Building Model Rockets and Enjoying the Wonder of Flight
Building and flying model rockets from model rocket kits is a great hobby and a fantastic way to have a lot of fun with friends and family outdoors. This hobby has come a long way since its humble beginnings - nowadays you can find inexpensive model rocket kits that include everything you will need to assemble your model rocket and get it up and flying high in no time. There are a couple of things every new rocketeer needs to know when they are considering getting into this fascinating and fun hobby and doing so safely.
All About Model Rockets - Opening Your Model Rocket Kits
Model rockets are typically comprised of a couple essential parts that you will find inside any model rocket kits you buy. Model rockets themselves consist of the body, or fuselage, the nose, and a couple of fins, but there are some internal systems that are absolutely essential to the safe model rocket flight that cannot be overlooked. When you open up your model rocket kit you will find all the parts of the rocket itself that need to be assembled according to the included instructions.
Major rocket companies like Estes will label their packaging with the skill level needed to begin building and flying a given rocket kit. If you are just beginning, you will want to grab the beginner skill level, since these rocket kits are very simple to build and get flying. These beginner model rocket kits are the best way to go when you are starting off, even if you are impatient to get your hands on more advanced rockets. You should give yourself a chance to master the basics first so you can avoid costly or disappointing disasters later.
Assembly of beginner rockets is very simple. Usually you will find the fuselage already intact. It is likely to be a very sturdy version of a toilet paper tube - spiral wound and bonded cardboard. This allows the fuselage to be sturdy but also extremely lightweight, which is important for achieving altitude. Follow the instructions to put the fins in place at the base of your model rocket's fuselage.
Assembling Your Rocket's Parachute
Next, you will find parts for a parachute in your model rocket kit. Place the strength-increasing circular stickers over the eyelets of the parachute as indicated. Then string together your parachute lines and ensure that the parachute opens up fully when you hold the strings together in your hand and whip the parachute across in front of you. If the rocket's parachute bunches up or does not open easily, you might have incorrectly rigged it.
It's very important that your rocket's parachute is strung correctly and that it can open quickly and fully after being folded in the proper way. If your parachute fails at altitude, your rocket will essentially plummet to earth and can be badly damaged. This is not a big deal if it's your first rocket, but then again you will either need to repair your damaged parts or buy a whole new rocket before you fly again. A correctly assembled parachute, on the other hand, will bring your model rocket back to earth in a slow and controlled manner and essentially deposit it safely onto the grass, so you can repack and reload it for the next flight right after.
Model Rocket Essentials - Never Forget The Recovery Wadding!
After the parachute, the most important thing you need to remember when preparing your new rocket for flight is the recovery wadding. This special material looks and feels like thick tissues, but it is actually specially designed and chemically treated flame retardant material. Your instruction manual will tell you how many sheets of recovery wadding to use with your particular rocket, it really can very depending upon the engine class you are using.
What recover wadding does is to prevent the internal blast from your model rocket engines from burning up and ruining the inside of your fuselage and the parachute. You might get away with one flight sans recovery wadding if you're lucky, but you will notice the inside of your rocket's tube will be a bit burnt. This can be disastrous at high altitude because if your parachute or its strings are burned badly enough it will fail and not only will your rocket's fuselage be burned up but your rocket could plummet to earth and get cracked or damaged.
All About Recovery Wadding and Model Rocket Engines
Why do you need recovery wadding at all? Because of a clever design in model rocket engines that allows the flight to go smoothly - essentially every stage of flight is built into your model rocket engines with varying levels and powers of accelerant. The first stage of the model rocket engine provides a quick burst of fast and intense initial lift to get your rocket airborne and up to altitude, while the next stage or stages of your model rocket engine will burn steadily to give your rocket a smooth flight to its apex, or the highest point of its flight.
Once your rocket reaches the highest point of its flight, or apex, and its fuel is spent, it is going to stop climbing and start falling, right? Well, model rocket engines designers needed a way to get the parachute to deploy at this point so that the rocket could begin a safe and controlled descent. Adding electronic elements or other delicate internal parts would be difficult and unreliable (not to mention much more expensive) so designers came up with a slightly heavy handed, although quite effective alternative: the final stage of every model rocket engine is a large upward discharge that sends hot air and pressure up through the fuselage of the rocket to slam against the nose cone. This burst or discharge is so powerful that you can actually wait 1,000 ft below on the ground as you watch your rocket and listen for the "pop" that tells you your model rocket engine has reached its final stage.
This burst of hot air pops the nose cone off the top of the fuselage. Because the parachute is tucked up underneath the nose cone and tied to a bar on the back of the nose cone, this final model rocket engine stage essentially deploys the parachute, allowing the wind and gravity to quickly open your rocket's parachute.
Recovery wadding comes in because it forms the protective barrier between the hot exhaust of your model rocket engine and your delicate light plastic parachute. This way, the parachute still gets shot out of the fuselage to begin the descent and recovery phase, but it does not get burned by the model rocket engine's hot exhaust. This way, you simply collect your rocket on the ground, remove the used recovery wadding, and replace it with a couple of fresh sheets for the next flight.
Model Rocket Ignition and Flight Systems - The Flight Pad
The other basic equipment you will need for every model rocket flight is a launch pad, the model rocket engines themselves (one for each flight), your launch controller, and the fuses (one per flight) that attach to the model rocket engines and ignite when they receive an electric burst from your launch controller.
The model rocket flight pad is usually a basic tripod design with three plastic arms that extend to form a stable base you can place in the grass or on a baseball diamond. It has a long, straight metal rod extending upward from the center of the base which the rocket attaches to before flight. This metal rod acts as a guide to give the rocket enough of a stable base for a straight flight. Most model rocket launch pads feature a small postionable joint at the center of the pad where the tripod legs and the metal guide rod meet. This allows rocketeers to change the angle of their rocket's flight before lift-off.
Always check to ensure that your model rocket's flight path is entirely and totally clear of people, houses, events, schools, power lines, cars and any other potential hazard. You can get in big trouble for (even accidentally) launching a rocket into a school or other building that has special protections under the law.Always remember that it's entirely your responsibility as the rocketeer to ensure your flights will not disturb or injure anyone else.
Model Rocket Ignition Systems - The Model Rocket Engines Themselves
The model rocket engine is in itself one of the most advanced and complicated elements of the entire model rocket, but there's not much the rocketeer does to prepare it besides ensuring they are stored safely and in a dry place and that they are correctly wired during the pre-flight check. Model rocket engines vary in size and price - usually the larger class of model rocket engines are more expensive because they are more expensive to produce and contain more propellant.
Model rocket engines are categorized based on class. A model rocket engine in the "A" class is on the small side of the spectrum, whereas class "D" model rocket engines are beefy suckers capable of propelling a heavy rocket to altitudes of over 1,000 feet. Your model rocket kits will make very clear on their outer and inner packaging which class of model rocket engines you will require. You can buy your model rocket engines at local hobby stores or order them in bulk online, but you typically find them in packs of 4 or boxes of 8 or more. Once you have the basic equipment for your flights and you have learned how to use it, you will find that buying engines will constitute your largest continuing operating cost, so you will want to find yourself a good deal on bulk model rocket engines if you decide that this hobby is for you.
The Construction and Use of Model Rocket Engines and Rocket Fuses
Model rocket engines are encased in extremely heavy duty and hardened carboard like material. You will notice that their topsides are packed to the very upper limit with propellant and material and their bottoms have small concrete inserts that feature a small central hole. This hole is where you insert your launch fuse prior to flight. You can buy boxes of model rocket fuses very cheap and they are disposable, one-go jobs. Every flight requires new model rocket engines, a new fuse and more recovery wadding.You can install your rocket engine into the bottom of your rocket after you have packed the recovery wadding and parachute into the fuselage.
When you have your rocket correctly in place on your launch pad and you have slid it down through its guide holes onto your model rocket launch pad's metal guide rod, you are ready to place your fuse into the hole of your model rocket engines. Always ensure that the area is free and clear of other people and that your launch controller is off a couple of feet. NEVER install an engine fuse with the electric alligator clips of your launch pad clipped to the fuse, as there is a chance you could blow your hand off.
Once you have your engine fuse inserted fully and securely into the hole at the base of your model rocket engines, and you have the two metal tails of the fuse spread out so they are a couple of clear centimeters apart, you are ready to attach your launch controller's alligator clips to your fuse. Ensuring that the launch safety key IS NOT IN your launch controller, attach each alligator clip to each of your engine fuse's two metal tails. Ensure you have a secure and tight connection between the fuse tails and the alligator clips.
Final Pre-Flight Checks and Safety Measures For a Model Rocket Launch
Now, stand back and ensure your launch controller is extended the full distance of its cords so that you are at least 10 to 15 feet away from the launch pad. Giving a final warning to anyone in the immediate area, and ensuring once again that the launch area and recovery area are clear, insert your launch safety key into your launch controller, begin your countdown, and press your ignition button. Happy flying!