Securing new launch site

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smstachwick

LPR/MPR sport flier with an eye to HPR and scale
TRF Supporter
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Poway, CA
I’d like to try to secure a very close, convenient flying site, specifically one that allows permit-free public use. Currently I’m looking for guidance on how to approach the authorities about setting up such an arrangement.

My idea is that I might be able to take a handful of A- or B-powered rockets to fly from a public park or similar, on those occasions that I can’t make the local club’s launches or I’ve just completed something small and I want to see it fly today.

My guess: If I can secure a site, the site itself or the terms of use will be so restrictive that I won’t have a clear advantage over getting up early to drive 25 miles and fly with my LPR club during their weekend launches. At the same time, I also don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking around to see if anyone would be willing to work with me. I might get lucky.

While this is likely trivial for most people, I’m in California. We’re careful with fire and flying objects, for good reason, but in my case that means I will likely need to reach out to my local city council, the fire department, and the FAA at a minimum. We don’t have a proper airport here in Poway but we do have helicopter traffic to Pomerado Hospital, occasional rescue chopper flights over the mountains, and regular flyovers from MCAS Miramar to watch out for. I’d like to at least be away from the heliport if at all possible. We also have a number of horse ranches and equestrian trails in the southern and eastern edges of the city, I’d rather be far enough away from those to not pose a spook hazard. In light of these considerations, I think it makes the most sense to also seek guidance from the city in identifying a suitable site.

My city council representative’s website reads, in part, “He welcomes your phone call or email to schedule a meeting at any time.” I’ve got an email drafted, in which I briefly explained who I am and what I want. Any input on how to adjust my tone, approach, expectations, or information I should include would be welcome. At this point it reads:

To the office of (council member’s name),

I’m a resident of your district and I’m looking to set up a meeting. I’m a longtime model rocket hobbyist, and I’m looking to secure a safe, legal, convenient launch site within the city of Poway. I’d like to meet with you to discuss potential options.

I’m also prepared to cooperate fully with the fire department, the FAA, and other stakeholders as necessary.

Please let me know when you have some availability. I look forward to hearing from you.

(My name)
 
be sure to emphasize your NAR membership and the NAR NFPA 1122 rules for launches.

sometimes, the Fire Marshal is on your side, and that helps with the parks dept bureaucrats.

best wishes!
 
Remember the FAA does not need to be involved if your rockets are class 1 (which all LPR's are.)

That is technically true, but here in San Diego [at our Fiesta Island launch site], we have to inform the FAA of each launch even though it's only LPR; the justification the FAA used was airport proximity, even though the regs don't really support that explicitly.

That said, I wouldn't advise the OP mention the FAA, this is enough of an uphill battle as it is.
 
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That is technically true, but here in San Diego, we have to inform the FAA of each launch even though it's only LPR; the justification the FAA used was airport proximity, even though the regs don't really support that explicitly.

That said, I wouldn't advise the OP mention the FAA, this is enough of an uphill battle as it is.
Fair enough.

Yesterday I identified a suitable site on Google Maps and paid a visit before going to work. Vehicle access to the field is poor or non-existent but it’s large and away from the obstacles I’d like to avoid.

As the rocket flies, Lindbergh is about 18 miles from this site, MCAS Miramar about 9, and the nearest (on paper) airport, the Pomerado Hospital helipad, is about 4. That’s far enough out that I’d be pretty certain that I’d hear or see air traffic soon enough to avoid presenting a collision hazard. I don’t really see the need to involve the FAA or mention them to my councilman.

Based on feedback, the revisions to my mail would read:

I’m a longtime model rocket hobbyist and insured member of the National Association of Rocketry. As a member, I always fly in full accordance with the NAR Model Rocket Safety Code. I’m looking to secure a safe, legal, convenient site within the city of Poway, and I’d like to meet with you to discuss potential options.

I’m also prepared to cooperate fully with the fire department, the FAA, and other
authorities as necessary.
 
Just fly it. The more you ask, the more likely a bureaucrat will say no. I know you live in Kalifornia and all, but no reasonable person should kick up a fuss over an A motor launched from a remote area, as you described it. Hell, I can throw a baseball higher in the air than some A-powered rockets. Don't trespass and follow the safety code. Beg forgiveness later, if it comes to that. I have done a fair amount of off-trail MPR launching, carrying my stuff in a backpack or shoulder bags. No troubles.

Also ask yourself how many times are you really going to use this site, and is it worth the hassle? Consider yourself lucky to be only 25 miles from a club site.
 
Just fly it. The more you ask, the more likely a bureaucrat will say no. I know you live in Kalifornia and all, but no reasonable person should kick up a fuss over an A motor launched from a remote area, as you described it. Hell, I can throw a baseball higher in the air than some A-powered rockets. Don't trespass and follow the safety code. Beg forgiveness later, if it comes to that. I have done a fair amount of off-trail MPR launching, carrying my stuff in a backpack or shoulder bags. No troubles.

Also ask yourself how many times are you really going to use this site, and is it worth the hassle? Consider yourself lucky to be only 25 miles from a club site.

fines for fire hazards, such as launching model rockets, are about $1500 per offense. so your idea is literally the worst idea. really much better to get AHJ and land holder's agreement first.
 
fines for fire hazards, such as launching model rockets, are about $1500 per offense. so your idea is literally the worst idea. really much better to get AHJ and land holder's agreement first.
I’d have to look into whether that quoted fine is correct, but I came to the same conclusion nevertheless.

I’d also appreciate it, @Buckeye , if you didn’t speak about my State in a disparaging manner. We have good reason for doing (most) things the way we do. San Diego County has endured at least three bouts of major wildfires during my lifetime and I’d like to avoid being responsible for a another. My decision to cooperate with the authorities instead of defy them is final.

If you have suggestions on how to do this, I welcome them. If not, I plan to send off my revised draft as-is or with only minor further revisions sometime in the next week.
 
I’d have to look into whether that quoted fine is correct, but I came to the same conclusion nevertheless.

I’d also appreciate it, @Buckeye , if you didn’t speak about my State in a disparaging manner. We have good reason for doing (most) things the way we do. San Diego County has endured at least three bouts of major wildfires during my lifetime and I’d like to avoid being responsible for a another. My decision to cooperate with the authorities instead of defy them is final.

If you have suggestions on how to do this, I welcome them. If not, I plan to send off my revised draft as-is or with only minor further revisions sometime in the next week.
Either way, most fire departments charge you per visit plus a fine. I would strongly recommend setting up and agreement with the local authorities (owner or management of the property) and fire before launching. It could have severe implications legally and financially. This is especially true in locations with more regulatory requirements.
 
I can't tell if you are considering public or private land. If it's private, my understanding is that "all" you have to do is get the owner's and fire department's permission, which is almost certainly going to be easier than getting permission to use city land. I know of a few instances where private schools have had launches on their own property by going this route. I couldn't find anything on the books for Poway, but I know you are aware of the Escondido and city of San Diego regulations.
 
It never hurts to check out a possible site, our club has a few HPR sites by doing just that. The worst that can happen is if the landowner or some agency says no. That being said you are very lucky only having to travel 25 miles to a launch site. Good luck finding a closer site.
 
I can't tell if you are considering public or private land. If it's private, my understanding is that "all" you have to do is get the owner's and fire department's permission, which is almost certainly going to be easier than getting permission to use city land. I know of a few instances where private schools have had launches on their own property by going this route. I couldn't find anything on the books for Poway, but I know you are aware of the Escondido and city of San Diego regulations.
I will double check. When I looked over a year ago it looked like model rockets met the city’s definition of fireworks. I’ll have to see if California lays out definitions or exemptions that might override that.

Maybe I’ve jumped ahead a couple steps and I should work on identifying the owner of the site first.

It never hurts to check out a possible site, our club has a few HPR sites by doing just that. The worst that can happen is if the landowner or some agency says no. That being said you are very lucky only having to travel 25 miles to a launch site. Good luck finding a closer site.

Trust me, I’m grateful. I’m very impressed with the work that DART does and I’m happy to attend when I can. The thing that’s been holding me back from getting my fix lately, and thus the thing that I’m attempting to rectify through opening a new site, is scheduling, both in terms of my availability and the times for the launch window. Early morning is something I struggle to be compatible with and weekdays just won’t happen. I don’t think I’ll be able to make one until at least May, so I figure using this downtime to build and work on opening up a viable alternate site would be a good use of my time. Not to mention that if successful, it’d basically be a public service to the hobby.
 
Where I live in Ohio, I’m lucky enough to have a public park that 1,100 x 1,000 feet. I just called the local parks department superintendent about launching rockets. He called me back a few days later and I explained what I wanted to do over the phone. We agreed on a time to meet at the park where I showed him several examples of rockets and discussed the safety code. In the end he wanted to see a launch, so I picked a Big Bertha for the demo. He said he didn’t see any issues with my launches. He just asked that I email him a copy of the NAR insurance before I launched the first time, and avoid days when soccer games were being played in most areas of the park. $5 million in coverage puts a lot of officials at ease.

If the area where you intend to fly is a city park, I would recommend going straight to the parks department before getting any elected officials involved. Otherwise, I would talk to the land owner.
 
You should consider starting with the limits Escondido is using (nothing larger than a B motor and no flying in the dry season) if those would satisfy you.

I know the OP is aware, but just to put this in context for everyone else: this is an area that has had two major fires destroy hundreds of homes in the past 20 years. If a fire got going in this area, the damage could and has made the NAR insurance look like nothing -- the 2003 fire caused over 1.3 billion dollars worth of damage.

This goes a long way toward explaining why the flying site that we currently have is on an island made of dredged sand in the middle of a bay.
 
I would ask to talk with the fire marshal first. (A) They are probably more willing to make space in their calendar since this is within their wheelhouse and (B) you can phrase it as "I know that I need to get your approval before we can launch, so I want to talk about your concerns before approaching my city councilmember." The fire marshal will probably appreciate having an opportunity to talk with you first rather than having a city councilmember calling the fire chief and rolling stuff downhill. They will also be more familiar with NFPA codes, so you're talking their language.

That approach will give you a leg up in talking to the council. The city council cares about getting complaints from [someone] and disasters that land them in the news. If you can get the fire marshal on board, you'll make them more comfortable that they're not out on a limb. If your local LPR club is OK with it, invite your councilmember and/or their staff out to a club launch. Elected officials love to do things that look good in a Facebook photo post. It will also make it clear that you're far more rocket science than fireworks. They might say no, but the invitation can't hurt.

When you're sending a message to the city councilmember's office, it doesn't hurt to say something like "I've lived in Poway/Councilmember' X's district for Y years." Elected officials like to hear from potential voters who aren't yelling at them.
 
Where I live in Ohio, I’m lucky enough to have a public park that 1,100 x 1,000 feet. I just called the local parks department superintendent about launching rockets. He called me back a few days later and I explained what I wanted to do over the phone. We agreed on a time to meet at the park where I showed him several examples of rockets and discussed the safety code. In the end he wanted to see a launch, so I picked a Big Bertha for the demo. He said he didn’t see any issues with my launches. He just asked that I email him a copy of the NAR insurance before I launched the first time, and avoid days when soccer games were being played in most areas of the park. $5 million in coverage puts a lot of officials at ease.

If the area where you intend to fly is a city park, I would recommend going straight to the parks department before getting any elected officials involved. Otherwise, I would talk to the land owner.

You should consider starting with the limits Escondido is using (nothing larger than a B motor and no flying in the dry season) if those would satisfy you.

I know the OP is aware, but just to put this in context for everyone else: this is an area that has had two major fires destroy hundreds of homes in the past 20 years. If a fire got going in this area, the damage could and has made the NAR insurance look like nothing -- the 2003 fire caused over 1.3 billion dollars worth of damage.

This goes a long way toward explaining why the flying site that we currently have is on an island made of dredged sand in the middle of a bay.

I would ask to talk with the fire marshal first. (A) They are probably more willing to make space in their calendar since this is within their wheelhouse and (B) you can phrase it as "I know that I need to get your approval before we can launch, so I want to talk about your concerns before approaching my city councilmember." The fire marshal will probably appreciate having an opportunity to talk with you first rather than having a city councilmember calling the fire chief and rolling stuff downhill. They will also be more familiar with NFPA codes, so you're talking their language.

That approach will give you a leg up in talking to the council. The city council cares about getting complaints from [someone] and disasters that land them in the news. If you can get the fire marshal on board, you'll make them more comfortable that they're not out on a limb. If your local LPR club is OK with it, invite your councilmember and/or their staff out to a club launch. Elected officials love to do things that look good in a Facebook photo post. It will also make it clear that you're far more rocket science than fireworks. They might say no, but the invitation can't hurt.

When you're sending a message to the city councilmember's office, it doesn't hurt to say something like "I've lived in Poway/Councilmember' X's district for Y years." Elected officials like to hear from potential voters who aren't yelling at them.
I’m appreciating the feedback between these three. Yes, I’d largely look to fly rockets within the size limits set by Escondido at their site. The permitting process is a pain and the launch window (8:30-11AM) is one that I feel is unreasonably short, but having flights be planned to avoid fire risk is an obvious need.

Currently it looks like my task list is:

*Double-check city codes
*Contact fire department and reach out for support. Should only take minor revisions to my draft.
*Identify and contact land owner or manager at primary desired site and any alternates.
*Write to city councilman if required (I have a feeling the Fire Marshal may clarify this one).
*???Profit???
 
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I’d also appreciate it, @Buckeye , if you didn’t speak about my State in a disparaging manner. We have good reason for doing (most) things the way we do. San Diego County has endured at least three bouts of major wildfires during my lifetime and I’d like to avoid being responsible for a another. My decision to cooperate with the authorities instead of defy them is final.
Relax, Chief. I said to follow the safety codes, which means don't be reckless and be aware of your surroundings. Permission from a government official doesn't absolve the flier of using common sense when launching rockets.

I know the OP is aware, but just to put this in context for everyone else: this is an area that has had two major fires destroy hundreds of homes in the past 20 years. If a fire got going in this area, the damage could and has made the NAR insurance look like nothing -- the 2003 fire caused over 1.3 billion dollars worth of damage.
Thanks. That helps.

*Identify and contact land owner or manager at primary desired site and any alternates.
Seems like this should be the #1 priority, determining who owns the land. That will determine your course of action.
 
So, a little bit of movement on this project.

After sitting in my drafts for quite some time, I made some final tweaks to my email and sent it off the the Poway Fire Chief, a guy called Jeff Chumbley. I waited a week and got nothing.

Yesterday I called his office and got an answering machine. I left a message explaining who I am, what I want, why I reached out to him, and how to reach me to return my call. I expected nothing to come of it.

This afternoon I got a call from Andy Loperena, Poway’s Deputy Fire Marshal. He explained, very businesslike, that something like 80% of Poway is a Very High Fire Hazard area as designated by the state, and that flying anything within that requires approval from the department. I was not surprised by this. He was familiar with model rockets though, and wanted to know if I had accounted for drift distance in my flight planning, which seemed to be his primary concern. I kindly informed him that I had not picked a site because the Department had been my first stop, but that I was looking to fly small rockets from something the size of a soccer field or similar. I also explained that I had access to a simulator tool that would allow me to estimate drift distances, which he seemed impressed by.

He told me that he doesn’t typically work with residents via email, preferring phone calls instead, but because I was on the go he did me a favor by sending me a link to a copy of the city’s fire code, as well as an awesome online map that allowed me to view the areas of the city that are and aren’t part of the hazard area, to assist me in picking my site. It sounds to me like he’s willing to grant approval if he’s satisfied with my site selection and flight planning.

My search didn’t take long: Arbolitos Park is a 5-minute drive from my house and features two soccer fields. It’s also directly across from Poway Fire Station #3 and not even in the Very High Fire Hazard area. Although the fields are not in the ideal orientation, being arranged goal-to-goal, the site is wide enough to comply with the NAR Safety Code’s requirements for B-powered rockets. They’re also not in use regularly enough for other park users to present a barrier to setting up.

I whipped up a few OpenRocket simulations with an Estes Wizard (thanks @K'Tesh !) to determine how much wind I could handle in the worst-case scenario that I might actually go for: a screamin’ demon altitude-hungry MD rocket with winds blowing directly across the short axis of the field, with the rod pointing straight up. After a small adjustment to get a more plausible Cd from the streamer, I worked out that even a hot rod like that should handle about 5mph with an Estes B4-4, 8mph with an A8-3, and 14mph with a 1/2A6-2. That may not be right on the money, but it seems close enough to me.

I sent the results back to the Deputy and briefly summarized my findings. I don’t know if he’ll respond to my email but I have his phone number and business hours. He told me he’ll be out of town soon so I’ll probably wait a couple of days before attempting to call again, followed by calls every few days afterwards if I don’t hear back. If I can get approval, the next step is the parks department I think.
 
Success! Hurdle cleared.

I called the Deputy Fire Marshal’s office again this morning, explaining that I was making contact again and that I had sent him the simulation results. Ever surprising, he sent me an email putting me on standby, basically saying he would speak with the Chief.

I wasn’t too long before he wrote back again:

“Heard back from the Chief. You’re good to go at Arbolitos Park anytime during the off season.

“During low humidity Santa Ana wind conditions though, we’ll want you to hold off.

“Best of Luck,

“Andy Loperena
Deputy Fire Marshal”

I wrote back

“Ok. I’ll be sure to check the weather before heading out and contact the department with any questions. Now to talk to Parks and see what they have to say. Thanks for your help with this matter.

“[my name]”

Very reasonable and about as much as I could expect. I’m happy with this result.

Just based on a quick perusal of the city park regulations, it appears that the sections I’d have to navigate are the ones related to fire hazard and noise. I don’t expect this to be exceptionally difficult, I already have the guidance and approval of the fire officials and I’m not going to be buzzing anybody’s house with noisy drones.
 
While the Fire Marshal was generally pretty flexible, Parks was not. They’re charged with enforcing the city’s noise ordinances at the park, so operators of model vehicles (including rockets) must reserve and rent out the park facilities. My explanation that I’m not looking to host an event or cause anything that might reasonably be considered a nuisance, just set up and do one or two flights on a lunch break, fell on deaf ears, tied hands or both.

The price to rent out the two fields, which come as a set, for the minimum of 2 hours is comparable to an all-day launch fee that I’d pay at a HPR launch (I believe it was $26) and the schedule is currently gummed up with soccer teams. I forget exactly how long it was reserved for when I checked last night but I think it was all the way out through July. My original goal of a simple-as-can-be anytime site is simply out of reach for me at this time.

Still, I’d hate to see all this work go to waste, and I’ve got the Fire Department’s approval, so I’ve been thinking about what to do with it.

I may still schedule a launch, perhaps even a few, just to see if I can then take my case to somebody who’s willing to work with me to simplify the process and switch rocket activity specifically to a first-come, first-served basis.

A few other options I may explore, in order of descending preference:

See if DART would like to pick up the ball from here and get a useable (if less accessible and substantially smaller) auxiliary north field.

Sneak in a quick launch in the soccer off season when nobody is looking. My main concern was the fire department burning me; I did look at penalties for displeasing the Parks department or other users and they don’t seem all that stiff.

Leave it be.
 
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Our big Soccer parks would cost us $165 to rent on an "off Day", that was 15 years ago; I am sure it is a lot more today.

Meanwhile Kites and fresbies sneek in on off days and fly and noone says anything...
 
Our big Soccer parks would cost us $165 to rent on an "off Day", that was 15 years ago; I am sure it is a lot more today.

I’ll double-check if I decide to go legit but I’m almost certain I have the correct figure. They person on the phone did say that my chosen site was the cheapest.

Meanwhile Kites and fresbies sneek in on off days and fly and noone says anything...
That was my conclusion as well. I could always just fly one of these too…

IMG_9165.jpeg

It seems to me that they’re operating under the unwritten rule “if you’re calling us, you’re setting up an event.”
 
They only rented by the day, in my figure, not in hour blocks.

I actually would pay that $26 - 2 hours myself if they offered that here.
 
They only rented by the day, in my figure, not in hour blocks.

I actually would pay that $26 - 2 hours myself if they offered that here.
Agreed, the price isn’t that terrible, it’s the thing about filling out the application, going to the city hall to pay, and waiting two months. I may do it just to say I did, but I can’t promise there won’t be some igniters wired up with Newtons to burn prior to that.

Another angle I’m looking at it from is that it’s not even a question of legality at this point, it’s more one of the department playing CYA. Like, is it the rules or more like the Director’s opinion? I cover mine well enough.

The person who I talked to basically explained that they’d have to do something if somebody came to their office with complaints and I didn’t have a permit. I know what I’d do if they confronted me about it (these kinds of people always try to pick a fight), I’d just pack up instead of giving them an obvious reason to kick it up to the department. Their self-satisfied smugness at bullying me into leaving would likely prevent further issues from arising.

At that point I’d go straight and get a permit for like a year and try to fly frequently.

Heck, I might just pack up if I see people entering the grounds and I get a bad vibe, not even wait for trouble.

More than likely though, I would guess that I can get a dozen short, infrequent, irregular sessions out of the field without problems.
 
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Sneak in a quick launch in the soccer off season when nobody is looking.
... and I didn’t have a permit. I know what I’d do if they confronted me about it
More than likely though, I would guess that I can get a dozen short, infrequent, irregular sessions out of the field without problems.

Which is what I suggested before you got righteously indignant at the notion.

My decision to cooperate with the authorities instead of defy them is final.

Not so final, eh?
 
Which is what I suggested before you got righteously indignant at the notion.



Not so final, eh?
No need for the snark, I hadn’t even made contact with Poway Fire at the time, much less reviewed the Parks regs. You also took an ignorant potshot at my home state with political undertones, so forgive me for feeling a bit defensive.

But I did do a more scrupulous job than I think most would, by making contact and reading the rule book. Good enough.
 
Well, I finally went to the dark side today, flying without the property owner’s knowledge or approval. Deciding to kill two birds with one stone, I flight-tested the new streamer recovery system of my in-development night rocket, an Estes Ghost Chaser. I “snuck” onto the field after all the dog walkers had left and let her loose! A few onlookers in the parking lot were curious but friendly and impressed. No trouble.

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 584049

I’ll have to pick up some coupler tubes next time I see the Discount Rocketry trailer.

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…

It seems the secret is to go during work/school hours, be courteous to other park users, and not overstay my welcome.
 
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