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Rocket kits and the TSA - Advice please


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  1. #1

    Rocket kits and the TSA - Advice please

    EDIT - Thanks for the replies everyone, but I think enough data has come in that the thread has run its course.

    ---------------------------------------------------------------


    I have a friend of mine who is coming from the US via air and will be visiting me in Canada. I asked him to bring up a couple of small rocketry related parts for me to save on shipping costs and to take advantage of the strong Canadian dollar trading slightly above par right now. His plan is to use only carry on to come up since he won't be staying long.

    He doesn't have a problem with bringing up small electronics (e.g. a raven and/or altimeter two) and some parts (an Aeropack retainer) because he thinks they don't look like anything the TSA would worry about, but he's absolutely paranoid about bringing up either an Estes or a small LOC kit because he thinks that TSA is going to freak out over this and think its a bomb or some other insanity. He just "doesn't want to go through the BS of being detained and having to explain what it is" even though I think bringing something like this is no big deal (I personally wouldn't have a problem bringing an Estes or small LOC kit in carry on, so its not like I'm asking him to do something I wouldn't do if you know what I mean).

    Maybe things have gotten worse in the 5 years that I haven't lived in the US and the TSA has gone completely nuts, but is there really a risk of getting detained over having an Estes or small LOC kit in your carry on? Has anyone brought model kits with them when flying? I'm not worried about the Canada side as I've brought things back over myself (although it was on the ground, the CBSA seems to have knowledge of model rocketry). I'm just trying to figure out whether his fears of the US TSA are paranoia or legit concerns.
    Last edited by DavidInNS; 3rd September 2012 at 10:22 PM.

  2. #2
    As an aside, I went to the TSA website and I can't find anything on model rocket kits. I did find something about "bottle rockets" and "realistic replicas of exposives" but a carboard tube, a plastic nose cone and a sheet of balsa wood to me hardly qualifies as a "realistic replica"

  3. #3
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    Well...let me put it this way, the TSA are detaining people over BOTTLES OF WATER. If they are willing to detain someone over such an innocent object I do not think that they will hesitate to throw someone's posterior in to the clinker over something much more relatively threatening. I would first call the airport to check, make sure you have a manager's number if they give you the go ahead and print out the forms that pertain to bottle rockets and realistic replicas of explosives, which omit rocketry parts. It may just be easier to ship them via ground. Be very careful or they will throw you off of your flight, unfortunately such is the state of the TSA, best of luck.
    The most merciful thing in the world... is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.
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    Michael R.
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  4. #4
    So you're saying he has a legit concern? Wow I didnt think the TSA would be like that!

    How ironic, though, that he has no issues with bringing up a printed circuit board or an altimeter that loooks like a USB drive but would be paranoid about bringing up an Estes Mosquito in original unopened packaging.

  5. #5
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    Actually, there was a thread on here several months ago about taking rocket kits on planes, in which it was concluded that it was OK, and the OP did take a kit or two on a plane without any problems. And my neighbor just recently brought a couple of unbuilt kits with him on a plane. However, it might be easier if the kit was well protected and packed in a checked bag.

  6. #6
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    I would look into it ahead, but I wouldn't think it would be a problem. Consider that a bottle of water could be a bottle of ANYTHING, and a cardboard tube is pretty much just a cardboard tube.
    Unstable by design
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  7. #7
    Thanks for all of your responses and I see your respective points.

    The thing about checking a bag is that US Scare...erm... US Air... charges a $25.00 fee for a checked bag. The checked bag fee negates the shipping charge advantage.

    I'll have to find that thread if I can from a few months back, but its good to know that they brought them on a plane with no problems.

  8. #8
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    As mentioned ,if these items were in a checked baggage/boxed ,things would be a lot easier ,because you never know in what state of paranoia the person may be in.

    Now then ,if you were to supply paperwork stating what the individual items are and their use by the manufacturer ,I really do not see there being much hassle by TSA.

    Paul T
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    I built a rocket, and on the seventh day ,I rested

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  9. #9
    Well all kits would be unopened and checking a bag negates the shipping break.

    It just floors me that security is so paranoid that there is a chance they would freak out over a cardboard tube and a sheet of balsa. To me, it makes no sense.

    I suppose one could print out information on the kits and/or keep the receipt of purchase.

  10. #10
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    You should have no problem assuming that these are simply unbuilt Estes kits. With that said, I would be prepared for these kits to be opened should inspection become necessary due to a lack of awareness of what they are by the TSA agent.
    -James Hamilton
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  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by DavidInNS View Post

    It just floors me that security is so paranoid that there is a chance they would freak out over a cardboard tube and a sheet of balsa. To me, it makes no sense.
    It's not that they would freak out over the kit but rather the unknown of what the kit could look like on the x-ray as it gets scanned inside the bag. Depending on densities and sensitivities it could potentially look like something warranting closer inspection. If that occurs the agent will simply see a package that says "rocket" and likely want to examine the contents of the package to ensure that there is no propellant or other hazard if they are unfamiliar with model rocketry.
    -James Hamilton
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    I love America but I also love Canadian bacon, whiskey, and MOTORS.

  12. #12
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    I have checked and carried on unopened Estes kits with no problems. Never had a secondary inspection.

    Most of the front-line TSA staff do things by rote, but if there is an issue they call in someone who has more discretion. Although YMMV, they are generally reasonable and would have to admit that there is nothing prohibited about a sheet of balsa, a cardboard tube, and a plastic nose cone. It's not much different from carrying on a photo of a gun.

    I did have my bag pulled off the scanner last week, possibly because I had crammed our whole family's electronics into it: three phones, two ipods, three ipads, and innumerable headphones and chargers that must have looked like a bowl of spaghetti on the xray screen. All they did was the "wipe" test for explosives, didn't even look into the bag.

    I wouldn't attempt to carry on any motors, ematches, or ignitors (or igniters for that matter). I'm not sure about the rules for checking those, but that's what I would do.

    As stubborn and capricious as TSA inspectors can be, they really just want to find the dangerous stuff and don't care about toys like Estes kits. If you give them attitude, however, their priority can quickly change to hassling you out of their own wounded pride and frustration. Best to be polite and cooperative, save the rants and politics for elsewhere, unless you have a LOT of time before your flight.
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  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by Disaster_Guy View Post
    You should have no problem assuming that these are simply unbuilt Estes kits. With that said, I would be prepared for these kits to be opened should inspection become necessary due to a lack of awareness of what they are by the TSA agent.
    I have absolutely no issues with them being opened. What I have an issue with is my friend being paranoid and thinking that carrying a rocket kit in carry on is tantamount to being a terrorist and will cause him to be detained in a little room and questioned for 1/2 hour before being released.

    Quote Originally Posted by Disaster_Guy View Post
    It's not that they would freak out over the kit but rather the unknown of what the kit could look like on the x-ray as it gets scanned inside the bag. Depending on densities and sensitivities it could potentially look like something warranting closer inspection. If that occurs the agent will simply see a package that says "rocket" and likely want to examine the contents of the package to ensure that there is no propellant or other hazard if they are unfamiliar with model rocketry.
    I totally dig that, and could see the whole thing handled "at the scanner" i.e. the whole "may I open your bag" examining the parts through the clear plastic bag, seeing no motors or other parts, and going on your way.

    Quote Originally Posted by Sully View Post
    I have checked and carried on unopened Estes kits with no problems. Never had a secondary inspection.

    Most of the front-line TSA staff do things by rote, but if there is an issue they call in someone who has more discretion. Although YMMV, they are generally reasonable and would have to admit that there is nothing prohibited about a sheet of balsa, a cardboard tube, and a plastic nose cone. It's not much different from carrying on a photo of a gun.

    I did have my bag pulled off the scanner last week, possibly because I had crammed our whole family's electronics into it: three phones, two ipods, three ipads, and innumerable headphones and chargers that must have looked like a bowl of spaghetti on the xray screen. All they did was the "wipe" test for explosives, didn't even look into the bag.

    I wouldn't attempt to carry on any motors, ematches, or ignitors (or igniters for that matter). I'm not sure about the rules for checking those, but that's what I would do.

    As stubborn and capricious as TSA inspectors can be, they really just want to find the dangerous stuff and don't care about toys like Estes kits. If you give them attitude, however, their priority can quickly change to hassling you out of their own wounded pride and frustration. Best to be polite and cooperative, save the rants and politics for elsewhere, unless you have a LOT of time before your flight.
    I agree with you completely. I always felt that if he's polite and just shows them the kit and how its harmless they'll let him on his way and not have the detainment and cavity search that he thinks he'll get for carrying a kit on board (but yet has no problems saying "oh thats an altimeter" which could, if they connect the dots, be used for a more nefarious purpose).

  14. #14
    So you have an issue with your FRIEND being paranoid about carrying this stuff on board? It seems to me he is the one who's taking the chance (if there is one) not you. If you don't think a tubular shape on an x-ray and carrying altimeter electronics is going to raise suspicion your very naive. Why are you putting your FRIEND through something he is obviously uncomfortable doing? Why don't you just suck it up and pay the shipping through normal channels and let your FRIEND have an enjoyable flight!

  15. #15
    Thanks for the reply Uncrichie. It shows you know how to read what I was asking.
    Last edited by DavidInNS; 4th September 2012 at 01:59 AM. Reason: not worth the keystrokes

  16. #16
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    I've had to get myself and my motor cases across country a few times and I end up shipping them rather than packing them on a plane. For me, saving $5-10 on a shipping package isn't worth the possible hassle.
    Chris Dreher
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  17. #17
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    Nobody can say for sure what will happen... It's up to the TSA people on duty at the time.

    More important is how your friend feels about it. If he is uncomfortable, I would sure not put $15 in front of his comfort level. But that is just me.
    Last edited by JFlagg; 3rd September 2012 at 09:59 PM.
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  18. #18
    Quote Originally Posted by JFlagg View Post
    Nobody can say for sure what will happen... It's up to the TSA people on duty at the time.

    More important is how your friend feels about it. If he is uncomfortable, I would sure not put $15 in front of his comfort level. But that is just me.


    Well I am not going to say "no dude, you're bringing it up whether you like it or not". The point of this thread was that I just want to know for my own edification how legit his fears are of being "labelled as a terrorist" simply for bringing a kit in carry on and if the TSA has gone that "insane".
    Last edited by DavidInNS; 3rd September 2012 at 10:20 PM.

  19. #19
    Thanks for the replies everyone, but I think enough data has come in that the thread has run its course. Much appreciated to those who could provide insight into the workings of the TSA

  20. #20
    Deleted
    Last edited by Uncrichie; 3rd September 2012 at 10:35 PM.

  21. #21
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    I know you don't want more advice,,, but without reading all the replies,,, I have to believe this is some of the better advice.

    As an airline pilot who commutes between Phoenix, Minneapolis & Detroit weekly (not to mention another 700 or so flights annually), I have carried MANY rockets on planes. In fact,,, my favorite rocket shop is Hub Hobby in Little Canada, Minnesota - except I live in Arizona. I've purchased many rocket kits at Hub and carried them home. Here's what I can tell you. They are looking for ACTUAL dangerous materials. Rockets are not dangerous. They don't care. They might ask to see it and look through the kit,,, but they won't slow you down more then a few minutes. However,,, DO NOT CARRY MOTORS, IGNITERS or SUSPICIOUS WIRING/IGNITION DEVICES. That stuff WILL get you stopped and questioned. Cardboard, balsa, paper, motor pins, parachutes, etc - no problem. Now,,, there is one caveat to this - I would NOT carry a rocket which has ever been launched. If they smell it and can smell black powder or AP,,, you could be in trouble. I have never attempted to bring a flown rocket on board. I don't think it's a good idea.

    Summary : Stick to kits and rockets which have never flown and you should be fine...

    Sorry if this is redundant or no one cares any longer. I just felt it was very good first hand experience. I hope it helps.

    And always remember,,, the TSA is ordinary people with a uniform and a badge who feel very entitled. They have WAY more power then they should considering the minimal training and experience most of them have (don't jump on me,,, I know there's more experienced people out there but I'm talking about the majority). Anyways,,, they will always make your day bad if they can because they have the power to, make too little, are bored out of their minds,,, and the fact that you're smiling with your rocket and they are not smiling since they're at work...

    Never forget the FAA's motto : "We're not happy until you're not happy..."

    So just be smart...
    Last edited by WizardOfAZ; 3rd September 2012 at 11:01 PM.
    Josh

  22. #22
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    Also, although I know the OP's intent has been met motor cases were mentioned here. I would highly recommend never transporting a used motor case on a commercial flight. Send it USPS to your destination. I can tell you first hand that technology currently being employed both for passenger as well as luggage screening is designed to detect traces of BP as well as ingredients used in APCP motors. Similarly, if traveling by air within a day or so of making EX motors or doing a lot of flying, it isn't a bad idea to carry your NAR or TRA card with you to assist your explanation if you happen to personally trigger an explosives sensor.
    -James Hamilton
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    I love America but I also love Canadian bacon, whiskey, and MOTORS.

  23. #23
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    and as for the ban on liquids...some helpfull people have developed a liquid explosive that is colourless...
    rex

  24. #24
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    just sort of skimmed the thread but I've flown with unbuilt kits in my backpack no problem. I wouldn't think built would not be an issue. (even with an acurate military paint scheme you can pop the NC off and show wood cardboard FG insides) Built and flown with BP residue that may trip alarms.
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