Balls 2010

The most highly anticipated rocketry event for me has always been Balls in the Black Rock desert, so when I jumped backed into rocketry earlier this year I had my calendar marked for the journey. I had three rockets that I was planning on flying. The first being my 4” rocket Unoriginal on a Swamp Gas M910 donated by Tony Alcocer. The next bird was my never flown 54mm minimum diameter KestreL to fly on a CTI K300 long burn. Lastly, my never flown 3” modified minimum diameter Competitor 3 on a homemade M1400. I was wanting to mix up more loads, however, I did not have time to make the trip to my parents where I mix. Oh well.

My buddy and I left Los Angeles Thursday and finally arrived at the launch site 11 hours later. By then it was midnight so we set up the tent and tried to sleep in the chilly nighttime weather. Morning came quick with perfect weather and I began prepping my Competitor 3 for action. To make sure my buddy didn’t get too bored I gave him the task of making the igniter with some brief instruction. The result was an electric match taped to a 1/8” dowel with enough propellant scraps to construct a full “H” motor! I politely picked off a few hundred newton-seconds so it could at least fit through the nozzle of the motor, and then patted him on the back. After chatting with Ron Zeppin we were assigned a pad and got everything ready to go. There was a five count followed by an insanely loud boom! The motor split axially into two pieces and completely destroyed the booster section. I was stunned, I’ve pushed the case much harder in previous firings…and this wasn’t even remotely close to working! Humility-1, pride-0. I blame the failure on the fact that I was using a high solids mix (for me) with low binder content and a poor liquids system. I tested this formulation in some 38mm and 54mm J motors with success even though the propellant had very little flexibility and was a bit “sandy”. So from here on out I’m taking more precautions and using a better liquid system. Oh well. Special thanks to David, Ian, Todd, and David for helping pick up the pieces that were littered around the damaged rail.

The rest of the day I decided to take it easy and enjoy the other flights and catch up with other friends. Saturday came and it was another perfect day to fly. I put Unoriginal on the rail with a Swamp Gas 6 second burn M910. I was pretty confident in Tony’s skills with him being the king of Swamp Gas and all. The rocket took off with a great long burn and arced over 14k feet at apogee, sweet! Believe me it’s so much more fun when the motors work! Recovery was accompanied with a cold beer and smiles all around. Excited to do it again, I prepped my KestreL with the CTI K300 and beeline tracker. My buddy and I drove out to the range and began assembling my homemade tower launcher for its first use. Part of the fun being out on the range was being so close to all the action, including Gene’s “R” hybrid project that had a nice flight with a long burn. After finalizing everything we drove to a safe yet “fun” distance and called in the LCO to punch it. The rocket left the tower smoothly and with a powerful boost tilted slightly to the east. At the end of the burn the rocket disappeared and the signal went dead ::gulp:: . After 5-8 seconds I was relieved as it started sending beeps back. We jumped in the truck and chased the signal for ten minutes until it died again. There was about a 20-30 degree field of view that the signal was strongest before it dropped so we split the difference right down the middle. After about an hour with no luck or signal we headed back to the flight line in case someone else had found it. No luck. Tony joined the search after we pointed to a landmark in the mountains were the signal was strongest. Finally after some more driving we finally spotted something. The main had popped out at apogee and drifted over 6 miles from the pad. I picked up the rocket and the Raven beeped 24,366’! Sick!

The rest of the day there were several incredible flights. To mention a few were the Miss September P-to-P two stage, Jeff Taylor and Curtis Newport’s “P” motor flight to 72k feet, and USC’s all carbon cased “O” motor flight that accelerated so quickly it looked fake! There were countless other spectacular flights that I’m too lazy to type out. It was great being out there again and seeing old friends as well as meeting new ones. Special thanks to Tony for making me a great motor, and Mark Clark for not charging me for the rail I rendered useless. Hope to be back to redeem myself soon!

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