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In 2003 when I was involved in High Power Rocketry, I managed to get an article published in a now-defunct magazine, Extreme Rocketry.

I have explained any acronyms in [square brackets]. Amateur Rocketry is grouped into three groups based on the side of the rocket motor used. The overall power of a rocket motor is expressed in a letter starting with A. Each letter you go up doubles the power. So a B motor is twice as powerful as an A. A motor that is a C is twice as powerful as the B motor and four times as powerful as the A motor.

Model Rocketry uses A-D motors. Mid-Power Rocketry covers E-H motors. High Power Rocketry ("HPR") uses I motors and up. My last flight I flew a K motor, 512 times as powerful as an A motor.


The Importance of Procedures

Rocketry is one of those things you do in life that has no in-between. You have either a success, or a failure. While some failures can be attributed to bad or defective equipment or materials, a lot of failures can be attributed to incorrect preparation. You certainly feel bad when you forget wadding in your Big Bertha, but it pales in comparison to forgetting something when flying your Big Kahuna.

Flights with a regular model rocket are basic. Wadding-parachute-motor-igniter-plug and you’re off to get a launch pad. Mid- and high-power rockets are more complex, so more care must be taken during preparation. The lack of proper preparation reminds me of one flight I saw. The rocket represented a considerable investment of time, effort and money for this person. The lift-off, boost and coast were perfect, and separation charge fired at apogee. However, during separation, everybody saw the one little “oops” this rocketeer forgot… to fasten the shock cord to both sections of the rocket. The upper part of the rocket came in under parachute, but the booster came in ballistic. Ouch.

Since we are all rocket scientists, I decided to take a “page” from the professionals and write check-off lists, or “procedures” as they call them, for rocket preparation and launch evolutions. Even in the middle of the Apollo 13 disaster, everybody had a procedure for everything. If there wasn’t one, you wrote it to make sure everybody was clear on what they needed to have and what they were supposed to do. This made sure everybody was “on the same page.”

Procedures are essential to a person like myself. I would forget my head, as the saying goes, if it wasn’t permanently attached. I run down a procedure to make sure I don’t forget something every time I leave the house. If I didn’t, I would leave at least one essential thing behind, every time. I started using procedures years ago when I was SCUBA diving. It is embarrassing to get to the dive site and discover you forgot your weight belt, regulator or fins (or all of them) as I did on several occasions.

The best way to develop your own procedures is to sit down and go through everything in your mind, start to finish. After you have imagined them, write them down and go through the list again. Then go and perform the procedure, adding notes and adding/changing steps as you go. As with all endeavors in our lives, your mileage may vary. The standard that you should aim for is that anybody with the same amount of experience in HPR rocketry can understand and complete your procedures. Imagine yourself in a full body cast with your jaw wired shut. A fellow rocketeer should be able to get you to the range, prep and fly your rocket without any “input” from you.

The first list that I use gets everything ready. You make sure the rockets are ready, double check that you have all of your drawers stocked, test the electronics, dip a few igniters, whatever you need to do to get everything ready. This will prevent the proverbial running around like a headless chicken the morning of the launch, which cuts into flying time. Doing this over an evening or two during the week before gets you 90% ready. All you have to do the night before is quickly check everything before packing it into the car to make sure no one has “borrowed” something. I verify my range box, motor box, etc. are properly stocked by writing in the bottom or on the cover of every compartment what is supposed to be there, so anything missing jumps out at me.

Next you can concentrate on the family. Lay out clothes for everybody, make sure your club ID’s, cash for range fees and so on are on hand (preferably packed in your range box).

The next procedure is car-packing. The order that I use to pack the vehicle is the opposite of what I will need on the range. Things that have to come out first (tables, chairs, etc.) go in last. If you pack everything but food and drink the night before, you can do it calmly and you have the time and leisure to double-check and properly secure everything. You also make sure the vehicle is up to the job. Check the fluids, tires, gas and so on. If your alarm doesn’t go off and you wake up late on launch day, you can jump into your clothes, dash out to the car and drive off, with the worst consequences being you have forgotten food, drinks and family members.

Once you are on the range and set up, you can relax a bit and take a break. Fly some model rockets, catch up with club members, volunteer as RSO/LCO [Range Safety Officer: Checks rockets to make sure they are safe to fly. Launch Control Officer: Controls the actual launch operations] for a shift, whatever. Your prior planning has given you this break.

Once you are ready to launch a big rocket, pull out its’ pre-flight procedure. Unless you have produced all of your HPR rockets on an assembly line, I suggest an individual procedure for each of your HPR rockets. Remember that clarity of the steps is important. Someone else should be able to properly prep your rocket using only the procedure. The first procedure should take your rocket from cold (unprepared) to warm (ready for RSO and the launch pad). Make sure your flight card is filled out, electronics are installed and ready, your CP/CG ratio [Center of Pressure/Center of Gravity for the rocket. This is determined by a series of complex equations known as the Barrowman Equations. If this ratio correct, the rocket will go up. If it isn't, it won't.] is good and everything is connected and ready to go.

Now comes the final countdown. Get your rocket approved by the RSO, draw a pad from the LCO, and head out with the rocket and your final preparation procedure. Verify the launch pad can handle your rocket, put the rocket on the pad, insert the igniter, arm the electronics, take the rocket from warm to hot (ready) and head back to the range head to ready your cameras.

If you have invested the time in developing your procedures, you have eliminated 98% of error on your part. You have done everything you can to ensure a safe flight that ends in a recovered rocket.

The investment of time you spend at home developing these procedures will save countless hours and rockets on the range. As the military puts it, “The more you sweat in peacetime, the less you will bleed in wartime.”

Safe and successful flying!


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