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Paying Forward to 4H
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By Les Bradshaw

A friend and coworker is a leader in his community’s 4H club.  He asked if I would be willing to help them do rockets again.  I had helped them 4 years earlier, they did a year where I was just too busy with overtime to help, and then they skipped the activity for a year.  I quickly agreed – but I have to admit, I then had to question my decision.

First, I forgot he lives a distance away – like 42 miles!  So I had to travel 84 miles round trip – and gas was going from $3.50 up to $4.17 over the duration of the project.  Ouch!!

Second, the first time we had all the kids build the same rocket.  This time, he wanted to have the kids have the freedom to pick their own kit.  The reason was he lives in a small community so the kids have a large range of ages (and skills) plus the 4H wants kids who did rockets before to build a more complex rocket.  I thought it would be a nightmare tracking the build of different rockets.

Pic 1The first night was more a show and tell – I brought several rockets to show simple 3FNC, scale, cluster, multi-stage, odd-roc, fantasy, and sci-fi.  I went into explanations as to how rockets work, the parts of the rocket, parts of the motor, recovery systems, etc.  I then explained the “skill level” to help them select an appropriate rocket. 

The next week everyone showed up with his or her rocket kit.  We ended up with the following:

  • 1 Estes Der Red Max
  • 2 Estes Super Neon
  • 1 Estes The Mean Machine
  • 1 Estes CC Express
  • 1 Estes Gnome
  • 1 Estes Sky Writer
  • 1 Custom Sam X
  • 3 Semroc Astro-1

Not too bad a selection.  I have several of these rockets myself so I was familiar with the builds.  The others were still basic rockets so I could quickly skim the instructions and help where needed.

So let the build begin!  Unfortunately, no pictures were taken during the build process.  From the two other years of building, they did have a selection of pencils, scissors, knives, sandpaper, and glue.  We covered the tables with newspaper in the church where they hold the meetings.  The first build week we started with the motor mounts.  My friend and myself tried to keep checking with everyone to make sure everyone understood the directions.  It mostly went smoothly and we were able fix the problems.  One motor block was glued in wrong.  I had to carefully cut it out so it could be re-glued in the right spot. 

The next build week we concentrated on the fins.  They carefully cut the fins out and we marked the root edges so they would not be sanded.  They then started rounding the leading and trailing edges.  Some fins got glued onto the rockets.  Again, we checked to make sure the fins were glued on well and were straight.  My friend had a board with dowels sticking up that we could put the rockets on to keep them upright while the glue dried.  One issues is since multiple groups used the church room, the rockets had to removed each build night.  We had to be careful not to allow building to go to close to the end of the meeting so the glue could start to set.  Also, the meetings were only about an hour long, so between setup and cleanup we did not make a lot of progress on any given night.  Between removing the parts and sanding, not all the fins got attached so the fin activity continued into the next week.  We continued and mostly finished the fins.  The two dual stage rockets needed more effort due to having more fins between the booster and sustainer.  I had to make an impromptu coupler for the Mean Machine.  The original was pushed in too far and the glue grabbed before it could be pulled out.  I cut off the section of body tube and slit the removed section so I could use it as a coupler.  It was decided we needed more time, but their calendar had only scheduled three build meetings.  Additional meetings were added, but unfortunately one of the families had to drop out.  At this time we still had eight participants (we lost the family with the 2 Super Neons and Der red Max).  We finally finished the builds (gluing on launch lugs, shock cord mounts, assembling parachutes, screw eyes into nose cones, etc.) and I provided some advice on painting the rockets.  They did not want to paint them in the church.  Each family was to paint their rockets themselves outside of the meetings.  Overall, the kids did a great job building their rockets.  Some of the younger ones got a lot of help from their parents.

Pic 2Due to scheduling issues, after the rockets were built over 5 weeks went by before we could get together to fly.  Time was running out, as they needed to fly the rockets before displaying them at the county fair that was later that week.  They were able to arrange to use a farmer’s field that provided lots of open space.  The weather was in the mid-70’s with a light wind – almost perfect flying weather – we did have to work around some light rain.

We started setting up the rockets.  I checked all the rockets to make sure they were safe.  I was impressed with some of the paint jobs!  I showed them how to pack the chutes and to use some baby powder.

Pic 3 Pic 4

We went over safety procedures and then started to load the engines and igniters.  They put a board down for the launch pad.  This helped protect the farmer’s field, and since it had rained earlier in the day, help keep us dry as we knelt down to connect the leads.  They had only one pad so I set up another of mine, especially since some of the rockets required a 3/16” rod and they only had a 1/8” rod.

The 4H wants each rocket to be flown on two different engines.  For each flight, they had to record the altitude of the rocket, so my coworker friend got banished off 100’ with a walky-talky and my Estes Altimeter to read the angles.

Not everyone was able to attend the launch, but we had the following rockets there:

  • Mean Machine
  • CC Express
  • Gnome
  • Skywriter
  • Sam X
  • Astro-1 (only 2 of the 3)

For the two stage Sam-X, we initially flew the sustainer stand-alone and then flew them as multi-stage.  We used a C6 for just the sustainer.  When we did multi-stage, we used B6 motors so they would not get too high.

The Mean machine was first flown on a D12.  It had its usual slow takeoff.  I then “loaned” them an E9.  Here are some pictures from the launch.

Ready Set Go

The Sam-X gets ready for the initial launch of only its sustainer.

{short description of image}  Flying

Mean Machine – nice color scheme The Gnome               

Ready Set Go

The Astro-1 The Sky Writer Another Astro-1

One interesting launch was the CC Express.  It is designed for both the booster and sustainer to use 24mm engines.  We did not want to risk it going too high and getting lost, so I took some old, spent D engine casings I had and used them to allow installing some C6 motors.  I knocked out most of the nozzle form the D and installed it nozzle end first.  I could then slide the 18mm motor into the spent D.  I removed some of the nozzle so it would not interfere with the ejection charge.  Both the spent D and the 18mm motors were friction fitted.  The interesting part was getting the motors to mate to allow for the multistage.  I also discovered one of the motor mounts was not installed to the right depth.  Between the D “spacer” and the motor mount problem, it forced the booster to hang back a bit.  Basically, only the tape holding the engines together was keeping the booster on.  I was trying to figure out the safety issue.  On the one hand, the B or C engines were lighter than the D, even with the spent D casing, but it did move the booster down.  Would the net result move the cg down or up?  I did not know what the original cg was – this is one of the rockets I do not have.  I checked where the cg was.  With the booster move down, it would move the cp down.  My gut feel was it would be OK.  I called a heads up, but the flight went flawless.

Prepping  Launching

The CC Express as a two stage The Sam-X as a two stage      

To me, the most memorial incident was one of the younger girls was initially scared and needed a lot of help to set up her rocket and hook up the leads.  She was even afraid to launch it.  I helped by holding the arm switch and convinced her to push the fire button.  But for her second launch – well, now she was an “old pro”.  She set everything up herself and happily counted down and launched her rocket!  Boy, what a smile on her face after that second launch!

Once all the 4H rockets had their two flights in, I was able to fly a few of my own.

Golden Scout Scorpius Guardian Probe

 Semroc Golden Scout PDR Scorpius My EMRR BOP   Remote Guardian Probe

We finally finished just as a heavy rain was starting.  We quickly packed up to leave.  Everyone was able to launch their rocket the required 2 times, and no rockets were lost or damaged (although we did have to spend some time to locate the boosters in the grass).  Everyone had fun and really enjoyed seeing their works of art fly.

So in the long run, my fears for the different rockets were unfounded.  The builds went together without any insurmountable issues.  And the kids did a nice job with the painting.  No rockets were lost or damaged and were available to display at the county fair.  The gas money did add up, but was it worth it?  Just what were the positives?

  • Paying forward to a new crop of rocketeers
  • Having fun flying with a group of enthusiastic people
  • The smile on the young girl’s face when she became the “old pro”
  • Oh, and the bag of double stuff Oreos I got as a thank you gift J

Will I do it again – you bet!

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