Ready for Launch with Cub Scouts!

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wonderboy

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Wish me luck, this Thursday we have our annual rocket launch with my son's old Cub Scout Pack. My son is now a sophomore in college, and we picked up running this launch when he was a Tiger cub (1st grade). We've coordinated the launch ever since, aside from 2020 and 2021 (Covid years). The pack uses this as both a current member activity as well as a recruiting event to attract new members to the pack. We launch at a nice park just a couple blocks from home.

I've got 30 Estes Generic E2X rockets prepped and ready for their first flight and 60 total rocket motors (A8-3s). If the scouts want a 2nd flight, this is when me (or my son or my daughter) will walk them through inserting the motor, igniter, packing the parachute (including dog barf/wadding). Unfortunately, the pack leadership decided that building the rockets at a pack meeting a week or two prior to the launch was too much bother (even though my kids and I ran the entire build session). So, we sit at the coffee table and watch youtube videos and knock out the builds at home and show up with ready to fly rockets for the kids.

I'm planning on taking one or two demo rockets for half-time (after each scout has launched their first flight). Probably my Acme Spitfire (gets everyone laughing and keeps the parents engaged seeing a crooked rocket fly) and my Mars Lander. I'm thinking of taking my LOC Doorknob to have on static display just to show them a glimpse into what the hobby can offer.

I'll post back after the launch (this Thursday) to comment on what went well (what worked) and what didn't go so well. Hopefully, it can offer some helpful advice for anyone doing something similar.

For now enjoy the before picture of 30 Estes Generic E2X rockets:
20220724_130140.jpg
 
...and just so I can embarrass her a bit more than I usually do, here is one of my helpers (my daughter). She would help regardless, but this year there is extra incentive for her as she needs STEM community service to help with her application to the high school FIRST robotics team. Now if I could only get her to build the rocket kit I got her for Christmas... :)
20220702_152313.jpg
 
We had a great launch!

We handed out 25 rockets and conducted 49 flights.

My son ran the launch pad. My daughter and I helped the scouts prep their rockets. We had several parents helping to 'wrangle' the kids, which is no small feat with 1st graders on up. Basically, the pack leaders kept track of when each scout showed up and put their name on a roster. Then when we were all set to launch, they would call 4 scouts up at a time in order from the list. We gave them a rocket and a label printed with their name to stick on the rocket to avoid the inevitable "Hey, that's my rocket!" arguments. The name stickers worked like a charm. As the scout received their rocket and put their name on it, they would line up at the entrance to the launch area and once all 4 were ready, my son led them into the launch area to load their rockets onto the rack (4 launch spaces). Once all 4 were loaded, they would exit the launch area and head to the launch controller. I made the controller with a physical key (like used on an ignition switch of a car). My son would let the scout flip the switch to select their pad, they would all count down from 5, and then on 1 my son would enable the launch controller with the key and the scout would push the button. He had to wait to enable the launcher due to the difficulty some had with waiting for zero to push the button. After the last rocket was launched and hit the ground, we'd call the next 4 up and repeat.

We worked through the first round of flights very quickly. After the last rocket of round one was launched, I flew two demo flights. First was my Estes Quinstar on a D12, which made for a nice change of pace. Finally was my Fliskits ACME Spitfire (the "crooked" rocket) which I launched on an Estes C11 (marginal, but acceptable). I attached my Estes Astrocam and informed all the scouts that I'd be taking a video. This had everyone very excited. They counted this one down from 10. The rocket flew ok, pretty low but ok. The parachute was packed too tightly and didn't really deploy but the rocket suffered no damage on the landing in the grass field (which was very forgiving). My daughter ran out to recover the rocket. When she got back, I asked her to give me the camera which wasn't in the mount anymore. She looked at me and said "What camera?".

What happened next was AWESOME. Every scout and every parent, realizing what happened headed out into the recovery area and searched for the camera. We had probably 50 people out in the field, WITHOUT ME EVEN ASKING THEM. It took a good solid 15 minutes, but eventually one scout shouted "Hey, is this it?". Yup! He found it. The onboard video showed what happened. It is my fault for not instructing my daughter better. The camera was attached for the entire ride and only popped out on the hard landing. Once she recovered it and walked all the way back though, it was impossible to pinpoint exactly where it landed and at that time, we had no idea when it had fallen off.

For reference, the scout who found the camera received a small finders fee! :)

Round two took significantly longer, just due to having to demonstrate to the scouts (4 at a time) how to load recovery wadding, fold a chute, and finally insert a new motor and igniter. But with the parents help again, we made it.

Overall, we spent about two hours actively launching (49 flights) with about 30 minutes before and after for setup and teardown.

Some things gone right:
  • Having all rockets prepped and ready for first flight before the event made the initial launches go SOOO much more smoothly.
  • The 12 volt relay launch system (homemade by me) worked perfectly even with the Estes igniters. We only had three failures, and two of these were due to mis-installation and one was due to a scout pulling the igniter slightly out when connecting the clips. So that's 46/49 launched on first attempt.
  • Labels printed with the scouts name to apply when given their rocket
  • Having plenty of helpers. Given the parent support, this launch was run with no less the 5 active adults helping coordinate everything. Any less than this would have been much more chaotic.
Some thing gone wrong:
  • After the first flight, it would be best to have the scout come immediately back to the prep table and at least get their chute repacked, even if they aren't launching again for some time. The problem was the kids would run around with their rocket with the chute hanging out for 20 minutes or more. When it was finally time to prep them for their 2nd flight, many of them had terribly tangled and damaged chutes. Much time was spent untangling and repairing tears and pulled shroud lines
  • More careful inventory checking before launch. It turned out that at some point earlier, I stole 2 launch rods from the PVC pipe I store them in (to be used for some other purpose or launch equipment). I didn't discover that until we were setting up the pad 20 minutes before the launch. Luckily, home was about a 2 minute drive away, and I located 2 more launch rods. But the key is to check everything out ahead of time and confirm all pieces are ready. In the end, we didn't have to delay anything, but it was unnecessary stress before this event that could have been avoided.
  • Helper briefing: this is strictly about me not making sure my daughter knew about the camera on the Spitfire flight. Make sure recovery crews have good instructions regarding anything special or unique. After reviewing the video, it was clear that the camera was only a few feet away from the eventual rocket landing spot. Noticing the camera wasn't on the rocket immediately would have allowed a more focused search for it, and probably would have turned it up in a couple minutes rather than 20.
I didn't have time for pictures really, aside from one. This is my son finalizing one of the rockets, and my daughter helping.
20220728_200109.jpg

I'll get the Spitfire video uploaded and post a link. It's not a very good video, but it is priceless when the kid finds it and asks "Hey is this it?". LOL
 
Consider streamers for your next round? In my experience kids find these way easier to repack, and it sounds like you already have a pretty soft field. I have them write their name on the streamer and initial a fin.
 
You know, that is such a great simple idea! That would GREATLY reduce the time and effort required for the repacking for round 2 of the launches. And you are correct, we had a handful of chutes that just never opened (chute packed too tightly) and the rockets landed just fine on the grass. It really is a very forgiving field.

I already have two bulk packs of the same Generic E2X rockets ready for next year, and I think I'll adopt your idea for next time.

Thanks for the suggestion!

By the way: here is the video from the Spitfire flight.

NOTE: Skip ahead to get to the key events (sorry I didn't edit out the dead space):
  • Launch: 0:30
  • Missed Opportunity: 1:10
  • Cameral Located: 17:00
Turn up your volume to hear the kids counting it down... :)

 
I have to disagree hard with pack leadership here. Part of the accomplishment is building the thing. Although now you might have a case to make for enlisting the help of a den next time around. A Webelos den would be ideal but I’ve observed that kids of any age jump at the chance to lead and instruct their younger brethren.

I’m glad you guys had fun with this, and it sounds like you learned something too!
 
I agree with you on the build. In past years, we did build the rockets at a pack meeting, and honestly it required minimal effort on the part of the pack leadership. I managed the entire build, showed up early and put paper down on all the tables to protect them, had all the suppliers (glue, scissors, tape, whatever), and basically ran the build event. My kids would help and we had a lot of fun with it. These rockets are not difficult to build and the kids really enjoyed it.

When my son was in Webelos, I actually had each scout in the den design their own rockets. I purchased the nose cone assortments, balsa sheet, body tubes, etc and let the scouts design their own rocket. We talked about the basics of stability and conducted a few demonstrations of finding the CG, estimating CP, and we actually did use the string test (despite the discussion here about the limitations, it is a reasonable basic test for these simple rockets). Overall, the build and flights went really well, and the scouts at this age are perfectly capable of handling this task.

Next year there will be a new regime at the pack. The previous leaders are moving up to Boy Scouts with their child, so one of the relatively new parents will be taking over. So, perhaps the pack build night can be re-instated for 2023. We'll see!
 
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