BALLS 24 Launch Report

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Well-Known Member
Oct 6, 2013
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Hi all – below is my BALLS launch report, copied from our local email lists.

I went to Black Rock with 3 new projects and returned home with no unflown motors. That in itself feels like a successful weekend to me! With the August Brothers launch getting cancelled, 2 of those projects ended up being ready a month early and have since been sitting around, “taking up” shop space. These were also the much-anticipated flights of some of my first research motors. However, not all flights went exactly as planned, of which I’ll elaborate on below.

The plan was to leave for the launch Wednesday afternoon, stay the night with some rocketry friends in Klamath Falls, OR, then continue to Black Rock that next morning. My intent was to pack up Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, but Wednesday came and I had a lot more to do than I originally thought which occupied most of the day. My last task was to assemble my 98mm N3500 of which I had mixed in the days before, and this too took much longer than “budgeted” for due to jammed closures, sharp snap-ring grooves, shaved O-rings, etc...

After all that, I finally got on the road at 9:00 PM Wednesday night, only 7 hours behind schedule. It was a quiet and uneventful drive down to Klamath Falls, including a late-night food stop at a Pilot Travel Center along the way. This got me into K-Falls at 2:30 AM, where there was a bed waiting with my name on it! Phew.

I awoke the next morning and ran over to the nearby Fred Meyer for ice, supplies, and fuel before our convoy left for Black Rock. Robert and Jacob took the lead in Robert’s SUV/U-Haul trailer, while I followed in my truck for most of the drive. After a few bathroom breaks and 1 final stop in Cedarville, CA, we arrived on the playa just past 4:00 PM. The DAWGpack was already there, along with Team Hardtail who were all set up like they knew what they were doing. We opted to set up camp next door to their (very large!) group as the sun began to go down. I opted to go with the Bob Yanecek “safe” approach by setting up my tower out at an (approx.) 2000’ away cell and figured I was set for the weekend.

As of last year, there was a great showing from the Pacific Northwest. From Washington there was Kent Newman, Dale Woodford, Bob Yanecek, Jim Jopson, Mark Howe, Jon Preston, and Dave King. Then from Idaho we had Vern Knowles plus the better part of Team VFD – Dave Hassinger, Matt Britain, Kyle Wilcox, etc. Also from OROC there was Joe Bevier, Brian Van’t Hul, Neil Anderson, Steve Cutonilli, Rick Clapp, Pete Ekstrom, and Dave Camarillo. I know there were others – sorry if I forgot anyone... That evening was a great time around Hardtail’s campfire.

Flight #1 - "Power Line Seeker II", EX M2000
Friday morning came and Dale Woodford had the first flight of the day – his “Roadrunner” on an AT N1000W which hit 37K as I recall. Robert Braibish helped me prep my first flight of the weekend – “Power Line Seeker II” (named after its previous iteration likely buried in Brothers somewhere) on a 75/7600 M2000. With the timing of getting packed up and on the road, most of my flights were in a much lower state of “readiness” than I would have liked. However, Robert was a huge help in expediting this process as he wasn’t there to fly much this year, rather just to help others get their projects up. Thanks again Robert – I really appreciate it!

By late-morning I was ready for action, so I dropped my flight card over at the LCO desk and headed for the tower. Loading was a breeze and I set up my new launch controller. Partially in anticipation for this launch, I had picked up a Wilson F/X wireless system a few weeks prior and was eager to try it out. It worked wonders all weekend long and was a huge improvement over using my own wired controllers. I radioed Waysie who announced my flight, and by this point I was practically shaking out of nervousness. I pushed the button and the motor took its sweet time to come up to pressure, which to me felt like an eternity but really couldn’t have been longer than 4 seconds. When it did, it leapt off the pad on a huge flame about as long as the rocket on its way to (I estimate) 26K-27K.


At apogee I got no updates from the GPS, followed by several seconds of silence followed by the ever un-reassuring “1 update, then a thud.” We drove to the last coordinate and found this:



Looks like I shredded my main at 1000’, since the nosecone had deployed and was sitting about 10’ from the “crater.” This may be the second time surgical tubing charges have failed me, so time to rethink that plan for next year. When the rocket augered in, the impact actually shot the aft snap ring, washer, and nozzle clear out – talk about some serious force there! There were pieces of liner scattered all over the playa. Getting this thing out of the playa required a system of straps, levers, and Robert’s SUV – but it did the trick. The nosecone and GPS are fine, but the Raven3 and SL100 are both toast. That sucked for sure. However, my main goal was getting the motor to work, of which it did perfectly, so I’m happy with that.

Flight #2 - "Not An Engineer", EX L1200 (Build Thread)
I took a lunch break and prepped my 54mm Madcow Tomach, named “Not an Engineer,” for its first flight. It flew on a L1200 (baby 4% L, 54/2800 Fisher case) which was about as much motor as I could cram into the 36” booster section. Once again I filled out a flight card and headed for the tower.


When I pushed the button, it took off at a slight angle possibly due to binding on the rail, but I had solid GPS lock all the way down, and indicated both my drogue and main had deployed correctly. We drove about 1.5 miles SW of the pad and found everything in perfect condition. Max altitude was 14,929’, as reported by the Raven2. She could have easily flown again within a half hour...if I had another L waiting. ;)


Cleaned up camp a bit and started prepping “Code Red XL” (a play on my L3 bird and an old Estes rocket) for its N3500 flight on Saturday. (Fisher 98/17500) Got dinner going as Dave Camarillo rolled in, a little later than he had planned but was glad to be there. That evening was another fun time around the campfire.

At 5:30 AM on Saturday morning, I got a call from Manny Ballestero (mannyskid) and Steve Heller (prophecy) who were on their way from Bruno’s and having a difficult time finding the flight line in the dark. So I drove in their general direction and flashed my headlights until they saw me from about 7 miles away (i.e., way off course). Saturday morning consisted of the much-anticipated flight of "Sunday Silent” – a 98mm O3800 with no airframe by Steve Heller. He and Manny had stayed up all night Friday prepping and were ready to go first thing, but of course the AHPRA guys were nowhere in sight yet. We loaded up Steve’s rocket, he borrowed my wireless controller, and all was ready for action at 8:50 AM. A call to Waysie on the FRS radio determined that the waiver wouldn’t be open until 9:15, so we anxiously waited for 25 minutes. At 9:18 AM, Steve pushed the button and was the first flight up of the day. The thermite igniter went off, then the rocket sat dead on the pad for a few seconds, when suddenly…BOOM! The thing absolutely tore off the pad quickly on its way to 62K. Manny was calling out the Telemetrum data which indicated all the chutes had deployed properly. Steve was ecstatic as he went off for recovery. A kickass flight to start the day off!

Flight #3 - "Code Red XL", EX N3500 (Build Thread)
I headed back to camp, had breakfast, and finished prepping my N. I finished mixing this motor the day before I left for Black Rock, mostly thanks to issues with my vacuum but that’s why you use fast curative. Another issue I ran into before I left was that I accidently “bricked” the microcontroller in my RRC3 while trying to program it with a PerfectFlite data kit. I had talked to Jim Amos via phone and apparently this was the second time he had heard of this problem, and it required me to send him the altimeter for repairs. But I didn’t drive all the way down there for nothing, so I decided to “risk” it with just flying the Raven by itself. All 4 pyros were hooked up and I used big backup charges, so barring any altimeter issues I knew the rocket would come back safely.

I went out to the tower with a big support crew – Dave, Steve, Manny, etc. who were all a huge help in wrestling the big 55 lb. rocket on to the pad. As we were doing so, I had a scary “deja vu” moment from last year when it was announced that operations were on hold due to wind and low visibility from dust. Thankfully...that all blew by and we were back in business in no time. I tightened the straps, armed the Raven, put the igniter in and retreated. This was my biggest motor to date, biggest EX motor to date, AND my largest rocket to date, so I was just a little nervous.


Getting this thing off the ground was a huge pain thanks to the LCO and a large backup of flights. I probably called him 5 times on the radio before he even acknowledged I was there. Getting more and more frustrated as he’s launching H and I motors off the close-by pads completely ignoring me, I was about ready to march over to my controller and just push the button when he finally responds. Cooled down but still nervous, I hit the button and the motor chuffed like crazy, likely due to not getting the igniter all the way to the top of the motor. I probably lost a bit of impulse there which was too bad, but when it finally came up to pressure, the big N roared off the pad on its way to 20,491’. It was such a gorgeous flight and I was jumping up and down like a little kid. (Just not using “little kid commentary”…) ;)

GPS indicated I had a drogue out, followed by a main at 1000’. Manny spotted the big Cert-3 XL chute about 2 miles north of the pad, and we drove straight to it. The wind was dragging the chute, good thing my rocket didn’t have any paint yet. Upon recovery we noticed only the nosecone and upper section were there – the fin section and drogue were still MIA. So we drove back towards the pad in search of it, when Steve/Manny spotted my chute right in-line with the bearing. Turns out I made the age-old mistake guessed it...forgetting to connect a quick-link. It must have slipped my mind when I put the 2 sections together and added shear pins. No damage.

I headed for camp and got lunch going, feeling very satisfied with my flights. The last motor I brought with me was a 75/6000 big L/baby M1400 which I had no real plans for. Turns out, one of my camp “neighbors” Alexis Thoeny (caruolo) was looking for a motor to fly in his 5.5” LOC kit. Mine was the perfect candidate, so he prepped and we headed for the pads right around 5:00 PM. Perfect launch and recovery – he hit 11K as I recall.


Went to UMERG Party on the Playa for a while, which was a most excellent time as always. I climbed into bed around 12:30 and slept like a rock.

Flight #4 - "Code Red XL", EX N6000
Next morning, Pete Ekstrom was still looking for someone to fly his Alumaflame N6000, a leftover motor from last year’s keg rocket sustainer. Turns out my 5” bird was the ideal candidate, so I re-prepped and was back on the pad by late-morning. But the jokers (Aksrockets, tuxxi, etc.) whom I had run my flight card over to the LCO table changed my rocket name to “Home for Dinner.” (I have no idea why...probably just to screw with me.) The big blue motor really got my rocket moving, but it spit casting tube on the way up. No issues with recovery this time! It landed about a mile from the pad and hit 16,531’. Awesome way to close out the weekend, and Pete said that was his favorite part of the launch.




I spent most of the afternoon packing up camp and finally hit the road at 4:30 PM. This made for a very long and tiring drive home, but I stopped in Klamath Falls for a shower at Jacob’s house as well as a nap along the way. I think I was still high on adrenaline from the weekend which made me keep going. Made it back to Portland into the wee hours Monday morning. As always, it was sad to leave Black Rock but all in all the launch was fantastic – great weather all 3 days and I had 4 perfect burns with my own motors. Needless to say, there were several “initiation” moments throughout the weekend – most notably getting pushed into the smoke plume by Pete Ekstrom and Dave Leininger after I threw a bad batch of propellant into the UMERG burn barrel at Party on the Playa.

Thanks everyone for an awesome weekend! Seeing my N tear off the pad on Saturday had to have been one of best and most exciting moments in rocketry. It was really nice to finally meet a bunch of TRF guys - mannyskid, Aksrockets, Solarover13, caruolo, watermelonman, xenon, etc. Also cool to meet guys like Robert DeHate and Ky Michaelson. Like a lot of guys on here say, "You know it was a good launch when you're already talking about plans for next year on the drive home." :wink:

Any further info on AHPRA stepping down and Tripoli Gerlach taking over BALLS next year would be appreciated – which is interesting to me because I thought most of the AHPRA guys ARE members of TRA Gerlach as well...

Alex put together a nice video "montage" of my flights (sans the L1200). Thanks, Alex!
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Great flights! I am bummed that I had to leave before the Alexis Wilson mashup M flight, looked like a good one too!
Thanks everyone for the kind words! And yes, Alexis' flight was pretty fun.