Firing pointy things in a generally upwards direction - Part II

After our disappointing first launch, I decided that what we need were more rockets. Bigger. Better. With do-it-yourself technological know-how.

So I went back to the store the next day, and asked the guy behind the counter for help.

'Weren't you in here yesterday?'
'Yeah. But there was a river. And some wind. And now I need another rocket.'

No doubt this guy was congratulating himself on finding an customoron who doesn't know when to quit. He immediately pointed me to a whole selection of kits to put together, and some bigger engines to go with them.

I took home my new purchase and soon remembered what a pain in the ass it was to put these things together as a kid. It takes forever to glue the balsa/cardboard/plastic contraptions together, but over the course of a couple of days I had a new rocket ready to go.

The next weekend, the Critter and I marched out to the field, rocket in tow. The wind was blowing away from the river this time, but we still chose a location about twice as far from the water, just to be safe. My bride decided to sit this one out, and stayed safely indoors.

Even though it was a fairly clear day, the wind had picked up a tad - but a little wind never stopped Robert Goddard, so I figured what the hell. I'd compensate and aim into the wind a bit.

Soon enough, we had the rocket set up and ready to go. This rocket was way fancier than your basic pointy tube with fins: this was a scale replica of SpaceShipOne, the first successful private space ship. (The Critter applied the stickers to provide the finishing touches). If it's good enough for Paul Allen, it's good enough for me.

Once again, the Critter chose a more 'supervisory' role rather than risking getting too close to the rocket once it was set up. As subsequent events proved, she obviously is the smart one of the two of us. (More on that below).

We started with a smaller engine, just to see how well this rocket would fly, and stand a reasonable chance of recovering it within the same county. Once again, I failed to take a picture of the thing in flight (I really need more hands), but it did go up about one hundred and fifty feet before arcing back over towards the earth. The parachute deployed about ten feet above the ground, providing no benefit what-so-ever, but surprisingly, the rocket held up on impact. The only problem was that on such a windy day, those big wings provided a large surface area for the wind to play havoc. No problem, I thought. I'll compensate on the setup for the next launch.

This time around, I felt comfortable enough to jam a bigger engine into the rocket. Looking back, I probably should have realized that having to cut a slit the engine mount with a razor knife to make the engine fit might have been an indication that I was headed for the possibility that the launch might not go quite as the designers intended. *shrug* Hindsight is 20/20.

We did a proper countdown (and then stopped to explain the countdown - we've been teaching the Critter to count for months now, struggling to make sure she always remembers '8' and whether '13' or '14' comes first, and here I am reversing the whole thing on her. She's still half convinced I was just making up the concept on the spot to yank her chain), and then pressed the launch button.

I was actually trying to take a picture this time: I had the camera all ready to go. However, when the rocket reached about 20 feet in the air, the wind caught those big SpaceShipOne wings and tipped it over nearly 180 degrees.

Suddenly it looked less like SpaceShipOne and more like a V-1 flying bomb. I managed to snatch the Critter up and bolt for the other end of the field before it hit the ground (the engine was still going, shooting it across the field for a hundred feet or so; naturally, it went in the same general direction I had chosen to flee).

The Critter thought the whole experience hilarious again. I nearly had to change my underwear.

As you can see, the rocket ended up in a few different pieces after the second launch (on the plus side, the parachute managed to deploy this time). We decided to collect the pieces and pack it in for the day.

Overall, we managed a much better launch rate with the electrical igniters, so I believe that problem is licked. I've decided that the problem this time was the rocket design. Good for actual space ships. Bad for scale model launches. At least, it's bad if there's a hint of wind.

After my heart calmed down and I caught my breath, the Critter & I picked out three more rockets of intermediate complexity from a rocket store. I expect them to be delivered in the next couple of days - more updates to come.