June 10-15, 2010

My first high power rocketry experience was in 1996 at the small and humble Lunar launch site in Livermore California. At the time I remember Ken Finwall of California High Power launching his LOC Bruiser on H motors (since nothing bigger was allowed) and I was hooked! Fast forward 14 years and I finally was able to attend the largest annual launch, LDRS.  Not only was the launch huge, but in attendance would be many of the original characters of the hobby including Frank Kosdon, Gary Rosenfield, and the infamous Jerry Irvine! LDRS 29 was hosted by the Rocketry Organization of California on the Lucerne dry lake bed. I arrived on Saturday the 12th after having a great early morning surf session at home (I love Southern California). As I was driving up highway 247 approaching the lake bed my anticipation was rapidly increasing and it quickly became apparent that this would be the largest launch I had ever been to after seeing a massive stretch of cars and RV’s commandeering the lake bed.  At first I was very overwhelmed, as there was an army of fellow rocket geeks everywhere and I didn’t know where to go exactly. After settling on a spot I decided to walk around to take some pictures and say hello to some old friends.

I prepped my 38mm minimum diameter rocket 38x to fly on an I357 the following morning with no electronics just motor ejection. Once finished, I ended up sleeping in the bed of my trunk underneath the brilliant stars sparkling in the desert sky…it was really nice to be out of the city. Sunday morning I awoke at dawn to continue soaking in the calm peaceful beauty of the desert. After some breakfast I filled out my flight card and set the rocket on the rail. After a five count the rocket jumped off the pad so fast I wasn’t able to get a good picture. Then, right at the end of the burn there was a confetti explosion that rained parts down over the range. My first thought was, “I just had my first shred ever, cool!” After collecting the parts and inspecting everything like a forensic crime scene investigator, it became clear my initial conclusion was wrong. As it turns out the reload contained a ten second delay, however, the motor had a delay blow-by that fired the ejection charge near the end of the burn. Looking at the picture of the parts, you can see the (new) Kevlar recovery harness and entire inside booster section (in several sections) is black from the ejection charge. The recovery harness snapped near the motor where it was anchored, and if the rocket had shredded before motor ejection the harness would have been “clean” and not charred. Additionally, I never saw the charge fire as it dropped from the sky and hit the ground. Oh well, it actually looked pretty cool;)

I was primarily interested in the experimental days so this was my only commercial motor flown at LDRS. The rest of the day I spent talking a lot with Frank Kosdon on many topics ranging from ammonium nitrate motors to Chinese food. I was eager to learn as much as I could from the legendary character of the rocketry world. There were many awesome flights that continued to launch nearly every minute, ROC did a pretty good job at managing the madness. The Discovery and Science channel was present filming and conducting interviews with Mythbuster’s very own Kari Byron. Although I’m a big fan of the Discovery channel their presence changed the dynamic of what I would consider a “normal” launch in that they seemed to be a distraction. I’m not trying to complain, just stating what I observed.

Another great night of rest and it was finally Monday, the experimental day that I had been eagerly waiting for. I had already assembled my 5 grain 76mm 6000Ns “small” M motor with the bottom two grains bonded to the liner. I finished prepping Unoriginal with the Big Red Bee tracker and Featherweight Raven altimeter. What was interesting is that the RSO was a bit skeptical of this “homemade motor business” (and yes, it’s the experimental day), but after explaining all that I had done to insure a safe burn and flight he put his initials on the card. I set the rocket on the rail and armed the Raven and on-board video camera. The LCO called in the high altitude wavier, and began to announce the flight. It was the first experimental motor of the day, and my burnsim data simmed out something like an M2800. I was then even more nervous about the motor and rocket performing as I said it would, enough that I was having a hard time keeping the rocket in frame with my camera! After a countdown the motor came to life quickly and erupted off the pad. The motor burned perfectly and shutdown as expected with the tapered core. I was pretty relieved after the motor shut down with the rocket traveling over mach 1 and continued to coast to 12,600’. Set up for dual deployment, I couldn’t have asked for a better flight with the rocket landing a 100 yards from my truck! No need for the tracker on this flight.

Feeling pumped up I returned with the rocket to download the data and watch the video on my laptop. Shortly after I began prepping my Laser LOC 3.1 for the next experimental flight. Using my original Kosdon 54-2550Ns hardware I loaded my propellant to boost the rocket with something around an L1800. For this flight I decided to not configure it for dual deployment for a couple of different reasons, which, in hindsight wasn’t a great idea. To makes things worse I had lent out my tracker so I was flying blind. The high altitude wavier was called in, and the countdown commenced. At “1” I started continuous shooting with my canon xti, but the liftoff was so fast I didn’t get a single frame with the rocket, just a trail of smoke! The burn was about 1.3 seconds and the rocket coasted out of site to 12,000’. As soon as the blacksky altacc fired the apogee charge I knew it was going a loooong ways away. As I ran back to my truck, I lost sight of it but knew it was drifting far east across the other side of the highway. At this point the big Talon project had two attempts to light the P motor unsuccessfully, but I kept my radio on to make sure I didn’t miss it. Once I got back to the road I pulled over on the east side and scanned the area to find the Laser LOC. No luck. As I was looking I heard on the radio that the wavier for the P motor was called in again, so I jumped to the top of my truck with camera in hand. Two cars slowed down as they saw me conspicuously aiming a camera to the other side of the lake bed, and then looked over as the talon roared to life. The boost was majestic and near the end of the burn the rocket succumbed to the mighty power of the blue flamed P motor and “rapidly disassembled”. The spectators in the cars had stepped out to better experience the event, as it was a pretty incredible sight. After the smoke cleared I realized that I still had a rocket to find. After searching for some time I finally spotted a bright pink dot off in the distance. The rocket had drifted almost 2 miles from the launch site after its flight to 12,200’! Since I had been out longer than expected, I decided to scrub my two other intended launches one being a red long burner for my 76-3500Ns case and a blue J motor for my 54-1050Ns case.

As I cleaned the motor cases I started feeling pretty bummed that such a fun event was over. Everyone else also seemed to be on their way back home at this time. Luckily my home was only a 140 miles away as opposed to a lot of the out of state fliers. The launch was great and I can’t wait to get back to Lucerne, kudos to the ROC crew for putting together such a large event.

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