OSU Test Launch 2016 - February 27-28, 2016 (Brothers, OR)

My first launch for 2016! This event was primarily for the Oregon State University aerospace team to test out their porject, but some of us took advantage of this weekend, as well. It was a great time in a sage and a nice "jump start" to 2016.

My friend Ed Harrison and I headed for Brothers on Friday morning, stopped for lunch, and got out there around 3:00 PM after an easy drive. A handful of OSU folks made a brief appearance that evening to set up their pad before heading back into Bend for the night. We got camp and our pads set up just as a light but persistent rain shower rolled in, lasting an hour or so. Thankfully, that turned out to be our worst weather of the weekend. After the sun went down and the temperature dropped quickly, my dad pulled in with his motorhome. We got the heat going, had dinner, and chatted for a bit before calling it a night. We all greatly appreciated not having to sleep in tents and/or pickup beds (as I usually do) this trip...

On Saturday morning Ed tried to fly his 5.5" Patriot, but after some avionics issues (including a blown charge on the pad...possibly from wind blowing on the pair of Adept22's) he had to scrub twice.

First up for me was my 5" x 12' scratch build, aka "Code Red XL." Last November I mixed up a 98mm N3300 in hopes/anticipation of a November pickup launch, but since those plans never materialized, I had to stare at an unflown 98mm motor in the garage for 3 months which was getting real old. I was on the pad at 10:00 AM just as the high waiver window opened for the morning.

I retreated, powered up my launch controller, and hit the button. I made certain the igniter was all the way to the top of the motor this time, so NO chuffing (as experienced at BALLS last year) – thing took off beautifully. It roared to 22,168' and we heard the drogue charges fire from the ground, but the BRB900 never regained lock for some reason. This turned out to be a recipe for a slightly longer day than we had planned. With no GPS, we had to rely only on visual for recovery which as everyone knows, can be a real challenge out in the sage. But we saw the main deploy right on time, watched it land, and got a solid bearing on location.

We drove out on the closest road and started hiking – with 100' of blue tubular nylon and a big Cert-3 XL chute I figured we would have been able to see SOMETHING above the sage. But no luck, several hours of hiking in various search patterns right around where we saw it land turned up nothing.

Headed back to camp for a lunch break and for OSU's flight. They were doing a test launch of a 5" custom carbon fiber airframe on an Orange Sunset N3000. I got the high waiver extended, they loaded up their bird, borrowed my wireless controller, and went for it.

Another nice boost to 21,700' with safe recovery, but one of their payload sections may have had a tangled chute. Next step for them is to fly that same configuration down in Utah for a college competition. Congrats to OSU! They packed it up and headed back to Corvallis later that afternoon.

Keith Stansbury and a handful of folks from the Clark College Aerospace team showed up Saturday as well to fly a few rockets, most notably in preparation for the same (?) competition that OSU is doing. Keith also launched a cluster of 3 x D12s - unfortunately one of which lit, the second didn't, and the third CATO'ed. :( Ed then launched his 5.5" Mercury Redstone on one of my motors, a 2-grain 75mm K600.

The motor worked as expected, but his rocket was pretty heavy and over-stable so it weathercocked heavily to the south. He also zippered it pretty badly when the chute deployed late, and may have lost the top half entirely. (?) My motor case also went missing since he didn't put it on his recovery line.

After those flights, we had lunch and went back out for another search. Still nothing - we were just dumbfounded that we weren’t finding it on the bearing. My dad had previously walked the entire line all the way from the pad to where we saw it land with no luck, either. So the only other option was that it had to have been further. We re-oriented ourselves, formed a new search pattern, and started walking. Several hours later, just as we were getting ready to call it quits for the day, my dad spotted my main chute up high on a ridge. (Coincidentally enough, I was almost ready to hike up that same ridge to try and get a better vantage point.) Sure enough, that was it - the whole shebang was laying right there in perfect condition, but the Beeline still wasn’t working for some reason. We hauled everything back to camp just as the sun was setting. It was yet another classic example of just how hard it is to judge distance out there – we had previously been looking only about half the distance of where it actually landed.

While we were out searching, Ed as well as Clark College flew a bunch of Aerotech H-I-J motors, but I wasn’t there so I can’t speak as to how all of those went. Last up Saturday was a nice L2 cert flight by Ray Mayes who had made the trip down from Bothell, WA with a friend of his. We once again had a good visual on recovery, but some time hiking around in the sage turned up nothing. They headed into Bend for the night before going on another search Sunday.

Upon examination of my BRB900, it seemed to have a loose and/or faulty connector which explains why it powered down during launch. This meant my no layups-Mongoose 75 flight was in serious jeopardy unless I could find some way to repair it in the field. The waiver was only open until 5:00 PM, so I cleaned up camp and called it a day, pondering my GPS dilemma. Had dinner and climbed into bed around 11:00 PM.

Next morning, Ed gave one more go with his Patriot. 3rd times a charm - he got it on the pad with altimeters beeping correctly and igniter installed. Motor was a 3-grain 54mm J400, my smallest EX motor to date. This however presented several challenges during building which I hadn’t experienced before. For starters, it was my first attempt using a commercial case with an EX load - Ed was using a Rouse-Tech 54/1280 case and had sourced all the parts ahead of time, so we poured the grains in Aerotech-spec casting tubes. Second, neither of us had a plugged forward closure so we sealed his open closure with RTV ahead of time. Lastly, Ed was using a medusa nozzle which also presented a challenge of its own - I drilled out the ports in a configuration I was reasonably happy with before leaving for the sage and figured we were set.

Of course, as we were loading the rocket on the pad I was getting queasy about the nozzle/grain geometries, but now was no time to back down. Ed did the honors and she boosted nicely to 3K-4K. My motor worked perfectly, but shortly after, we had a problem. No apogee deployment, and it was coming in hot. Sadly, no main either...Ed’s rocket augured in with a loud "thud" just off the east end of the flightline. We drove down to check out the remains and not much was salvageable other than the motor case - sorry Ed! Both Adept22’s seemed to have failed, though I'm not sure if any of his charges fired.

Ray and John returned that morning and went out searching again for Ray’s rocket (a 4" Madcow Frenzy, cardboard)...with success this time! Congratulations to Ray on a nice L2 project.

After all that, I did final assembly of my Mongoose and ran into a few problems of my own. Problem #1 was that my Beeline didn’t fit properly in my 3" x 5.125" nosecone coupler av-bay. I had obviously overlooked checking this fit before I left...oops. My most rinkydink solution ever was to use lots of bubble wrap on the unit and tape the crap out of it to my main shockcord inside the nosecone. I was uneasy about my solution, but there was literally nowhere else I could put it. Problem #2 is that the thing still won’t stay powered on - electrical taping the connector in place didn’t solve the issue as I thought it did. Of course, I had already buttoned up the main chute/av-bay and put the shear pins in, so I had to undo all of that which was a hassle.

I went back in the motorhome with my dad, and we put our heads together to see if we could fix this somehow. After trying numerous different ideas with no luck, I was THIS close to bagging it and heading home, hugely disappointed. But then he suggested we try stripping and re-connecting the battery wires, then soldering them to the connector. It worked, and the flight was saved. So I buttoned everything up, called in another high window, did the final preparations, and headed for the pad. Motor was an EX 75/7600 M2200 by me, exact same load I flew at BALLS last year, and same batch as Ed's 54mm motor. As we were loading the rocket in the tower I again was getting pretty queasy - my highest attempted flight to date, a new rocket, would my GPS still work with the field repairs, would I exceed its maximum range, etc. etc.. At that moment there was a blue hole overhead, so I armed up, put the igniter in, and retreated with my whole body was literally shaking as my dad drove me back to the controller.

(Photo credit to Craig Alness.)

Took a minute to catch my breath, and went for it. The motor took a few seconds to think about what it wanted to do, but when it did, the Mongoose (named "Millennium Falcon" after Star Wars) leapt off the pad on a flame about twice as long as the rocket. I was ecstatic. Now all I had to do was wait for the GPS to regain lock. "Is it still accelerating, did the connector come loose, did I use big enough charges, did I seal them properly, am I coming in hot like before"...all of these thoughts are running through my head as I’m staring at the receiver. Suddenly - an update! I waited for it to keep updating just to make sure the bird was open. Sure enough, I had solid lock all the way down to the ground, indicating a proper drogue/main deployment. A huge relief!

Punching in the last set of coordinates gave me a waypoint 4 miles from the pad, across the highway, past Brothers...dangerously close to where I "made my name" last year with the power lines. We drove out there and started searching. The sage was pretty thin, so thankfully it was much easier to see the ground. After searching for a while around the last coordinate with no luck, I knew it had to have been further. I also knew the GPS was still transmitting, so it was just a matter of getting a new set of coordinates on the receiver. We walked in the direction of the wind until I got an update, went about .2 miles further, and stumbled right upon it, laying there in pristine condition.

(Photo credit to Craig Alness.)

A couple of other shots post-recovery...

Ed and I. (Photo credit to Craig Alness.)

My dad and I. (Photo credit to Ed Harrison.)

The Raven had logged 33,815', Mach 2.25 and the RRC2+ was beeping out 33,828', which meant I knew right then I had broken my personal altitude record by a good 8K or so. Once again, I was ecstatic as we drove back to camp. We packed everything up, took down the pads, and were on the road by 2:30 PM. It's amazing how 2 tiny little beads of solder had made the difference between a very, very good drive home and a tough drive home. I convoyed/played tag with my dad in the motorhome for most of the way back, and got home about 8:30 PM. Unfortunately I had ran out of time to fly my 54mm Tomach on the L1100, but with getting my N and M off the ground, I was perfectly fine with bagging that one until next time.

Special thanks to Craig Alness and Ed Harrison for making the trip out there with me, and for being the "Wilson support crew" - much appreciated. Thank you as well to Ray/John for helping get my Sunday flight off the ground. Ed, I was sorry to see your less-than-successful weekend but just think, the worst of the year is all out of the way now. 2016 shall be a good season for all!