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How do I get started in rocketry?

By Frank Uroda

Most people like me got started in rocketry as kids. I bought a few small rocket kits at the local hobby shop and went from there. When I was growing up, all there were was "Model Rockets". The Mid and High Power Rockets didn't exist yet but I had fun flying Model Rockets in local parks for years.

As I got older things began to settle down in my career and life in general. It was time to get back to my favorite hobby. Again I went to the hobby shop and bought more Model Rocket kits. They were as much fun as I remembered them to be! I spent the whole summer flying Model Rockets again.

As time went on, I continually wanted to fly bigger and bigger rockets to higher altitudes. I pretty much reached the end with what was available at my local hobby shop. Then one day I spotted a couple of different rocketry magazines and bought them. I was amazed to see that the hobby had grown considerably since I was a child. There were many more manufacturers of kits and motors out there then I ever dreamed. The rockets in the pictures were just awesome. That's what I wanted to do!

I wrote to several of the companies advertised in the magazines and asked how I could learn more about these larger, more powerful rockets. They all told me the same thing; join a local club! Well, I'd never joined a club before and wasn't really sure if that was for me. So instead of just joining through the mail, I went to one of their meetings just to see what it was like. To my surprise, it was a great experience! There was a bunch of people there that liked rocketry as much as I did. Many of them brought along their latest rocket project to show off and chat about. We talked for hours. I signed up that night.

Two weeks later, I went to the clubs launch at a field about a half hour from my house. I couldn't believe my eyes. There were people with rockets everywhere. Some were small models, others were huge! Some had sleek, futuristic designs and others were perfect replicas of older "real" NASA rockets. Some didn't look like rockets at all, but they all flew.

My first impression was that this was the friendliest bunch I ever met. Everyone was willing to explain their projects and were kind enough to answer my questions......Believe me, I had a million of them! The club provided all the launch equipment for all to use and even had a PA system announcing every flight. They had already filed all the dreaded paperwork with the FAA and everything was insured. This was a class act. Very well organized and very safe.

Two weeks later, the club had another launch at the same site. This time I brought my rockets and flew them all day. There were even a few rocket vendors on site. I bought a few new kits and couldn't wait to start building them.

I've been in this hobby now for over 18 years. In that time I've flown rockets ranging from A through M power. I still enjoy building and flying rockets of all shapes and sizes. My personal altitude record is over 14,000 ft! I've traveled all over the country attending major launches. I've seen and done things I would never have done otherwise. I have met many very nice people over the years. Many of them have become my close friends. I love this hobby!

How can you get started?

My advice to you is simple:

  • Read all you can. There are links on this site that will lead you to all the information you'll ever need.
  • Join one of the fine national organizations. Each organization has a specific specialty. It's all explained on the Are there clubs in my area? page of this website.
  • Join a local club. You will learn a lot from the great people in the club. The club handles much of the regulatory issues. The club has a launch site and all the support equipment you need.
  • Go to the club launches. You'll have a "blast"!

How does a launch event function?

By Dan Stroud

Good question.
The club sponsoring the event sets up the launch site. They should have all the equipment needed to launch the rockets (unless special equipment is needed).

To familiarize yourself with a launch setup, it would be a great idea to get there early and help them set it up. Since many events will go all day long and two-day events are not uncommon, they always need volunteers. Be sure to take food and water if no food vendors are going to be there.

There will be:

  • A parking/setup area. People often bring pop up canopies to shade them from the sun.
  • A flight line barrier. A line, tape, or flags will indicate the separation between the viewing area and flying field.
  • A check in area. Here you check in and pay the launch fee for the day, if there is one (generally $5.00 - 15.00 per day, except for large national events).
  • The launch operation area. Here you'll find the control equipment that operates the ignition system for each launch pad, the PA system, and a board indicating the launch pads, which each flyer's Flight Card will be pinned to once assigned a pad.
  • The safety inspection area. This is where each rocketeer presents their rocket for inspection prior to each flight.
  • Vendors. Sometimes areas are reserved for vendors they know are coming. Some of the bigger events will have motor vendors, rocket vendors and food vendors. Check ahead of time as everyone will need to bring food and drinks if a food vendor isn't going to be present.

Everyone arrives and sets up an area where they can prepare rockets. First come, first served is generally the rule (be courteous and don't take up more space than you'll need). When your rocket is ready you fill out a Flight Card and take it and your rocket to the safety inspection area.

Once the rocket has been checked and OK'd by the Range Safety Officer (RSO) you can take your rocket and your flight card to the range head (the launch operation area) and wait to be assigned a pad.

The Pad Managers will assign you a pad when the launch range is clear. You can then head out and prepare your rocket for launch.

When rockets are ready on the pads and the range is clear again the Launch Control Officer (LCO) will launch the rockets one by one. The LCO will first read the information on the Flight Card, ask you if you're ready if it's special launch, begin the countdown and launch the rocket. If you'd like to push the button yourself, all you have to do is ask.

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