. - it's good to see them learning so fast.

BuildingNevertheless, the Sukhoi SU-47was flown and gave 3 good flights. When the box of parts stuff arrived it was during the Easter holidays. I was about to go on a two week working holiday, so I quickly divided the stuff up between the six United Kingdom entrants and dropped the parts off at C's house so he could pass them onto the other two. To add a bit of competition to the competition I offered the choice of one of three prizes of an Estes cruise missile, an R2D2 rocket andR2D2 controller and an Estes Star Wars Naboo rocket to who ever got into the three highest score on the EMRR competition, this was between six of us that had entered in the United Kingdom.

When the holiday was over the first meeting went through what we were planning to do with our parts. J was the first to come up with a rear ejection rocket that was quite novel, it was a very long rocket, and only had a small parachute. C went for a multi tube design with extra fins. Z spent a lot of time changing her mind between designs but eventually went for.

As the three of them were all taking examinations, things got at bit hectic, with only a month to go before the deadline, all three of them had yet to finish building their rockets and all three of them were now on examination leave. This meant that there was no allocated time left for them to build or fly, and all three had a lot of examinations to take. Fortunately, all three wanted to finish the competition, so they kept turning up to Friday sessions to get things going.

Z then added herself to the Who's Who database, and then taught me how to use the photo software so that I could add myself to the database. (The addition of EMRR offering a reward of a chance to win a rocket helped a bit too.)

Two weeks before the deadline five of the UK entrants to the box of parts competition had their rockets in a position to fly. Z had been the slowest of the lot had put a real spurt on and had built and painted her rocket in a space of a few days: a four-fin rocket with twelve tubes added at the base for decoration. A significant amount of mass was added to the front to make it stable. Out of all the box of parts rockets flown that weekend, this one performed the best. It flew okay on a B and really performed on a C motor. C's rocket was finished by the launch day, but needed more finishing, as it was quiet light and was intended for a D motor, he chose to delay the launch until he had a good finish on it. On a D it could be lost to the rocket Gods. J's rocket was still in parts: examinations were delaying its build. J had part built the rocket, and had designed a rocket that used a rear ejection for the parachute. Two other box of parts rockets were flown that day along with a few other rockets. C had built a Venus Pancakes rocket. I was very impressed. He had taken his time and had quite a bit of help by Z. I had asked for tips on The Rocketry Forum for Pancakes and had passed them on to C. The maiden flight of Pancakes was a very interesting flight, only one blade deployed, and the rocket returned nose cone first, but slowly as the one deployed blade worked really well. We spent some time discussing how to improve it, stronger elastic band, lower grade burn string etc. I really wanted one of these, but C had got the last one in the United Kingdom. After a quick fix of gluing on the fin and changing the elastic and string the pancakes was good to go again.

LaunchTwo more flights were had, but each time the rocket came down nose first, at first we thought that the motor that had kicked itself out had shifted the cg higher, but even when the motor stayed in, it still nosed its way down. C is keen to get the rocket to fly perfectly.

C's box of parts rocket was finally finished with a few days before the original deadline. A multi fined rocket, it looked good, and so we headed off to the flying field. I was a bit worried about the choice of motor: D12 on such a light bird was going to send it high. Unfortunately I had run out of C11s, but C was keen to fly it on a D and was prepared to lose it. Turned out that my concerns were right. The rocket ripped off the pad and then at about seven hundred feet, a wind sheer took it off over the near by woods. C and I spent some time in the woods trying to find it. In the end C found it in about twenty-five foot up a tree. I've been back a few times to try and rescue it, but it remains firmly stuck.

With a blessing for all procrastinators, the deadline was extended for the box of parts competition. J was able to finish his rocket, although he had to modify his original design to speed up the process. With just a day to go before the end of the school year, J and I headed out to the flying field to get his rocket launched as many times as we could. Three flights were made, first underpowered on a B. it still performed but was not that impressive. The two C flights were much better. J's core ejection system worked well. In the end, some minor fin damaged prevented further flights.

All of them now had at least two rockets that had been flown and were waiting for them to review them for EMRR and for the box of parts competition. This was an area where they were the slowest. I can understand why, writing reviews are not as much fun as flying rockets. Only C and Z submitted a review to EMRR. J did not, which was disappointing. I must have a dozen or so rockets waiting to be written up, and I'm always an as close to the deadline as possible person.


As the school as now close for the summer, and two of the group have now left, this story comes to a natural end. Z is returning next year. She will be the captain of the rocket club and also the lead cadet in the Royal Air Force section of the school's Combined Cadet Force. I suspect that there will be a rocketry element creeping into there. C and J are both off to university -I suspect they might be BARs in the future.

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