Your first club launch, what to expect, what to bring

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dr wogz

Fly caster
Feb 5, 2009
Reaction score
Land of Poutine!
So, you're going to attend your first club launch.. what to expect, what to bring? what not to bring?! A friend asked me the other day, "what should I expect? what do I bring? How does it work?! I've put together an overview of what you're gonna expect, be it a little club launch, or a major, national event!

What to bring:

Your rocket, obviously! I used to bring about 5-10, but have recently realized that I only really get to launch maybe 4.. Motor & rocket prep, helping others, walking / recovery, and sometimes doing LCO occupies my day. I’m also starting to be a mentor to a few new flyers, so I’m asked to help / oversee their rocket prep or motor build. A bit of a prep the night before goes a long way. I sometimes will build a motor or two the night before. I might also prep a smaller rocket as well, chute, wadding etc.. I try to get my chutes & blankets tied in the night before too..

Motors: No need to lug the whole case. Bring the ones you expect to fly, and maybe an extra one or two in case of a mis-fire, or that you do actually manage to fly them all and have time to spare. The weather may be mean, and although you expected to fly a J350, the upper winds indicate maybe an I235 is a better choice.. Sometimes, a fellow flyer may want / need one too.. A lot of the US / larger launches have a vendor on site. So, just buy as needed from them. Our field has no vendors, so bring what you intend to fly. Some fields do have vendors on site, but they may not have the motor you want, or..

Recovery: bring chutes, applicable to the rocket & motors you’re flying. Bring an extra one or two. They do rip, shred, burn, melt, etc.. Bring wadding or Nomex blankets. Most clubs have ‘Dog barf’ (Cellulose insulation used as wadding, works great!) for members. Use it, but don’t’ be a pig about it! Expect to give a few sheets of LPR wadding away. We all need and give accordingly.

Tools: You don’t need table saws or hammers, but the screwdriver for your AV bay, a pair or slip lock pliers to remove a stuck motor.. things like that.. A long dowel is a good thing to have, to poke out a motor from the top end, or help pack down recovery in a tight airframe..

Baby wipes or paper towel: Launch rods & rails get dirty. Sooty black dirty. Motor cases / spent motors are also dirty / messy. RMS type motors require certain parts to be greased, again, dirty..

Gloves: see above. But also for handing the launch equipment; setting up the rails & rods & such. A pair of rubber gloves for motor work, and a pair of work gloves for HPR pad set up helps. I, generally don’t bother, but I do bring winter gloves in winter (D-uh! But bring a pair you don’t mind getting dirty, Ditto with your winter jacket)

Chair: or expect to stand all day. Or wander off to sit in your car.. I generally don’t bring a chair, just a blanket (see below).. except for multi day events

Sunscreen / tent, hat, etc… : you’re; standing around outside.. shade is far & few..

Table: a foldable / portable table, to prep on. I don’t. I either share a club mate’s, or I always bring a moving blanket and sit on the ground a la pic-nic. I prep all on the ground it the summer, occasionally in the winter. Rockets can’t fall off a blanket on the ground.. Some do prep out of their trunk or the tail gate of their pick up.

Garbage bag: We’re human, we generate garbage. Be the guy who is prepared, and has a garbage bag. Bonus points for being the guy with both a garbage bag AND a bag for recycling: paper, etc. Most motors come in plastic or paper tubes, with paper instructions.. How much is a box of small Glad kitchen catcher bags anyways?!

Food & water. Again, you’re in a field or very open space, usually quite a way from any conveniences. A few bottles of water, a few cookies or granola bars.. Stay hydrated, make sure others are hydrated.. Some people bring things to share with the group; donuts, muffins, that type of thing. As I type this, bringing some fruit might be a better thing, as most will typically bring the Coffee / donut shop sugary carb snack. A juicy peach on an August day goes further (health & hydration) than the blueberry muffin.. Leave the pop /soda at home. Does nothing to quench your thirst!

$$: someone always has something for sale! :D sometimes a kit, sometimes a motor, sometimes the 1978 April issue of Playboy.. and sometimes you need ot make change for the only $20 they have.

A pen or two to fill out your flight cards.

A camera..

NAR / TRA / CAR card..

Dress accordingly. Bring boots, extra socks (at least for the drive home.) You’re in a field (did I mention that?!) Mud, dew on the grass, the odd puddle, or (uhg!) cow patties. Ticks, sun, below freezing temps, knee deep snow.. Some do bring snow shoes in the winter!

You don’t need any launch equipment. The club takes care of that. Unless you have a special rocket that requires a special launch rod / rail / rig. Most clubs will have 1/8” & 3/16 rods, maybe a ¼” rod (getting scarce these days, due to the popularity of rails) and will definitely have a 1010 and / or 1515 rail on their MPR & HPR pads. Most clubs these days are insisting that if your rocket is F or higher impulse, it has to have rail buttons. I have a few rockets that are ambidextrous; have ¼” lugs and 1010 buttons. Some clubs are starting to get ‘mini’ rails. All clubs have their own launch system, usually a multi- button set up.. no need to bring yours. And theirs is usually powered from a car battery..
What to expect:

You show up, you’ll park, usually in a line, along the flight line. You’ll then unload in your designated area. I use my blanket to denote my ‘space’. Some set up their sun shade.. For some, it’s understood the 10’ behind their pick-up is their area, etc.. Help set up the launch equipment. Set up the pads, set out the launch wires, etc.. Once the club equipment is set up, there’ll usually be a “pads are open” announcement. Then go get / prep your rocket. Each flight needs a flight card. Get one, fill it out. Fill in your typical info; name, city, NAR #, etc. DO NOT fill out the weight or motor until you’re at the LCO table.

Once your rocket is prepped, and motor built (and without the igniter installed for HPR and most MPR) fill out your flight card: name, rocket, motor, recovery, etc.. Then go to the LCO table. There will be a scale. Weigh it, and record the weight on the card. Then present the rocket to the LCO / RSO. He will give it a quick once over and will either let it launch, or refuse it for some reason. Be prepared to show him the CP & CG locations (Most HPR require the CP and / or CG be indicated on the airframe), and that the NC isn’t too tight or too loose. He’ll tug on the motor, and wiggle the fins to make sure it’s flyable. (I’ve refused a few for various reasons, but explained why I refused it. Sometimes it’s a quick fix..) You’ll also be asked if it a ‘first flight’. First flights are usually a ‘Heads up’ flight, meaning everyone will be standing, and ready to run should something happen! He may ask a few other questions about it too. Be prepared to answer them, about the manufacturer, how you built it, with what glue, etc.. And, be truthful. If you can’t answer, say you don’t know. If the rocket is refused, ask why, and ask how to best fix it.. And yes, I’ve seen some bitch & moan about it being refused.. The RSO has final say. Period.

You’ll then be assigned a pad. Go load your rocket on the pad. Pretty much all pads will tilt to help loading. And remember, only the immediate people required to load are allowed at the pad. (Most don’t mind if your kid comes along, or your wife, but the whole 15 people in your party need not be at the pad..) Ask for help if needed, the LCOs will always help, or get a senior club mate to go help you. Load it up, adjust for wind & trajectory, etc.. Install the igniter, connect it to the launch system leads, and turn on your electronics. Get a photo, kiss it, whatever. We, the more senior members usually go out to the pad with newbies to help ensure their success. And, it’s our safety too!!

You’re ready to launch. Or, more correctly, it’s ready to launch.

Walk back to the flight line. The LCO will usually call out ‘pads are hot’ or ‘ready to launch’ when the pads are loaded & everyone has cleared. Then the LCO will launch the rockets, one at a time (unless a request for a drag race or multi-launch is called!) Launching is usually smallest impulse to the largest. And yes, at this point, you’re a spectator. The LCO will call out the rocket, the flyer, pad number, then announce: “Sky is clear, Range is clear, 3.. 2.. 1..” and pushes the button. If all the above is done right, your rocket will leap of the pad, and scream skyward to cheers & jeers. If not, it might spit out the igniter, not ignite, or weather cock / rod whip in a ‘not vertical’ flight path. Keep your eyes on your rocket until it lands. Then the LCO will launch the next one, and so on.. He will then call out ‘Pads are cold, Range is cold’ to indicate you may now walk to retrieve your rocket. Go get it.

When you get to your rocket, before you pick it up, look at it, look at how it landed. Anything broken or missing? Then pick it up part by part. Sometimes the shock cord gets tangled or wrapped around a branch or grass stalk. Sometimes a fin might have been broken on landing. Stop. Look, pick it up. Then move to the other pieces. I say this, because sometimes you go get it, yank it out of the grass, and start walking back. And you realize you’ve lost a fin or .. and now, where exactly was it.. will you find it again..

Once back at your table / area, remove the spent motor, smile, brag about how high it went, download the data (if applicable) have a drink, etc. prep the next one! Some LCOs like you to record the actual altitude on your flight card, if you have an altimeter.. (We do) So go tell them, and record it.

Be courteous behind the flight line. Most CATOs are due to a mis-hap during motor assembly. If someone is building a motor. Let them build it. If someone is going thru their altimeter set up, let them. Some L2 & L3 rockets have a check list with over 20 things on it. Let them do their thing.

At the end of the day, help out & help pack up the launch gear. Again, gloves, things will be messy! Wipe down the rods & rails. Fold up the pads, coil up the wires, help the old guy with his table & chair, pick up garbage (expect to take the garbage bag back with you..) then head off to the bar / BBQ hut / local eatery for a post flight drink & eat.

For Cert flight achievements, it’s expected you buy the LCO / RSO a beer / beverage for L1, a round for the club for L2, and the LCO & RSO’s whole tab (meal & drinks) for L3. Its funny sometimes to see an RSO / LCO have a running tab over a few launches because 3 or 5 people cert’d on one day. “OK Bill, I’ll get you next time!” Or “ I got his tab, he got their tab, they got my tab ..” when a few people cert at different levels.. Poor waitress!!

Hope that helps, that's a typical day at most, if not all the launches I've been to.. It's pretty laid back, a lot of standing around, and a lot of looking up, laughing, and commenting..

Have fun, learn something, try to share something, brag, complement others, smile, help out..