My Night-flying Journey

The Rocketry Forum

Help Support The Rocketry Forum:

This site may earn a commission from merchant affiliate links, including eBay, Amazon, and others.

smstachwick

LPR/MPR sport flier with an eye to HPR and scale
TRF Supporter
Joined
Jul 29, 2021
Messages
3,937
Reaction score
3,945
Location
Poway, CA
As Spring ROCstock 2023 approached, I had the bright idea of setting up a rocket specifically for flying at night.

My first night flight at Fall ROCstock 2021 ended in failure: I spilled a bunch of CA glue all over my Estes Phantom, had to take the parachute out, and cracked the tube beyond easy repair. I scrapped most of the kit but saved the nose, thinking it would be suitable for future night flight attempts.

While I got a successful night flight and recovery with a blinking light shoved into the unpainted nose of an Estes Hi-Flier, that flight demonstrated to me the challenges of flying the field at night. It’s very difficult to judge visibility at a distance while just prepping and carrying a rocket around the range.

My latest night flight, on an Estes Athena equipped with the ill-fated Phantom’s nose, is the one that convinced me to get serious about my night rockets, plan them ahead of time and not stumble around in the dark trying to install a blinky (yes, I call them that, please excuse this annoyance) in a day rocket.

C15AB534-7D71-485A-8F51-71472847DBD5.jpeg

Losing this Athena taught me a few things and forced me to rethink my approach.

First, I realized that a night rocket is a payloader pretty much by definition. Regardless of how I have it set up, the chemical reaction that produces the illumination (glow stick or battery) must stay in place during flight but be easy to replace when depleted. If using an electric light, it must not become deactivated by flight forces acting on the switch.

The rocket should also be designed and prepped to tolerate moderate winds, both in the air and on the ground, staying over the downrange recovery area or the spectator area instead of being blown off the range. It should also resist winds dragging it across the ground should I have to abandon the search until daylight, as I did with the Athena. To me, this pretty much dictates streamer recovery.

With at least one clear option readily available, I made my purchase: an Estes Ghost Chaser, a BT-50 rocket with a transparent BT-20 payload section and an 18mm mount.

A024671E-571A-45B7-A0AF-14CD662FBFE1.jpeg

I threw this together in a few minutes at ROCstock yesterday and flew it immediately. With a Q-Jet D16-6FJ installed, it went so high that I lost sight of it until parachute deployment. On the second flight, where the chute failed to eject from the tube, the clear plastic glinted in the sun and made recovery easy. It descends sideways with no chute, which is also nice.

I probably won’t fly it on Ds for night ops unless I get really good at recovering it on C power.

Currently it is equipped with a parachute in the stock configuration, but I do plan to install a streamer before the next night flight attempt at Holtville or Lucerne Valley.

I will need to reinforce the ends of the payload section. The clear tubes have a tendency to crack in hard landings, as happened on Flight #2. A bit of clear cellophane tape made it good for flight again. I originally superglued the payload tube on, but the landing knocked it loose and I was able to get it off without further damage. I reinstalled it with tape shims on the end of the transition piece to make it secure.

As demonstrated at ROCstock,The Ghost Chaser is also a capable day flier, and probably a good fit for Fiesta Island on A or B motors.

One thing that I’m also excited about is that the transition piece is equipped with a shock cord mount on both ends. Installed backward into a BT-20 rocket and with a clear BT-50 payload tube, the payload section may end up being a versatile swappable module to grant night flight capabilities to smaller rockets as well. The tricky bit will be sourcing a plastic BT-50. The only source I can think of is the Estes Phantom, expensive at $22. But if I can get one individually or source one from somewhere cheaper, I think I’m in business.
 
Last edited:
Looking in the Estes catalog, it looks like they have an assorted pack of clear payload bay tubes. BT-20, BT-50, and BT-60. That’ll be my source, I think.
 
Yes, the Ghost Chaser makes a great night flyer. I have one done up with multicolor LEDs in the payload section, a couple of small ones embedded in the fin can (power on the out side). I will have to dig mine out and show what i did. The LEDs in the payload section were done by following the lead of someone else making a night flyer here.

Here is PST-50 in 24 inch lengths: https://www.asp-rocketry.com/ecomme...-24-Long-.cfm?item_id=852&parent=13&navPanel=
 
Yes, the Ghost Chaser makes a great night flyer. I have one done up with multicolor LEDs in the payload section, a couple of small ones embedded in the fin can (power on the out side). I will have to dig mine out and show what i did. The LEDs in the payload section were done by following the lead of someone else making a night flyer here.

Here is PST-50 in 24 inch lengths: https://www.asp-rocketry.com/ecomme...-24-Long-.cfm?item_id=852&parent=13&navPanel=
I like that it specifically says it is resistant to shattering. That seems to be an issue with the Estes tubing
 
Wow, this is one of my favorite endeavors. I bought a bunch of LED string-lights in varying colors that use 2 disk batteries each, some nose cones and balsa plug-couplers from erockets.biz (Semroc) and a bag of clear plastic body tube "payload sections" in BT-20, BT-50, and BT-60 (2 of each size). One rocket is a scratch built Centuri Chuter-2 that is now a "Chuter-1" since it's a night flyer and the other (pictured here) is a Discount Rocketry "Bullet" that I modified a LOT. Somewhere I posted a build log on this rocket. It flies really nice with C5-3's and well enough on B4-2's and B6-2's I'd post video but it's too much data for this site. Hope you like it!

https://www.rocketryforum.com/threa...night-launch-led-illuminted-build-log.172207/

Adios - PTH
 

Attachments

  • 100_0028.JPG
    100_0028.JPG
    1.5 MB · Views: 0
  • DSCN0205.JPG
    DSCN0205.JPG
    1.7 MB · Views: 0
Last edited:
Apogee has clear tubes up to BT80. I have a bunch of clear tubes I just got from them. I have 3 night fliers. The only trouble I have had is when the rocket is on the ground and the payload bay is end on. I'm going to put some LED strip lights on the outside of one. 2 of the night fliers are BT80 based. One has two clear payload bays end to end. About 36" of clear tube. The other BT80 has one 18" payload bay. I also have a BT60 based one with a 24mm mmt. The BT80 ones are 29mm. Try flying one on a sparky motor. I put one up on a H115. Cool. But there is a lot to be said about 4' of flame too. Long burns are the best for that.
 
Shane, how ironic! Just talked to John at Fiesta this morning and plan to show up at Holtville with my Funk saucer converted to a night bird. Drilling holes in the
'glass, mounting power and switches keeping mass balanced and then soldering the LED's into a wiring loom this evening. Holtville on 05/06. Paid my Dart dues today, so I'm officially back in LPR after xxxx years.
 
Shane, how ironic! Just talked to John at Fiesta this morning and plan to show up at Holtville with my Funk saucer converted to a night bird. Drilling holes in the
'glass, mounting power and switches keeping mass balanced and then soldering the LED's into a wiring loom this evening. Holtville on 05/06. Paid my Dart dues today, so I'm officially back in LPR after xxxx years.
I wanted to be there, I just wasn’t able to wrangle another weekend rocket event out of Mindy so soon after ROCstock. Spent the day working on her crafts projects and watching Gone With the Wind. But one day our paths will cross on the range again, I can’t wait for the carnage!

Still, I might be able to scrounge around for streamer material for the Ghost Chaser this evening…
 
For night flights, put some of that 3M auto reflective tape on your rocket--the stuff truckers put on their trailer. If you shine a flashlight across the ground, the rocket reflects and you see it. We used to do some dusk/night launches with 4-H kids and that technique worked well. The other thing we did was to make lady bug flashers with the small 12V cigarette lighter batteries and a flashing LED with a resistor. Easy to make, since flasher circuit is inside the LED. Added a fishing swivel to the flasher so they could be attached to nosecones.
(Thread switch)

Good idea, this. I wonder if I might be able to use some of this stuff to make a streamer or attach it to the streamer, in addition to marking the body tube and nose cone with it. It’d be a good subject for a daytime test flight.
 
These are the lights I got from Amazon. (Made for for Drone flights.) They have 3 colors and a bunch of flash patterns.
https://viflydrone.com/products/vifly-drone-strobe-light
Strapped to outside of rocket with nylon tiewraps



Night flight video.


(Blindingly bright if too close and you look right at it. But had rocket settle down into a fully mature soybean field, and still fairly easy to find due to 10ft area of leaves flashing.)
 
These are the lights I got from Amazon. (Made for for Drone flights.) They have 3 colors and a bunch of flash patterns.
https://viflydrone.com/products/vifly-drone-strobe-light
Strapped to outside of rocket with nylon tiewraps



Night flight video.


(Blindingly bright if too close and you look right at it. But had rocket settle down into a fully mature soybean field, and still fairly easy to find due to 10ft area of leaves flashing.)

How high did that rocket get in that flight?
 
I converted the Ghost Chaser to streamer recovery using a bit of duct tape, a shroud line from a scrapped Estes kit, and an unused streamer from another kit. It may be too weak to stay together, but it should get me into the air for a test flight. I will probably go for A or B power, anticipated for May.

I will also order some of the reflective tape, that sounds promising. That and a few motors.
 
Well, I tested the thing today in daylight and it worked OK. The streamer deployed perfectly, about the only issue is that landing directly on the aft end caused some crush damage.


View attachment IMG_9180.mov

I’ll have to pick up some coupler tubes next time I see the Discount Rocketry trailer. Had the thing been perfectly undamaged, I could have gone for B power.

I also purchased a BUNCH of blinky lights from flashingblinkylights.com (an actual website!), I think it was $40 all-up to have 25 of them shipped to my house. Just 1 would have been $4 plus $8 shipping, and screw that. If you see me at the range and need one, let me know. I don’t have a use for 24 of them.

Okay, maybe 20 of them, I do lose things after all…
 
Last edited:
My package came in!

IMG_9204.jpeg

Thoughts:

They’re not super high-quality, but they’ll do. On this particular one, the twist-to-activate switch is way too loose in the off position. The only way I’ve been able to reliably keep the thing turned off after removing the little slip of paper from the contact is to open it up and install one of the batteries backwards. Easy fix, and it’s better than the opposite problem of the light shutting off when handled.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do to keep the light in place, or even if I need to. Maybe a gentle, cushioning packing of some thin toilet paper or whatever Estes wadding I have lying around?

The other problem is that I’ll definitely have to tape the payload tube in place externally to get it to stay attached to the rocket. I may even have to secure the nose cone with tape between flights too.

I’ll see how the next round of daytime flight tests go. Next flight on B power is scheduled with DART on the 15th.

I’ve got plenty of blinkies available, BTW. If anyone wants one (or several), hit me up in my Yard Sale thread.
 
I crashed the Ghost Chaser a few weeks ago. Repairing compression damage with an E12 motor casing made it very heavy, too heavy for an A8-3.

IMG_9833.jpeg

This converted Estes Cadet with the payload module weighs about the same as the decapitated Ghost Chaser booster. But just to be safe, I’m not going any less than a B4-2 for the test flight tomorrow. After that I’m leaving it the hell alone until I can get out to Holtville and make an actual night flight.

And if I need to make repairs, I’m going to use an actual coupler. Spent casings are just too heavy.
 
Yeah I generally use Cs (either C6 or C12) in my Ghost Chaser NF. My one flight on the sport range at NARAM-64 was the Ghost Chaser NF on a C12-6 on Saturday night. Had to go over the fence to the south to recover it.....

A piece of a spent 24mm motor, especially i you didn't peel some of the paper out from the inside to make it thinner would be HEAVY!

Your Ghostly Cadet should work just fine.
 
Yeah I generally use Cs (either C6 or C12) in my Ghost Chaser NF. My one flight on the sport range at NARAM-64 was the Ghost Chaser NF on a C12-6 on Saturday night. Had to go over the fence to the south to recover it.....

A piece of a spent 24mm motor, especially i you didn't peel some of the paper out from the inside to make it thinner would be HEAVY!

Your Ghostly Cadet should work just fine.
I was going to combine the decals for “Ghost Chaser” and “Cadet” but that name is too good for me to ignore. I wonder how I’m going to do that…
 
The Ghostly Cadet booster finally has reflective tape. I could only find the red kind at my local Auto Zone, but it matched the stock colors almost perfectly.

IMG_0533.jpeg

Maybe I should have used the soapy water trick to give me time to work out the wrinkles. I gave it a test in darkness, which doesn’t document well on an iPhone camera.

IMG_0528.jpeg

The effect is even more striking than this, since the long exposure (which I cannot adjust) makes the background much more visible. I’m confident I could find it in the dark with the tape alone if I could get within 30 ft and shine a light in the right direction. Should be pretty easy with a B motor, streamers, and LEDs helping. But if all else fails I can look in the morning.
 
Back
Top