FSR Hocus Pocus Rocket Launch, October 22, 2023
FSR Hocus Pocus Rocket Launch
October 22, 2023

The Fairfax Society of Rocketry's regular Hocus Pocus launch was scheduled for yesterday, October 21st. It wasn't to be, though, as wind speeds for the entire launch period were forecast to be over 20 MPH (and in fact they were). The launch was thus rescheduled one day later, when the forecast was for much less wind. We saw wind speeds around 5 to 7 MPH for the entire launch period, with temperatures from 40°F at 9:00am up to the lower 60's by early afternoon. I arrived around 10:00am and I don't think any launches had happened yet, but I was too late to make the first rack.

Getting Started — Photo by Tracy Gonnerman

For my first launch I loaded up my Mo' Skeeter on pad 1 with a B6-4 as usual, and as usual this rocket turned in a pretty, nearly straight flight with just a bit of arch to the southeast, drifting back toward the launch pad and recovering near the launch stand.

Mo' Skeeter Ready and Sparks — Photos by Tracy Gonnerman

Mo' Skeeter Catching Fire — Photo by Tracy Gonnerman

Mo' Skeeter Good Deployment As Usual — Photo by Tracy Gonnerman

Mo' Skeeter Returns Elegantly — Photo by Tracy Gonnerman

Mo' Skeeter Landing — Photo by Tracy Gonnerman

Of course, I watched all the flights, and excepting ignition problems everyone was having good results. This made me more bold than perhaps I should have been, as I loaded up my Baffler with 3x C6-3 engines and it's own special tough parachute (because Baffler has no gentle deployments). It seemed like it took me forever to get the igniters twisted together; I don't ever use a clip whip, not even on my 4x18mm Big Daddy. But I got it done, loaded it up on pad 4 as instructed and waited a bit nervously for its turn to fly.

Getting Baffler Ready — Photo by Tracy Gonnerman

See, as I was loading it up, another rocketeer asked me about it, and when he found out I don't use a clip whip he said I was "brave" the way you say it to someone foolish. I was forced to reply that I had never had a cluster ignition failure... and of course, I was concerned I'd jinxed myself, even though I take pride in not being superstitious.

Baffler Ready and Launch — Photos by Tracy Gonnerman

My preparation must have been good though, as Baffler came off the rod with authority and boosted at a slight angle to the southeast. Deployment was early as expected but not as bad as it could have been; it drifted rather a long way past the launch area and recovered with just one bruise on an engine tube. I consider that an absolute success and couldn't be happier, as the previous flight of the Baffler had not ended so well.

Baffler Returns — Photo by Tracy Gonnerman

Baffler in Hand — Photo by Tracy Gonnerman

My third rocket to fly was my Custom Ion Pulsar, loaded up on pad 1 with a B6-4. The flight arced more than I would have liked, and then parachute deployment failed. Despite no chute, the rocket recovered fine in the field though I had a lot of trouble finding it; in a harvested corn field, a black rocket looks like a shadow. But I did find it, and it was basically unharmed externally.

Ion Pulsar Ignition — Photo by Tracy Gonnerman

When I pulled out the undeployed chute, I found something I had never seen or heard of before... the wadding, half burned, had been blown up beside the parachute and had melted it, jamming the whole mess into place.

Ion Pulsar Chute Damage — Photo by Tracy Gonnerman

I didn't realize until I got home and started reviewing the results that I know why it did that. You see, the Ion Pulsar has a design flaw. The 1" diameter upper tube (BT-50 I suppose) is centered inside the larger lower tube, but the engine mount isn't inside that tube. Instead, the engine mount is separately centered in the large lower tube, and there is a gap between the upper end of the engine tube and the lower end of the upper sustainer. That gap can and will trap the wadding. It is a terrible design flaw, but it's a design flaw I forgot about. When preparing a stock Ion Pulsar you should be careful not to push the wadding all the way down to that gap.

Ion Pulsar Design Flaw — Photo by Tracy Gonnerman

Still, the rocket wasn't damaged. I'm considering a retrofit to correct this flaw, but I haven't worked out the details yet.

I got out my roughly 45-year-old Centuri Vector V at this point. It had to be rerigged, as I had rebuilt it 16 years ago and had used a snap swivel to connect the shock cord to the nose cone. It's just too hard to prep that way, so I removed the snap swivel and rigged a Semroc chute to the nose cone in a permanent fashion. Having finally packed it very carefully, I put in an A8-3 and set it up on pad 3.

Vector V Quickie Refit — Photo by Tracy Gonnerman

Vector V Igniter Anxiety — Photos by Tracy Gonnerman

I held my breath as it launched. It was a low flight as expected, but straight and true, deploying perfectly and recovering on the only concrete pad near the launch stand. This resulted in some cosmetic damage to a fin but nothing serious. It will fly again, I'm sure, in another decade or so.

Vector V Ready and Ignition — Photos by Tracy Gonnerman

Vector V Returns in Style — Photo by Tracy Gonnerman

Vector V Misses the Silo — Photo by Tracy Gonnerman

Flights were reaching the pad in a trickle at this point, so I decided to prep two rockets, my Patriot X and my Fliskits Triskelion. They were launched in close succession, and thus were both in the air at the same time for a bit.

The first of the two to launch was Patriot X from pad 2 on a C6-5 engine. This flight was remarkable only for being nearly perfect, almost straight up, modest drift, recovered undamaged inside the field. Unfortunately, the launch caught Tracy by surprise so there isn't a launch picture for this one.

Triskelion Ready and Ignition — Photos by Tracy Gonnerman

My Fliskits Triskelion was next, launching from pad 3 on a C6-5. Yes, I was getting comfortable launching on C engines on this field. The flight was very nice, with a good deployment and recovery inside the field.

Patriot X and Triskelion Returning — Photos by Tracy Gonnerman

Patriot X On the Ground — Photo by Chris Gonnerman

Triskelion On the Ground — Photo by Chris Gonnerman

SAM-X Ready, Launch, and Return — Photos by Tracy Gonnerman

I decided to go for it with a staged rocket, my only staged rocket, a Custom SAM-X. I set it up on pad 3 on a German Quest B6-0 to Estes A8-5 combo. It was not a good flight. The booster ignited just fine, and the boost was good up to staging altitude, whereupon it blew the guts out of the booster engine without separating the booster. The rocket recovered under chute well out in the field, but the interior of the booster is roasted beyond repair even though the paint job still looks good. As of right now I have no plans to build a new booster; I can fly this rocket as a single stage just fine, since I built it with a second launch lug for the purpose.

I prepped two more rockets to fly together, my final flights for the day, my Centuri Nomad clone and my Semroc Lil' Centauri. The Nomad was prepped with a B6-4 on pad 3, and the Lil' Centauri with a C6-5 on pad 4.

Lil' Centauri and Nomad Ready — Photo by Tracy Gonnerman

Nomad went up first, whipping the rod a bit and arcing as a consequence. It deployed well, though, and landed very close to the LCO's table, popping off one fin. This is the second time that rocket has popped a fin, so I'm assuming I didn't rough up the sustainer enough before gluing them on. I will fix it of course and it will fly again.

Nomad Returing — Photo by Tracy Gonnerman

The Lil' Centauri had a more exciting flight. It also arced somewhat and deployed very late; the shock cord separated and the nose cone returned under chute while the rest of the rocket tried to fly like the glider Carl McLawhorn based it on. A hard belly landing in the field broke two of the six fins. I expect I'll be able to repair them, and if I can figure out how to re-rig the shock cord it will fly again.

Lil' Centauri Ready and Launch — Photos by Tracy Gonnerman

Lil' Centauri: Just a Nose Cone, Sadly — Photo by Tracy Gonnerman

Lil' Centauri As Recovered — Photo by Chris Gonnerman

Those two were almost the last flights of the day, as operations wrapped up shortly thereafter. It was a beautiful day for a launch, with some of the best conditions I've ever seen, and I am very grateful to Reggie Morrow and all the FSR members for welcoming me to their launch.


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Last Updated 10/24/2023