March 14th Fiesta Island Competition Launch Recap

I decided to get more involved in rocket design last year, and thought competitive rocketry would be a good way to test my design and building skills without breaking the bank. The last competition was postponed into our Christmas vacation (I had a nice B altitude airframe ready!) so I was itching for the next competitive launch. This one was delayed once as well, but luckily it all worked out.

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B R/G: A standard rocket glider competition, with many plans on the internet. Basically, everything that goes up must come down. Hence, there has to be a transition from ballistic flight to gliding flight at some point.

C Streamer Duration: The standard “open” rules for this class would easily violate our FAA altitude waiver at Fiesta Island. So the rules were modified slightly. First, the airframe had to be stabilized with tubefins. Second, the airframe had to at the least include one cylindrical section 1.5 inches diameter (or more) and 12 inches long (or more).

D Dual-Eggloft Altitude (altimeter): Rules for this were standard from the NAR “pink book”. Two eggs, D impulse, and altitude verified by an approved altimeter.

Design and Build

Here is a picture of what I ended up with. For those that look closely, I name my airframes after jovian moons.

March 14th Competition Arsenal

For the glider, since I knew almost nothing about glider competitions, I chose to start with the plans for George Gassaway’s Stiletto B. I deviated on a few points. First, I did not use a dethermalizer. Second, I used a balsa spar. Third, I used a SD 7037 airfoil instead of the ad-hoc airfoil specified in the plans. For the airfoil, I made a negative shaping template for the center wing section, and two positive templates that were glued on the wingtips. Shaping to this airfoil required building up the wing with two plys of additional balsa. This was a HUGE amount of work, and I think I will keep it simple next time. During glide testing, the weak balsa spar broke twice, forcing me to reinforce the critical area between the motor and wing slide mechanism with additional plywood. Some pictures that I saw of this design on the internet showed competitors using tape as a stop for the wing. I decided to glue in a plywood stop. Final trimming was not completed: I could get a perfect straight glide but setting in a slight turn was something I had not planned on from the start (elevator should be at 10 degrees from perfectly horizontal). So I decided to add a tape rudder trim tab on launch day and pray.

The tubefin was far more challenging to design. I decided early on that I wanted to wrap my own tubes. I have tried to do this many times before (going way back to when I was 12 years old) and always been dissatisfied with the result. This has always been due to warping caused by water-based glues, so I decided to use epoxy and tape. Vellum (Clearprint 1000HP) was chosen as my paper. My first design terminated in a conical transition from the 1.5 inch main tube down to a 18 mm motor mount that six tubefins were to be mounted to. The motor mount and tubefins were laid up with hobby epoxy and two layers of vellum. The conical transition was done using double sided tape between two layers of vellum (covering the entire in-between layer). These were then tacked into place with CA, and the inside of the transition was coated with a few ounces of Epoxy to protect it from the ejection and give extra strength. The body tube was laid up using two layers of vellum and double-sided tape, just around the rim and edges. Knowing that nosecone mass would need to be on the high side and aerodynamics would be horrid anyways (with this diameter) I decided to make my own nosecone cast inside an eggshell. I did this using a thin gel-coat (that I messed up with too many bubbles) and a much thicker structural coat strengthened with an expanded cotton ball. I then used a dremel to cut off the right shape to the rim, and clean up the inside. Once put together, I did a spin test and found that it flew well… backwards. I went back to Rocksim and found I had messed up with the nosecone mass. I decided to go back to Rocksim and trying several design iterations (18 mm diameter fins only) using transitions or not, varying counts of fins (3 and 6). Comparing the maximum altitudes only (just over 1 caliber static margin using Barrowman 2-D), it was clear that obtaining stability primarily by nose mass (versus fins) yielded far better results (610 vs 785 ft, 6 vs 3 fins). The transition also gave little benefit. So I settled on three tubefins. To build this, I just cut off the transition, then took three tubefins off, flattened them slightly, and shoved this into the body tube. From a structural standpoint, this is an optimal configuration assuming the body tube attaches to the conical transition, because it reduces the length of the body tube in compression during acceleration. I may do this again in the future as it was very easy to do. The fins were done with a 45 degree leading edge cut from leftover 19mm ID Estes tube (because laying up epoxy/vellum was a major pain) and attached in the area “between” the squished tube-spacers inside the body tube. I thought the resulting design was an elegant way to transfer motor momentum to the airframe while isolating fin and motor vibration. The nosecone was only 5.5 grams, and needed to be around 20, so around ten small fishing weights were cast into place (with a piano wire mount point for recovery). The shock cord was made from Kevlar thread, attached to the outside of the airframe at the spent-motor balance point for best effect. The streamer was made 80 by 6 inches out of annoyingly strong aluminized gift wrap and accordion folded at 3/4 inch.

C Streamer Duration

I also have had no experience with egglofters! I know, all that youth wasted launching minimum diameter rockets and losing them! I looked at plans online and had a general idea of what I wanted to do (24mm motor mount, long conical transition, eggs in nosecones). I went to buy the special nosecones and noticed that it was just a few dollars more to order a kit from Aerospace Specialty Products, so I went with their 24 mm Eggstravaganza kit. They did not have a dual version available, but that was not going to be a problem since I would have to modify the design anyways. I played around with where to mount the altimeter, and decided to mount it inside the conical transition, in an 18mm tube attached to the rear egg cone. Atmospheric venting would happen via vent holes at the base of this egg cone (leading into the 18 mm tube) and the altimeter capsule would be accessed from a sealed (taped on) bulkhead at the end. The shock cord was attached to the same egg cone, just beside the attachment point for the altimeter capsule. To go between the two cones and contain the eggs, a tube was made from two layers of vellum (double sided tape across the entire mating surface) and a paper bulkhead was placed inside this to separate the eggs. Three vent holes were made into this transition on the lower egg side. I decided to stick with the 18 inch parachute included in the kit (instead of making my own 24 inch). The only complication was preventing the egg from sealing off the altimeter from atmospheric pressure, which I decided to do with rubber foam at launch prep time.

Launch and Results

C Streamer Duration on the pad

The weather for the first launch window was amazingly calm and clear. I managed to get my eggs, C streamer rocket ready (Estes C-6 5), and glider prepped (Estes B-4 2) for the first launch window. I had a good first flight for the C streamer, although a little corkscrewed on boost (42.9 seconds). The vellum body tube experienced some charring and warping, but was otherwise in perfect condition. My glider however had too much rudder, and did a death spiral into the sand (22 seconds). The crash cracked the plywood slide rail and took a chunk out of the leading edge of my wing. For the second launch I managed to fix the glider (kinda) and get the C streamer ready again. The glider went into a spiral on launch (the slide rail may have been separated in the retracted position) and crashed (instant DQ). The C streamer had a perfect boost but separated at ejection at the shock cord mount (DQ). By this time, the kids had enough, so I hastily put the egglofter on the pad (Estes D-12 5) and shot it off. Boost was perfect and ejection graceful, but the chute seemed to take a few seconds to properly fill and induced a slight spin. Once down, I noted that the chute was torn at one side (hence the spin) and the body tube had a little crimp in it (weak side opposite the seam). The altimeter read 654 feet, and disassembly showed two intact eggs. Success!

Other fliers had mixed results. R/G is difficult, so the more experienced fliers had more success, with Chris Flanagan setting a high bar at 206 seconds (nearly out into the bay). Most eggloft fliers used the Estes D12 black powder motors, but Ross Iwamoto chose the Aerotech D21-7 APCP motor. We all thought it was going to be too much and break his eggs on boost, but he managed to pull off 1036 ft with no faults. Awesome! The C streamer times seemed to be either on the low end (20 seconds) or high end (40 seconds). Chris Flanagan managed the best two times at 44 and 40 seconds with an eight-finned rocket (24 mm fins around 40 mm body).

Standings wise, I took second place in eggloft, fourth in glider, and fifth in streamer. Because of the heavy points weight for the eggloft event, I ended up in “third place” behind Chris and Ross (who tied) for total points. Not bad for my first competition!

Analysis and Conclusion

But seriously, who cares about points! This is SCIENCE!

The next vellum airframe I make will have a replaceable body tube, or at least have a replaceable “sleeve”, to absorb the damage of ejection charges. This would include body-tube-like conical transitions like on the egglofter. The ASP egglofter kit I purchased had a thicker “cardstock” style body tube, which at one layer bore most of the stress at the overlap. Next time I will halve the material thickness, increase the number of wraps, and eliminate the large overlap at the seam (and bear the load more evenly). I may even try to model the peak stresses and do some destructive testing on hand-wound tubes to find the sweet-spot. I also loved the feel and sturdiness of the epoxy-vellum tubes, so I may try to invest in a set of longer mandrels.

Recovery-wise, Kevlar thread is my undoing; I am buying some thin braided Kevlar for shock cords and save the thread for parachutes. And getting some space blankets: that parachute from ASP was amazing!

Other than that, I look forward to the next competition!


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