NARCON observations

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Jan 18, 2004
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Here's a repeat of my post to RMR about NARCON.

I just returned from NARCON a few hours ago and thought I would share some observations and thoughts about what went on there.

This was my first time attending a NARCON. I've been to quite a few other conventions, however, like the Microsoft Developers conference, the IBM SHARE conferences, and a few other software/data processing conferences with attendees numbering in the thousands. All that is to say I'm not unfamiliar with the whole conference "scene". As such, I can say that NARCON was as well run as any professionally organized conference I've been to. Sure there were a few glitches, every conference has them. But the true measure of how well a conference is run is by how the glitches are addressed and backup plans are put into place. In that regard I think WOOSH did an admirable job.

As I mentioned, this was my first NARCON so all of the presentations were new to me. I gather that people who've attended several will often get repeats of the same basic info. If that is the case we have no one to blame but ourselves. We as members of NAR and the rocketry community at large are the ones who provide the majority of the presentations at a conference. If I've heard it once I've heard it a dozen times: rocketeers are the most helpful bunch of hobbyists around. If you want a good conference, we need to harness the same helpful, sharing attitude exhibited on the flying field and put it into getting people to present topics at NARCON.

The range of topics presented seemed to cover a wide field of interests, from the basics to more advanced concepts. Some were very specific, such as presentations on boost glider construction, and others were more general, such as an overview of various types and uses of electronics. WOOSH seems to be very active in NAR competition and so many of the presentations covered aspects relevant to becoming a better competitor: plastic model conversion techniques, using light-weight materials, scale modeling ideas, and the afore-mentioned boost-glider session, for example. Note the concept here: competitors sharing successful techniques and ideas with people who they do or may compete against. That's the spirit of NARCON!

A major theme of the convention was that of the rocketry community paying forward by being involved with the education community. That theme was evident from such things as the choice of venue (the University of Wisconsin - Parkside campus rather than a commercial hall) to having a member of the staff from UW-Parkside as one of the opening speakers to having no less than 5 sessions devoted to rocketry in the school or youth groups.

Other random thoughts:
- It really became obvious that rocketry is predominantly a white, middle-aged, male hobby. While I generally remove myself as far from the "politically correct" crowd as possible, perhaps our hobby would have less of a problem with our perceived image if we could attract a broader cross section of the population.

- The idea of having a sport rocket launch coincident with the
conference was a good idea that was unfortunately hindered by Wisconsin's notoriously windy March weather. I've chased rockets further in March than any other month!

- The vendor community did a fantastic job of supporting the conference with donations. Quest in particular must have donated a couple of dozen kits. To illustrate: after a session Saturday morning I was looking over the raffle prize winner list, which consisted of a full page single spaced list of prizes, donors, and winners. One of the WOOSH crew asked what I'd won. "Nothing yet", I replied, "Is this everything?" "No", he says, "this is page 1 of 7!" That's a bunch of prizes! Thank you, vendors!

- One thing I'd love to see at a NARCON is presentations from some of the major players in the vendor community. It would be really great to hear reps from Aerotech, Cesaroni, or Animal Works talk about making motors, or the guys from PerfectFlite, Adept, or Blacksky discussing altimeters, or someone from PML, LOC, or ASP chat about kit design.

Anyway, that's probably enough rambling. I had a great time and learned a lot. Thanks, WOOSH! Hope to see you all at NARCON 2005.


Having also been involved in organizing events I was very impressed with Kevin W. and Woosh... they did a great job of planning, organizing and working NARCON.... A sincere THANK YOU to the NARCON crew...

About the demographics.. rocketry may have a visible majority of white middle-agers but I would contend that for every one of this core there is a son, daughter, friend, student or class that also IS(or also COULD be) involved in the sport.

I was out on the field a on Saturday (just in time for the Deuce launch !) and watched kids and adults, males and females alike all "ooo" and "aahhh" as the birds went up...

As rocketeers we all have one thing in common - love of a sport that is exciting, rewarding, challenging and educational (beat THAT bungee-jumping enthusiasts!)...

As rocketeers we also have a common responsibility - to share our passion of the sport with others.

Not enough african americans? Find a school with a high AA population and visit a classroom there. Not enough women? Great! The girl scouts have a troop in nearly every school.
Take the time and visit a school, library or 4h club. They won't care that you are not a "professional speaker" - they will only see that you have a knowledge of something fascinating....
... Take the plunge and you will receive 10x the amount in adoration than you spent in time and effort getting there.

And maybe - just maybe - white guys will be in the minority at NARCON 2015

My thanks and appreciation once again to all of those who made it a GREAT NARCON04!
The girl scouts have a troop in nearly every school.

I did just that last fall.

Our own Ctimm dirercted his sister to call me on a make-it take-it demonstration for a combination 4-H Girl scout group at a "free" day for all the kids.

All the girls (about 8 young ladies and 4 guys) were building away when this "dreamy" guy comes by and tells the girls that he is about to start playing with his band in the next building.

I was left with four guys and 8 unfinished rockets.

I guess pre-adolecent girls have their priorities.

The guys finished most of the girl's models.

about 5 years ago, My wife's girl scout troop, built models and hosted " Horizion Districts" Boy Scout Model Rocket roundup. 12 inner-city Boy Scout Troops sent 130 scouts to the one day building and flying event. Launching for Bolling AFB navy annex within 4 miles of Reagan National Airport (they were divertiing around us:)_and 1 mile from the presidents Helo compound. They promised not to throw anything at us as long as we didn't sent anything their way:). The Girls actually ran the range with 17 satellite pads launching/announcing more then 200 flights in a very busy afternoon.
They continued to enjoy building and flying MR's until Mary retired as the leader. The new troop leader picked up the program, but I haven't keeped up with them other than to see them at a few county fairs in Maryland, toting, building model rockets:) so Model rockets can be carried on by a bunch of girls if given the proper encouragement. Oh.. this was a military sanctioned troop which may also play a role in their choice of activities.
Originally posted by jrgrizz57
Other random thoughts:
- It really became obvious that rocketry is predominantly a white, middle-aged, male hobby. While I generally remove myself as far from the "politically correct" crowd as possible, perhaps our hobby would have less of a problem with our perceived image if we could attract a broader cross section of the population.

-Scott [/B]

I would submit that what you were seeing as far as the "predominantly white middle aged male hobbists" is unique to the NAR/TRA and not necessarily to the millions of children and aldults who buy and fly model rockets year in and year out ...and I am almost sure not all of them are white......there has been many years of outreach by various NAR sections to boy scouts, girl scouts, the CAP,boys and girls clubs.....

and the NAR/TRA is maybe 10K strong at most......

and this was a NAR event....

as far as to your 2nd point....I do not think that our "problem with our perceived image" whatever that may be is due to the fact that the NAR/TRA is predominantly a male white "thing"....

As I already pointed out above, the NAR/TRA membership is probably less than 1/10th of 1% of the actual number of people who fly model rockets at any given time...

I'm not sure what you are talking about here... The only people we currently have an image problem with that I am aware of is the ATF...... and it has nothing to do with perceptions, it has to do with them trying to implement ex post facto laws making HPR explosives and requiring people to get explosives licenses....

I'm not sure I see the connection between this and the color of your skin....

I will admit that I have only seen 2 afro-american faces in my 37+ years of model rocketry as far as the NAR goes; Greg Smith(?) and now Rob Edmonds..... Why is the NAR predominantly a white male conclave? I think its because model rocketry is a unique sport and hobby..... It has its roots in science and engineering.... Perhaps people of color just don't see this as a "cool" thing to be in.....I mean at the basis of model rocket are the original geeks and nerds long before there was computer geeks and nerds....You don't exactly have people beating down the doors to join nerdy or geeky people or programs......regardless of their skin color or gender....
I recently saw a cartoon that featured a shot of the outside of a high-school - there was a sign on the wall that read

Science is COOL!
No - really - it is!

If there is a perceptioin that science = geeks it is a perception that is proffered by the media and popular culture....

Gone are the days of thick glasses and bad shirts - todays geek scientists sport contacts and bad shirts that are now "retro"...

At the elementary school level I can relate this snippit of conversation that I recently heard:

student1: rocket club? big deal! I made a rocket with my dad this summer.... it was so dumb! We couldn't figure out how to get it to work so we blew it up. THAT was cool!

Student2: why did you blow it up?

Student1: I dont know?!? We couldn't get it to work! what else are you going to do with it?

Student2: Launch it again? Use the parts to build a better one?

Student1: man I still got all the pieces of it in a box at home... that would be awesome to build a new one that really works...

blah blah blah blah.....

What is my point?

WHY DID THE KID KEEP THE RUINED ROCKET IN A BOX? When my kids break something it ends up sitting exactly where it met its doom (the lawn, the carpet etc)... this kid picked up EVERY piece (I know because he showed up at our club meeting) from that CATO rocket and tried to reassemble it in a box!!!

Under the culture-induced haze of detachment that many of todays kids wear....still lies the basic curiosity and interest in science that WE had when we were kids....

I have only had one 6th grade kid call me a "geek" in three years... I turned around and said "yeah - but I'm a geek with lots of cool toys" then I spent the rest of the term calling myself "rocket-geek" at school.... it psyc'd that kid out like Manuel Noriega and gained me some new converts...

:D maybe we need to get t-shirts that say "Rocketry: faster and cooler than chess!" [/I]
Well, at my middle school, some people think rockets are to be described as a word that I would not post here, though some think they're cool, and the kid in front of me in math class has a designers kit and is scratchbuilding. My math teacher was a rocketeer, not anymore, but I got a feeling he's gonna catch the bug again.

I'm the little kid of the family. Yet I'm the only one that does rockets.
When I was growing up, my dad had an old push mower. I think it was a Jacobson. Anyway, it didn't owrk. He had some tools downstairs and I asked him if I could see how it worked. "You mean take it apart?" I nodded. "Sure, just don't make a mess and don't bring it in the house." So I started to take it apart bolt by bolt.
Then, I think it was the engine block that had me stumped (couldn't figure out how to get the darn flywheel off) and I was at a standstill. Until one day i was in the a local general store and a saw a mechanix llustrated that had lawnmower repair on the front cover. I swept the store, moved boxes and stocked shelves for 4 hours on a summers day just to get that mag at half price ( I didn't have enough change for the whole price). When I got it home I was frustrated that there was nothing in the mag that helped me with the mower. But, on one of the pages wayyyy in the back there was an ad for a free model rocket catalog (Estes). Outside of a 6th grade science teacher that's how I was exposed.
I think more than appealing to a specific demographic, let's just get it in the schools and except whoever picks it up. I think kids are to complicated to just eyeball a specific group. If you like it, well great. If you don't that's fine to.
Allow me to clarify.

I believe hobby rocketry has *always* had an image problem. People with a lot more experience in the hobby, such as Bill Stine, agree; a major portion of his speech in the opening session of NARCON dealt with that very issue. In addition to the BATFE, most local officials are initially hesitant to give any form of approval to hobby rocketry until they have been educated about it. That includes local fire marshals, parks directors, etc. In addition, haven't we all heard about or had the misfortune to have to deal with rabid soccer moms who view rockets as a threat to life and limb of their young soccer players, no matter how far away we fly? Then there's that stinking SBC commercial that's currently airing all over the TV where the Dad & Son go fly a rocket and end up blowing up the car. People who create advertising campaigns have to have some kind of feel for the pulse of the public so, even though *we* know that commercial is a crock, I think they've concluded that the general public would react with humor or agreement.

Now, I'm not meaning to imply that any of this is due to the ethnicity or gender of those of us in the hobby. I rather doubt anyone sees us at the convention or at a launch and thinks, "Them ol' white dudes must be up to no good with those rockets!" I was just commenting on something that struck me as, I don't know, odd I guess. I mean, how often is it that you get a group of 100+ people together and only see 2 people with non-caucasian faces and 2 females who were actively participating and not there simply as daughters/wives hanging out with dad/husband? (Your count may vary)

You may be correct in you assessment about the numbers. It could very well be that I saw mostly old white dudes because NAR/TRA is mostly made up of old white dudes and there are a lot more non-old non-white non-dudes out there flying rockets. That would be fantastic! What we need to do, then, is get more of those other people more involved with NAR/TRA or whatever other alphabet soup of an organization they might join. There's power in numbers, and having people in an organization is a great way to wield that power. Wouldn't it be great to have, instead of a 100+ NARCON, a 1000+ plus NARCON? Instead of a few hundred people writting letters to officials about rocketry related topics, getting a few thousand letters telling the politicians to get with the program?!

Ok, end of soapbox. All other commentary aside, NARCON was a lot of fun. If you get a chance, attend one; I think you'll like it!

Scott, I think you are on the right track. but the NARCON sample is skewed, very "self-selected": it is only the old white dudes that have the time and money to travel across the country in the middle of March - everyone else is working or in school!!! regardless of the demographics it's only the most enthusiastic that will attend a national conference.

perhaps a better "sample" would be some local NAR section launches.

you hit the nail on the head about the image problem! that SBC commercial is the worst damage possible and we really don't need that kind of help.
Geez, all these members at NARCON and nobody came up to say hi (and I was wearing my TRF t-shirt on Friday too!)!

Sorry to have missed you guys. Would have been great to sit in the lounge and talk over a beer with ya Fri. or Sat. night.

How'd you guys do in the raffle? I cleaned up with a Quest HL-20, an Applewhite Qubit and a $25 NARTS gift certificate! :p
Thanks for the report. I made the two Texas NARCON's in 01 and 02 and had a great time. Meeting Bill Saindon, Tim van M of Apogee, Peter Alway, Mike Jerault, and everyone else (my wrist hurts from banging on a keyboard all day, or the list would be a lot longer).

Bonus picture of "Blunt Trauma" bringing home my level one on a I211.
Who was the owner of that 14' monster sitting under the stairs? I would be interested to get the specs on that thing! (sunday)
The bowling ball rocket is the work of a local Scout Venture Crew associated with one of the WOOSH members. As I understand, they will be doing it's innaugural launch in April.
The 14'-0" long green (?) rocket that was sitting horizontally under the stairs on sunday...

I am curious to know how well the Tour de Deuce was accepted at NARCON. Mainly, were there a lot of questions from the visitors to the Fliskits booth and curiousity?

Also, what about at the sport launch? Were they well received there also?

I'm interested to see how much public awareness the Tour has gotten.

NARCON was a very enjoyable experience and brings back to me the need for us to get our NEMROC conventions going again and to encourage clubs around the country to get conventions going again. There was a time when there were 5-6 conventions a year all over this country. That all ended when Pearl River and NEMROC ended....

The FlisKits booth and the Tour de Deuce were both very well received. We had the models out (very simple display) with the memento's that were included from the other launches along with some liturature about the launch. I also had out some of the Sport Rocketry issues with Carl's upscale which attracted a lot of questions :)

Sales were good and by the middle of the first day, the entire room was full of vendors. Due to the nature of the a "convention", the vendor room was quiet as a tomb during much of the two days as folks attended the many fine sessions available. The vendor room was set up in a large classroom with many tables. This allowed for it to be used as an effective common area and when folks didn't see a session they wanted to attend, they would hang out with us or just sit with friends and discuss rocketry.

The sport launch was only one day (sunday got cancelled due to wind). It was COLD out there. Not so much low temps (they were in the low-mid 30's) but the WIND! I shouldn't have launched my 2-stage saucer in that wind as the thing was pointing down when the 2nd stage lit. Not a problem with saucers as the 2nd stage motor burt out *well* befor hitting the ground and the whole crowd cheered :)

The Tour de Deuce launch was *very* well received and several pix were taken by the resident photographer who I think was taking pix for the local news and/or Sport Rocketry. (i will be submitting some of my pix to sport rocketry myself).

First TdD flight was picture perfect, with good deployment and a soft landing in the tall, dead grass.

The second TdD flight was a little more interesting... :) Perfect ignition and boost, perfect arc into the wind, perfect apogee ejection.... ...not so perfect chute....

The kevlar shock line seemed to wrap over the top of the chute canopy keeping it from inflating. The result was a faster than desired decent. To complicate the issue, the model was coming down on the runway and not the tall grass. Sure enough, she impacted on gravel hard pack.

you can see pix of both launching here:

At first glance, she appeared to have a damaged body tube just above the fin can, but upon closer inspection it appears that the impact sent a shock wave up the tube that exited just above the fin can and caused the paint to bubble out a bit. The area that looks damaged is as strong and tight as the rest of the rocket. The other areas of damage are a small depression on one fin and on the nose cone where the model clearly hit a small pebble (about the size of a cherry pit. You can see most of the damage in this pix:

All in all a great weekend and a *long* drive home, racing ahead of a snow storm the whole way!

I will post more, with pix, later on


Jim, please e-mail me ASAP w/ all the damage pictures that you've taken of the Deuce's. The damage to the body tube doesn't look too bad, but I'd like to work on the fin a little bit. The nosecone sounds like it's going to need to be replaced, which isn't too big of an issue.

Jim - I just sent you an e-mail.

All I can say is that at our NAR section launches, it's pretty much the same thing, age 35+ white dudes and in some cases, their kids. And in a very few cases, their wives/girlfriends. I haven't spotted a non-white there yet!


It could simply be our geographic in Alabama...
but I'm extremely proud to point out that our newly established club here in Birminham is comprised of all cultures and backgrounds... On any given flying day at the field , we have a wonderful cross section of, women, children...a very diverse crowd indeed...!!!
The single thread running throughout is the love of building and then the adrenelin rush of launching rockets....of course recovering them is also pretty cool...LOL