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Jul 07, 2012, 02:56 PM
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Diverted from R/C to Free Flight (of a sort)

There may be a small number of you out there who have wondered where I've wandered off to, since I've not been very active here on RC Groups for about the last three and a half years or so. And since RC Groups has seen fit to bestow the "RCGPlus" status on me anyway, which includes a link to this blog in my (infrequent, these days) posts, I figured it was time for an explanation.

The short version is that I've rediscovered another flying model hobby that I was active in during the late 1960s and early 1970s - one that involves free flight models of a sort: model rocketry. This is how it happened.....

One of the things I've done for several years now is try to share my enthusiasm for things that fly with a small group of homeschool students once a week during the school year. One aspect I try to share is what is involved in actually designing your own craft. The first year I was thinking all airplanes (this is where I found and then built one of those marvelous Blu Baby foamies). But there is SO much to designing an airplane (not to mention getting all the necessary bits for a class) that only a couple of students actually got something built and only one (that I know of) got test flown.

The next year, one of the students in the class suggested we start off with something simpler and suggested a model rocket. I had built and flown model rockets when I was in Jr. High and High School (even did a Science Fair project involving them) - finally stopping in college when I no longer had time and money for hobbies (airplanes or rockets).

So....the suggestion sounded plausible. As is typical with me I went into full-up research mode and tried to catch up on over 30 years of what had happened in model rocketry in the intervening years. I also remembered seeing Estes starter sets at WalMart, so I bought one - an ARF rocket called a Patriot (not very scale is it turned out), three motors, and a launcher setup.

Then I went out to a site where I'd often flown my smaller models (you can see pictures of the site in some of my reviews - the SHAFT and the Switchback Senior to name two). And doggone if I didn't have a good time! I had forgotten just how much fun flying these things could be.

Before long I was rigging Eagle Tree altitude sensors as altimeters in rockets, flying keychain cameras, and then looking at purpose-built rocket altimeters in the same way I approached electronic speed controls, chargers and test equipment in general for many years.

And it just went from there. Part of it has been catching up on all the models I wanted but couldn't afford to get when I was a kid. I learned about this marvelous rocketry vendor called Semroc in North Carolina where they have available authorized reproductions of many of those old designs (from Estes, Centuri, Flight Systems Inc, Semroc themselves) and all the parts you could ever dream of to make your own. With Semroc's help I'm part way through building the fleet I only dreamed of all those years ago.

Part of it was exploring new territory - first the altimeters and the cameras, then larger, more powerful motors than I'd ever used before. Part of it was discovering small but enthusiastic clubs in the state and going to launches all over the state (and once in Oregon).

Part of it was discovering simulation programs - in particular a Java-based open source simulator called OpenRocket - which facilitates designing your own rockets and evaluating and optimizing their performance - all for free (and cross-platform).

Part of it was discovering that even though Centuri was gone (well, swallowed by the same company that swallowed Estes) there were Quest black powder motors alongside those from Estes - and there was the whole world of composite motors that didn't even exist (so far as I knew, anyway) when I was flying these things all those years ago. Today there are LOTS of small kit companies - companies who give personal and quick service like you get from Stevens Aeromodel or Mountain Models in the RC world. Even the big name in small rockets - Estes Industries - is recently reborn. It was acquired by Hobbico (no, really, it's been a good thing!!) from a fellow who had nearly run Estes (and had run Cox) into the ground and neat new products are flowing again, along with great service.

And there is the National Association of Rocketry - which is much smaller than the AMA and feels more connected to the "average" rocket flyer. I'm still trying to figure out their arcane scoring of competitions - but I am competing a little at the local level.

And - it has worked very well with the students. This year's final class saw the successful first flights of several original designs, some of which were done using OpenRocket, some the old fashioned hand-sketched way. I'd like to think that among those students will be at least some interest in designing and making things and perhaps a science or engineering career.

So.......I've not built a new airplane in over three years, but I've built LOTS of rockets (for one thing, one can build 'em at lunch hour - they're quick and they don't take up much room). And I'm about to start on my Level 1 high power certification project. And I'm having as much fun as I had back when flying electric airplanes took finesse in building and finesse in flying and when they were seen as an aberration by the "mainstream" of RC.

I still keep my Mountain Models EZ Scout (the one in the blog entry just below) in the car and I still fly it from time to time (thank goodness lithium batteries are ready to go pretty much anytime you are). And I have a Night Vapor and one of those ultra-micro Mosquitos and a couple of indoor things (Blade mCx, for example) that I enjoy from time to time. And I may be back to scale or some other facet of RC (always with electric power) more heavily in the future. But right now, I've got propellant to burn .

And I also have forums to read. My two favorite rocket fora are Ye Olde Rocket Forum (a place for folks like me who are "born again rocketeers" - folks who come back to model rocketry after a long time away) and one simply called The Rocketry Forum which is a little more general. But I still keep a tab open in Safari with My RCGroups in it as I'm still watching and occasionally posting....
Last edited by BEC; Jul 08, 2012 at 12:21 AM.
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Jul 11, 2012, 08:23 AM
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wow BEC that is so used to work in a toy/hobby store from the age for 13 to 20 ( i'm 48 almost 49 know) and when rockets came in the store ( in Canada there were not available can't remember the law but...anyways) I build maybe 10 to 15 rockets for the store to display and for me i still have maybe 5 or 6 a my mothers house...your giving me an itch to look a these and restart rockets..more than 28 years i had so much fun with my was selling them the rockets at cost so we could he fun we each hope my old boss is not around RC
thanks for sharing this and given me good and fun memories of some lost friends and my late dad...will be looking at Semroc site wow all those old kits that i looked at and loved flying..or shooting up..

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