justify the safety of rocket launching...

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Well-Known Member
Sep 10, 2004
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To all,

Our local rocket club is participating in a local initiative which is best described as a student-discover-aerospace-and-aviation day. A one day session with activity workshops pertaining to flight and aeronautics for Grade 6 elementary students. We have a 20 minute time slot and our primary activity is building and launching paper straw rockets indoors. We're also presenting a brief video on model rocketry; in fact I've previously posted asking for and receiving video clips and stills. Check my earlier post:


What we'd like to also do is an outdoor demo launch of some model rockets.

Here's the dilema. While the indoor paper straw rocket works with groups of 20 to 30, the proposed outdoor demo launch is a group demo actvity that will present in front of anywhere from 200 to 300 kids; so it has to be "large" enough to be effective. It is also taking place in a grassy area (probably the size of 2 or 3 baseball infields) that is immediately adjacent to an International airport. While we are not at either end of the approach area to any of the runways, we are adjacent to a paved area that aircraft sometimes use.

We recognize and fully understand this goes against the model Rocketry safety code, but we also understand the benefits of a controlled demonstration and are nonetheless interested in pursuing this under rather stringent conditions.

We are targeting to launch 3 rockets.

First a paper model rocket (specifically the freebie design FlisKits caution paper rocket); either on a 1/2 A6 -2 or a full A8-3. A good demo rocket to show all aspects of a rockets flight; launch, deployment and recovery.

Second, a plastic dinner plate flying saucer design (Art Applewhite's Hefty Serve n' Store design) on a D11-P. An excellent demo to show how drag affects flight.

Third, a Sunward Aerospace flying pyramid (King Tut's pyramid) on either an F or G motor. The F or G will give some aspect of the wow effect of larger motors but the high drag design should still keep the rocket "contained".

The organizers of the event have made contact with the airport authorities and their initial reaction is to not approve of the activity (fully understandable). However they are willing to listen to the details of the proposal. As the subject matter experts on this we are being put in contact with the airport authorities to explain what it is we are doing and alleviate any of their concerns about coordinating the launches with their air traffic as well as the safety/liability issue with regards to adjacent buildings, aircraft, and staff working in the area.

In preparing to address these folks we've brainstormed the following selling points:

Save and recognized hobby activity: this is a recognized hobby activity, with an unblemished safety record. Model (and we need to stress that word) rockets and model rocket motors are available over the counter at any number of locations in the city and can be procured by anyone over the age of 12.

Our recognition of safety as an issue: Convey the point that one of the reasons for model rocketry's unblemished safety record is the observance and adherance of a strict safety guideline. We are aware of a safety code and we abide by it. Under these circumstances for a special initiative we are recognizing a waiver of the rules regarding launching close to an airport and will proceed under the stringest of conditions.

Demonstration launch: this is a demonstration launch and as such we will only be launching a very few rockets at select times, we are only planning on launching 6 model rockets, 3 in the morning and 3 in the afternoon (we can even provide the time windows)

SMALL model rockets: we can provide details on the size and complexity of the rockets we're launching; if they see were planning on launching a paper rocket that only weighs 1/2 oz., or a plastic dinner plate, and a cardboard/balsa pyramid they may realize that these are not dangerous nor a high risk to damage property (we plan to supply photographs, weights, dimensions, etc.)

Low altitude: we can provide probable altitudes attained. For at least the 1/2 A and D saucer, the altitudes attained would be lower than someone launching "bottle" rockets.

Location: while the launch area is adjacent to the airport, is not directly on the approach or take-off path of any runway

Location: we would be launching and retrieving from within the grassy enclosure adjacent to the building where the activities for that day are taking place. The only time we would need access "beyond the fence" is if on retrieval the wind blew the rocket over the fence

Flexibility: we need to convey that we'll respect their decision and are willing to work with them. We'll only launch 2 out of the 3 (smaller motors if they like), we'll even do a demo launch just for the airport authority folks to show them what we're planning on, etc.

Can anyone think of other things that might help us make our case?

Thanks in advance.

... Bill


I am in the USA and not in Canada, but reading the CAR Safety Code, it looks like this is absoluelty PROHIBITED. "7) LAUNCH SITE. I will never launch my model rockets near buildings, power lines, or within 9.1 kilometres from the centre of an airport. The area immediately around the launch system will be cleared of any flammable materials. I will always obtain the permission of the launch site owner prior to using the launch site for my model rocket activities. "

I fly in Alberta, Canada. I know we have done a demo launch (7 or 8 high power birds) at the Lethbridge Airshow, this was probably 5 or 6 years ago.

As an airshow was a special event, airspace was restricted and we were just another "act", so it may not be comparable to your situation. However, the fact that ATC is willing to look at a proposal is great, and your points of reasoning look pretty sound. Is this at Winnipeg International?

One better place to check would be the CAR email list. Members representing the safety committees, the CAR board, and a lot of other experience would be able to help you out on the details for Canadian launch sites in special purposes like this. The CAR board may be willing to coordinate with you as they have a great working relation with Transport Canada.

Check out the group: https://groups.yahoo.com/group/canadianrocketry/


Yes, it is Winnipeg.

Yes, and I remember the Lethbridge group doing a HP demo at an airshow a number of years back. It was exactly (OK... similarly) train of thought that I thought we might be able to do what we are planning to do with some very simple mod-rocs.

I'll cross post to the CAR group (I have an id) and solicit their opinion and expertise. Last thing I would want to do was jeopardize any relationship MAR (Manitoba Association of Rocketry) would have with CAR; or with CAR's relationship with Transport Canada. I am after all a CAR member... oops that reminds me, I still have to mail my renewal.

... Bill
If you are allowed to do this (so close to an airport) at all, I would DEFINITELY adapt that paper rocket with a 13mm motor mount and use a 1/4A motor. There is absolutely no need to launch something to 500 or 1000 ft in this situation.
-Once it's out of sight (and it will be, in a blink, to a crowd of folks who have never seen a rocket launch before), who cares how high it went
-Using a "full A" motor and going to 500 or 1000 feet with a light-weight model rocket, you significantly increase the odds of bad things happening (drifting in the wind and being unrecoverable, weathercocking and going way off your launch field, and looking too "powerful," among others) that would erode the impression you are trying to make ("look how safe and controllable this is!"). You certainly don't want to scare the audience you are trying to reassure.
-A lightweight 13mm motor in a paper model originally designed for 18mm loads will be more stable, increasing your chances for an ideal (straight) boost
Keep it big, keep it low, keep it slow. Make a great impression with these first launches, THEN bring out the nuclear-powered rockets.

Ever heard the expression about getting your "foot in the door?"

Good point. Yes, I really don't want them to lose sight of the rocket! And the increased stability from the lighter motor doesn't hurt either.

I know I'll get minimal altitude out of a saucer on a D. If not the plastic plate thingee, I have a balsa saucer design I built from SR a couple of years ago (the "Lampshade"). Even on a D it really doesn't go anywhere.

And while the purpose of the demo is to showcase and introduce model rocketry it's also to teach something. Flying the paper rocket on a 1/4A and then telling the group you are going to launch the next rocket on a motor (D) that's 32x more powerful will leave expectations of things flying out of sight. But then to only have it go the same height teaches them something about the relationship of thrust, weight and drag.

... Bill
...In preparing to address these folks we've brainstormed the following selling points:...Can anyone think of other things that might help us make our case?

Another thing you might point out is that you're really talking about something being in the air for less than five minutes, total time, split into two periods so... Coordinating an appropriate launch time with the "Airboss" should be easily done and, as you've said that you're flexible in your timing, shouldn't be a problem regarding air safety.
You have a problem everyone has with flying near an airport.

The safety code (which we are trying to change) is different from Aviation regulations in Canada.

Links are available on the Sunward site.

It is against the Model Rocket Safety Code and against MAAC's rules to fly near an airport. It is not against Aviation Canada's rules. You can't be a hazard to aviation. So you can fly if you get permission, you just can't fly under MAAC's insurance or under CAR's rules.

It is nice of you to consider the pyramid for low flight, but it may not be the most stable. I would recommend the Arachnid. It is a BT60 based and with 8 fins, as stable as you are going to get. You could also fly on a B engine ( or even an A) and not go too high.

For drag, you could use the Flying Umbrella
The only time we would need access "beyond the fence" is if on retrieval the wind blew the rocket over the fence

My gut feeling is that regardless of anything else, this will cruel your chances. If anything, you should be doing everything to not encroach on the airside area of the airport, and then reassuring them of that.
I believe in the United States a couple of small airfields have been used before. They got permission from the airfield and the flight controller was made aware. Don't know if the launch had insurance. Not sure if launches happened on weekend or weekday. If i recall correctly they only launched a few rockets, so the launch window was probably small.
For a public demo launch, the very first launch that most of the people present will ever see, you're deliberately planning to violate (at a minimum) the model rocket safety code?

How in the world does that show either a commitment to safety? How does it demonstrate that it's important to follow the rules?

It doesn't matter if *you* think it is safe. It doesn't, in fact, matter if it really *is* safe. It does matter that you're planning to show people who've never seen a model rocket launch that it is acceptable to ignore the safety rules.
Thanks for all the responses folks.

JRThro makes a particular strong point about (in essence) "how do you show committment and support of a safety policy if in fact as part of a public demo you intentionally violate it".

Quite frankly I agree with him and am torn by "doing the right thing" and not bending the rules (or even conveying the subtle and not so subtle message that "yes there are rules, but under certain conditions...") and the value or benefit that the demonstration might have.

We are reconsidering.

I've posted the same discussion point to our CAR (Canadian Association of Rocketry) Yahoo forum and I'll see what that brings about.

Thanks for all your input.

... Bill
NAR's safety code just mentions that you can't be a hazard to aircraft, so it might be allowed in the US. But apparently your CAR safety code prohibits it based upon the distance and I can't see any way around that, right?
To all,

Just to update the launching of mod-rocs near an airport.

There's been a lot of talk on this subject on the CAR Yahoo forum.

In Canada the CAR model rocket safety code says you are not to launch within 9.1 kilometres from the centre of an airport. Here is the specific quote from the CAR model rocket safety code; "I will never launch my model rockets near buildings, power lines, or within 9.1 kilometres from the centre of an airport. The area immediately around the launch system will be cleared of any flammable materials. I will always obtain the permission of the launch site owner prior to using the launch site for my model rocket activities.".

(Interestingly the NAR Model Rocket Safety Code says; "I will not launch my rocket at targets, into clouds, or near airplanes, and will not put any flammable or explosive payload in my rocket." The reference is to "near airplanes" and does not impose any specific distance limits)

MAAC (Model Aeronautics Association of Canada) states this about rocket launch sites in their safety code under "space modelling". "LAUNCH SITE: I will never launch my model rockets near buildings, powers lines or near air traffic. Whenever possible, I will launch from locations 9 km or more from any airport. The minimum distance across the launch field in any direction shall be a minimum of ¼ of the highest altitude to be flown. A minimum distance of 1/3 is recommended. The area immediately around the launch system will be cleared of any flammable materials. I will always obtain the permission of the launch site owner prior to using the launch site for my model rocket activities."

Just as in the US you don't have to be a NAR member to fly mod-rocs, similarly in Canada you don't have to be a CAR or MAAC member to fly mod-rocs.

In Canada, Canadian Aviation regulations state "No person shall fly a model aircraft or a kite or launch a model rocket or a rocket of a type used in a fireworks display into cloud or in a manner that is or is likely to be hazardous to aviation safety."

These are the guidelines and rules. It would appear that under Transport Canada or MAAC guidelines; working with the appropriate authorities and ensuring that air traffic is not at risk, it SHOULD be possible to launch near an airport.

It is only the CAR guideline which explicitly prevents the launch within 9 kms of an airport.

The proposed demo launch involved 2 rockets.

A sub-30 gram (less than 1 oz.) paper Fliskits Caution rocket flying on a 13mm 1/2A3. I've RockSim'd it and test flown to confirm the altitude, and I get somewhere between 130 and 150 feet altitude. Streamer recovery.

The second rocket is to be a high drag saucer design. A number of candidates exist; commercial Estes Snitch on a C6-0, CD spool rocket on a C6-0, Art Applewhite style paper plate saucer on a D11-P or a balsa lampshade saucer (SR design) on a D11-P. Haven't decided which one to propose as of yet. In any case altitude would be under 100 feet.

Both would be launched at two times. Once in the morning session and once in the afternoon session.

The launch site is a approximate 270 x 250 foot fenced area that is adjacent to the airport property, but not adjacent to any runway, nor under any direct approachway.

We're attempting to minimize any risk by; working hand-in-hand with all parties (property owners, airport authorities), flying rockets with known and repeatable flight characteristics, keeping the number of flights limited, flying at set specific times, and flying low and minimizing drift by using streamer or tumble recovery.

Basically, at this point, I've asked the CAR (Canadian Association of Rocketry) Executive to approve us taking it to the next level; that is to work with the airport authority and seek their approval.

It is a contentous issue and in a nutshell asks does the benefit of performing the demo (no matter how safe or what precautions have been taken) outweigh directly contradicting a CAR guideline.

We are waiting to hear back from the CAR Executive; and will abide by their decision.

Thanks to all for your input and thoughts on this issue.

... Bill