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Arizona Rocketry Trip

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Ray Dunakin

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At the beginning of August I went on my annual desert rocketry & camping trip. Usually I spend most of the trip in central Nevada, but this year I decided to try out western Arizona.

Here's a link to the photos:

http://albums.photo.epson.com/j/AlbumIndex?u=3009006&a=31372927

I had great plans for this trip, with a lot of new rockets to fly and new payloads to try, including a BoosterVision video system built into a payload to fit a 1.8" rocket. Lots of cool motors in stock too. I've had to cancel several other trips over the past couple years so I was hoping to make up for lost time.

Alas, the best laid plans... So many things went wrong on this trip, it was almost funny.

Things got off to an inauspicious start when I realized, halfway to the desert, that I had forgotten to pack the power adapter for the BoosterVision receiver. Not a big problem, just had to spend an hour or so locating a Radio Shack in El Centro to shell out $17.00 for a new adapter.

My first flight of the trip was along an abandoned mining railroad in the eastern Mojave. A small two-stager, it tipped into the wind as the sustainer fired up, and came down quite a ways down range. Took quite a while to find it. The motor retainer on the booster failed, but I found the motor pretty easily and it suffered no damage from the fall. I got some great photos from this flight.

By the time I'd recovered all the components of that flight, it was getting dark and I was a good deal behind schedule. Didn't reach my intended campsite until after midnight. From my hilltop I could see military aircraft doing strafing and bombing runs at a distant gunnery range, under the glare of huge aerial flares.

The next morning as I was about to leave, I discovered my car's battery had died. Fortunately I came prepared -- I had a "Start Me Up"™ emergency jump starter device. Great product! Just plug it into the cigarette light, wait five minutes, and it charges the battery enough to get you going. But I had to buy a new battery when I reached Blythe.

In the Ibex Hills of western Arizona, I launched a 2.6" two-stager powered by an I284 with an I211 in the sustainer. But the I211 didn't light until the rocket was coming down, and the sustainer disintegrated as it slammed into the rocky desert floor. Only the parachutes and aft closure were salvageable. Even the quicklinks were mangled. Unfortunately my brand new PerfectFlite logging altimeter was also destroyed on this flight, leaving me without an alt for the remainder of the trip.

The only possible explanation for such a delayed ignition is that the 1/8" heat shrink tubing I used on the Thermalite timing cord didn't adequately confine the flame. I've used 1/8" tubing before but it was old surplus stock that had already shrunk a bit. This was new stock and quite a bit looser.

Next I flew a small single stage rocket on an H97. Nice flight but it ended up high on a rocky slope. The temperature was close to 110, so retrieval of this rocket, and the previous ill-fated flight, went very slowly. As the sun sank low on the horizon, I discovered my watch had stopped!

At twilight I drove around a bit to explore some of the other trails in the area, and saw a rare bighorn sheep. Moments later as I came to a stop, I heard an ominous hissing noise. My left rear tire had been punctured by a sharp rock. Changing tires is not one of my favorite activities, especially when the temperature is still in triple digits, so I got out my puncture repair kit and put a couple plugs into the hole. Still leaked a little, so I added a can of "fix-a-flat". Finally got the leaking stopped, and used a small compressor to get the tire pressure back up to normal.

Went to make a sandwich, and discovered my Rubbermaid container of premium grade roast beef had also sprung a leak and was full of water from the melted ice. Yuck!

The following morning I had a great flight with a parasite-staged "Tri-Star" rocket. Two small camera rockets mounted on the side of a larger, 2.6" diameter booster. The booster was powered by an I284 (one of my favorite motors!) and the smaller rockets had G motors.

As I packed up after recovering the rockets, I discovered that my trusty SureFire II launch controller had given up the ghost -- the internal batteries no longer held a charge. At the next town I bought a roll of speaker wire so that I could at least launch from my car's battery. Unfortunately this meant I would be unable to do any flights with the video payload -- I'd need more than two hands. I also had no idea how the power inverter for the VCR would be affected by using the same battery to fire the rocket.

My next site was the Battleship Mine area, which turned out to be less interesting than I'd hoped. Since it was getting dark by the time I arrived, I camped there anyway. In the morning I did a dual launch. One rocket was another 2.6" two-stager similar to the one which had crashed two days previous. Same motor configuration -- I284 staging to an I211. This time I used 3/32" heat shrink tubing to sheath the Thermalite. The other rocket was a small one powered by a G55.

The two-stage rocket flew successfully, with ignition of the sustainer coming right on time. However, the payload's parachute separated from the shock cord, and the payload fell onto a pile of rocks. To my surprise, the damage was minimal and easily repaired with a bit of tape. The smaller rocket also flew successfully and landed a short distance away. Meanwhile, my tire was slowly leaking again, and had to be reinflated. I backed up a few inches to position the leak so that the goop inside the tire would plug it. Oops -- forgot about that booster leaning against the other side of the car, now squashed under a wheel.

Next, I visited the historic mining town of Oatman, AZ. This turn of the century village still has most of the original buildings and retains much of its Old West charm despite the proliferation of touristy gift shops. Wild burros come in from the hills looking for handouts from the tourists, and are quite pushy about it. Some of the shops sell carrots to feed to the burros.

Later that I day I had a good single stage flight near the Peerless Mine, a 2.6" rocket on a Pro38 I212 Smokey Sam. Had to do quite of bit of climbing to retrieve the rocket and payload.

That night I wasted many hours trying to locate my next camp/launch site. This was complicated by the fact that there were many more trails in the area than were shown on the map. Eventually I gave up on that site and went on to an alternate site, arriving about 3:30 in the morning. Just as I got there, another tire went flat, punctured by a sharp rock. I managed to plug it enough to get me to the next town, rented a motel room for a shower and a few short hours of sleep before check out time, and called AAA.

After replacing both damaged tires, my last full day of the trip was pretty much shot. I took a drive into the desert northwest of Blythe to checkout the site of a gypsum mining town called Midlands. Nothing there but a few foundations and a lot of rubble. However, a couple of handpainted signs directed me to "Burkard's Midlands History". This consisted of two binders full of photos and a brief handwritten history of the town, compiled by a former resident and tucked into a five-gallon can to protect it from the elements! It was interesting to read and to see the photos of what this town of 350 homes once looked like.

Late in the day I found a farmer in Blythe who invited me to launch small rocket from his alfafa field. I jumped at this rare opportunity to get aerial photos of something green for a change.

That night I set up camp near an old mine the Imperial desert. There, I spotted a desert gecko. Later a kit fox walked right into camp and sniffed around a bit.

The following morning I visited the site of some ancient geoglyphs. These are large-scale drawings or figures scratched into the ground by prehistoric peoples. Two dirt roads cut through the middle of them, and although they are currently fenced for protection there are many tire tracks marring the markings. What's left doesn't look like much from the ground, so I thought I try getting some aerial shots and see how they look from above. A nice two-stage flight, but the geoglyphs turned out to be rather disappointing and are virtually indistinguishable from the tire tracks and erosion.

That was the last flight of my trip. Many of the larger and more complex flights I'd planned had to be cancelled due to the various problems encountered on this trip, but I still managed to have fun and got a few interesting photos.
 

lalligood

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Ray,

After going through your picture gallery, it looks like despite all the problems you had, you still had a very successful trip! I think I probably would have packed it up long before you did. Wow...you capture some fantastic images with your rockets :) Thank you for sharing your trip with us!
 

Fore Check

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Give Doug at Pratt Hobbies a call on your Surfire system.

Mine did the same thing after inadvertently "shorting" it out through a pair of touching alligator clips (OOOOOPS!)

All it did was burn out a thermal overload fuse, which he fixed at no charge. I had to pay to ship it to him, but he paid to ship it back.

Great Service!!!

Don't give up on that Pratt launcher!
 

Fore Check

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By the way - the next time you're in El Centro, you've GOT to stop by "Burgers 'n Beer" and get an ice cold Budweiser and a grilled onion burger with cheddar. Awesome! Don't forget to substitute curly fries for the standard steak fries.....
 

Elapid

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like you had a fun trip despite the setbacks!

thanks for sharing!
:)
 

KenParker

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Incredible trip report, Ray. Your stamina and persistence, not to mention your patience, are phenomenal.
 

n3tjm

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Incredible trip! Sorry to hear about the troubles you had. GREAT photos.

Curious Question... ever get pulled over with all those rockets on your truck?
 

eugenefl

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Originally posted by KenParker
Incredible trip report, Ray. Your stamina and persistence, not to mention your patience, are phenomenal.
No kidding! I think running over my own rocket would have been the last straw. I might have put the car and neutral and let it roll off of a mountain after an error like that! (I've been known to lose my head over bonehead accidents!) Wow...the agony of the trip was nearly as equal as the enjoyment. Are you sure you didn't run over any small animals on the commencement of your trip? :confused: :)

I've dabbled in aerial photography before and the expense and persistence involved can certainly be taken for granted. Thanks for the report and the great pictures.
 

Ray Dunakin

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Originally posted by n3tjm
Incredible trip! Sorry to hear about the troubles you had. GREAT photos.

Curious Question... ever get pulled over with all those rockets on your truck?
Nope. Most cops hardly even give them a second glance.
 

Ray Dunakin

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BTW, the parachute that separated from the payload's shock cord? That puzzled me when I found the payload, since the shock cord was in perfect condition. Then I found the parachute, and was even more puzzled to note that the quicklink was closed.

Then it dawned on me...

The shock cord had been folded into loops with a rubber band around it, to slow the deployment and reduce the risk of a zipper. When I clipped the parachute to the shock cord, I must have connected it to one of these loops instead of the real loop tied into the end of the cord. So when the chute opened, and the shock cord straightened out, the quicklink just slipped right off!

Gotta watch out for that in the future.
 

nomopbo

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Ray,
Wow, what a trip/nightmare. You sure cant tell all the set backs from the pictures! Thanks for posting them. I always enjoy looking at them and showing them to people that arent into "rocketry".
 

loopy

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Ray - you are just amazing! I love your reports, and your pictures are just out of this world! Thanks for sharing the trials and tribulations of this trip - hope you can repair most of what was launched.

Mark
 

rstaff3

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Nice detailed report and great photos as usual. In my book your desert subject matter is far more interesting that the typical fields/grass that we see in a lot of the on-board pics :)

Sorry you had so many mishaps, makes my rocket woes seem insignificant. One day, if not already, this will seem like an adventure, not a disaster.
 

Missileman

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Even with the setbacks I envy your trip.
Sounds like all in all you really had some fun.
Thanks for sharing it with us.
 

Ray Dunakin

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BTW, I rented a satellite phone for this trip. A little pricy but really handy when you're out in the boonies, far from cellular range. Comforting too, to know that in an emergency you can call for help no matter where you are.

I checked out a lot of sat phone suppliers online, and ended up renting from Spirit Wireless. The rental fee was a bit higher than some of the others but the per minute costs were the lowest; and they include return shipping. Also, they were very easy and pleasant to deal with, which is always a plus.

Besides emergencies, a satellite phone rental might be useful to clubs that hold launches in remote areas and need to call in waivers, etc.
 
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