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Rockets Over California

Rockets Over California


By William Sawyers






This book will be useful in understanding basic model rocketry.  The author would like to thank his family for their support.  It’s been a blast writing on different subjects.  I’ll keep them coming as long as you keep reading them. 3rd grade on up



  1. Introduction to Rocketry
  2. Why Rocketry?
  3. Motors
  4. Rocket Clubs
  5. High Power Rocketry
  6. Rockets over California
  7. Rules and the law
  8. List of Manufacturers


 Copyright @1999

Chapter 1 – Introduction To Rocketry

Rocketry is a neat and useful hobby.  You can buy rocket kits at any hobby shop or toy store, including Toys-R-Us.  Rockets come in a variety of sizes - one quarter inch wide up to over three inches around or bigger.  Rockets consist of a nose cone, body, fins, parachute, motor mount, motor, and a launch lug on the side of the rocket itself for stability.  The launch lug goes on a launch rod.  It keeps the rocket going straight up and down.  They're made of balsa wood, plastic, fiberglass, etc.  Bodies are made of cardboard tubing from about a half of an inch to over twelve inches around.  A new type of material has just come out - a composite material made of epoxy, Kevlar, and some other stuff.  Kevlar is used in bulletproof vests and is very lightweight.


The recovery of model rockets varies a lot, but all methods are safe when done correctly.  Rockets use parachutes from four inches across to over eight feet around.  Some smaller, lightweight rockets use streamers as a means of slowing their fall.  Still others use a helicopter spin to come down.  Some even glide back to earth.  The tiny ones tumble back.  There are a lot of manufacturers out there - too many to list right now (see Chapter 8).


Motors range in size from half "A" to "G" in California, or bigger if you have a license from the state fire Marshall.  This license is called a Pyrotechnic Class 3 License.  It's for launching engine over "G" size: "H" power to "N" power.  These engines are called high-power rocket motors (read Chapter 3 on motors).  Anything over "H" is awesome to see and hear - they are very loud.


Rockets of all sizes are neat to build and watch.  However, make sure to follow the instructions and by-laws.  Have your parents help you and show you how to do it safely.  The safer the better - one person who doesn't do it right may cause injury or a fire and could cause rocketry to be outlawed in their town.  All kit's have a chart on them to show how easy it is to build, from level 1 to expert level 5.  Level 1 is easy indeed - I would recommend the Alpha 3 as the first kit to build.  It's the best - the fins are all ready-made of plastic, and it's very easy to build and fly.  Start with Level 1 to start.


Start with the smallest motors first.  Use a launch pad and an electrical box with a safety key at all times.  Remove the key before hooking up the rocket igniter, and insert it only when ready to launch.  If you choose a C6-7, chances of recovering it are very low, as it goes very high and out of sight for a while in small rockets - over 1,800 ft.  Use a very large field for the high ones.  Look in the instruction to find the minimum site launch requirements. 


Chapter 2 – Why Rocketry?

In my opinion, rocketry is the best hobby any child could possibly have.  It teaches science, math, safety, patience, and chasing them at launches just plain wears them out.  There are a lot of places to go.  Some famous clubs even have rocketry.  For example, Boy Scouts, 4-H, and a lot more.  And there are a lot of rocket clubs (see Chapter 4).  To find out if a child is interested in it, simply take them to one to watch.  It doesn't cost anything to see except for gas money.  It's even better for a kid to build and launch a rocket.  They get so excited.  Even to this day I still get excited to do my own, and I've been doing it for twenty years now.  The cost isn't too bad for the small rocket kits, but it gets way up there for the big, mighty ones.  Clubs are generally reasonably priced.


Chapter 3 – Rocket Motors

Rocket motors come in many different sizes.  For example, Estes brand motors are as follows:  half "A" are 1.75 inches in length and 0.5 inches in diameter.  A, B, and C engines are all 2.75 inches in length and 0.69 inches in diameter.  B motors are twice as powerful as A motors, and so on.  D motors are 2.75 inches long and 0.945 inches in diameter.  E motors are 3.5 inches long and 0.945 inches in diameter. 


Engines are built with a special black powder material.  An electrical fuse is used to ignite the motor, at a far distance to ensure safety.  Motors have a propellant to boost rockets upward.  Then a delay charge releases smoke to show where the rocket is when it is high in the air.  This is called tracking smoke.  The third part of a motor consists of a parachute charge to pop out the chute.  The last digit indicates the time in seconds it takes to pop.  0-delay means there is no delay.  No delay is used for a booster or glider.  For multi-staged rockets - up to three stages:  P - means the end of the motor is plugged, and is used for gliders.  three - Means it takes three seconds to for ejection charge.  This is used for rockets not going as high, for added safety.  five delay means it takes five seconds to pop parachute.  A five-second delay is also used on the upper stage of rockets of two or more stages.  For safety reasons, read a copy of the Estes catalog, which can be found at your local hobby shop, for further assistance.  It'll tell you everything you need to know for a safe start of this fascinating hobby.  It will also list prices and all the kits available.  


Always use the proper motor in the in the kit.  Use the smallest one first, then work your way up to the bigger ones.  In California, motors up to G80-10 are legal.  One must be at least 18 years old to buy them.  The price is higher for the bigger ones about $12.95 each.  Always check the air for aircraft before launching any rocket.  All rockets over one lbs. must have an FAA waiver in order to launch.  Apply at the nearest airport for more information (rocket clubs do this for you). Motors go up to "P" size at the time of this writing. (Warning to all that read this) My son Chris at 17 years old ignited a D engine on a side walk by it self and it did $1,700.00 damages to back fender of a new car. No not take safety too lightly.


Chapter 4 – Rocket Clubs

OK, now for the fun stuff - rocket clubs.  These are fantastic to go to and watch, even if you don't launch yourself.  They're out there everywhere.  The cost is minimal for the fun and excitement, and they're a lot of clubs to choose from.


 I'll explain to the best of my ability.  There's an organization called the N.A.R. (National Association of Rocketry).  They're a nonprofit organization that establishes rules, certifies records, publishes technical data, and sponsors events.  They also promote sport model rocketry.


 The cost is $20.00 for kids and $35.00 for adults per year. A million dollar insurance policy can be purchased for an extra $21.00 a year.  Parks and other places require this insurance to protect them from lawsuits.  The NAR also send out a magazine to each family that joins.


 Now for the clubs - I belong to a club in Livermore, California called Lunar, NAR section 534.  This club is neat - they have an awesome setup.  They have a lot of launch pads:  low-power, medium-power, and one high-power pad, up to H-motors.  Launches are once a month, and there is also a building class.  It holds two contests every year.  They're great to watch.


 The contest consists of the following:  who can send up an egg the highest - it must be returned and retrieved unbroken; parachute duration - longest time in the air, and glider duration - longest time gliding, plus a lot more.  Lunar costs $15.00 a year for adults, $4.00 for kids.  For more information, call Lunar Voice Mail:  (510)  443-8705.  They're many other clubs to belong to, in and out of the States.


 Here's a couple of sections:  ROC 538, SCRA 430, then there's Tripoli - the big boys of the clubs - these people launch the biggest of all rockets and hold the records for altitude - 60,000ft. - Awesome!  This club costs $20.00 for kids and $25.00 for adults.


 People come from around the world to watch:  Japan, Oregon, Maine, etc.  I've been to the Black Rock desert in Nevada twice now.  Its 150 miles in length and 60 miles wide of pure desert, hot during the day and cold at night.  The launches last from two to five days.  It may be an expensive trip, but it's well worth every penny to see the awesome giant rockets weighing up to 450 pounds and 22 inches around.


Chapter 5 – High Power Rocketry

(HPR) or High Power Rocketry is a different class all by itself.  High power starts off at H-motors and goes up to N- power.  These come in two types - single use and re loadable.  It takes a special license to fire these off.  It's called a Pyrotechnic Class 3 (HPR) License.  And you must be over 18 years of age.


 You also need 5 character witnesses to sign a page or two saying how safe you are at rocketry.  A $50.00 fee must be paid to the California State Fire Marshall, and $37.00 is required for finger printing at your local police department.  One copy goes to the FBI, a second to the fire Marshall, and a third to the local authorities.  Then there's a test on the laws of physics of rocketry which must be passed.  They give you a book to study for 30 days before taking the test.  It cost $50.00 per year to keep up. 


These motors are neat to see, watch, and hear - they're very, very loud!  To this day the biggest I've launched is a H180-10.  A D-size motor is as follows:  D12-7-20.00 N.S.  N.S stands for Newton-seconds.   It can be converted to pounds per square inch if you divide by 4.5.  The burn time of a D motor is 1.7 seconds. 


An H motor is 230 N.S and burns for 1.4 seconds.  This motor will send up a 4-inch diameter, 4.8ft tall rocket that weighs 3 pounds to a distance of 3,000ft.  A I-284 is 38mm around - 1.5 inches, 11.75 inches long, and costs $245.69 - a lot for a single motor.  If you play, you've got to pay!!!  It'll send up the same rocket that was just mentioned to a distance of around 11,000 feet, some day. I also have a rocket called Dream-On. Capable of altitudes

to over 14,000ft. Cost about $1,500 for every 3,000ft. Pix Could be found on my flickr account. I found an example of a great video of high power Rocketry. Follow link below, once on site click on Mercury Joe left top link. 6 minute length. HPR is usually done in the desert like Black Rock NV.



Chapter 6 – Rockets Over California

Rocket clubs are fun, as you'll see when you go to one.  If you've already been, then you know.  But, me, I like to do things myself.  I like to get permits for parks and such politics are thick in this area.  On May 11 1994, I tackled the City of Concord Dept of Parks and Recreation.  It's fun to stand in front of 100 people or so, and in front of seven board members behind their desk.  I was on TV that night on Channel 3, and I didn't even know it until afterwards.



People I knew called me to tell me what a great job I did.  I typed up letters on the safety of rocketry and so forth, and then read it loud to the Board, to try to get a permit for their parks.  They said no, that it was against the law in Concord.  Oh well, I lost that case.  It did teach me how to go about fighting politics.  I then went to Pleasant Hill Parks and got a permit for their parks, no problem.  The fire district charges $9.00 for the permit - you have to send in the field dimensions, the engines used, and such.  There are two parks for rocketry:  Heather Farms costs $10.00 an hour to use, and then there's Lunar in Livermore.


 Don't forget the FAA waiver if the rocket weighs over 1lb. and is going up to 1,000ft. 


I've got a rocket called Dream On.  It's in my garage and is 10.4ft tall, 5.54 inches around, and weighs 12lbs. empty.  It has a black nose cone and fins, a yellow body, and an 8ft parachute.  It's a scaled-down version of a Sand Hawk sounding rocket.  It gets peoples' attention!!! The minimum motor size to use for a 1,000ft lift off would be a 1-264 motor - 38mm.  It's about 11 inches long.  I need a field of about 2,500ft diameter with no dry weeds or trees, power poles, or buildings.  A rare find in California


The rocket kit came from Rocket R&D and cost $225.00.  The motor cost for a 1-284 is about $254.00 for the case.  The 2nd launch costs only $54.00.  The casing and the caps cost the most.  There is a 25% chance of failure with these motors, so I've read.  It could blow up on the launch pad, or fail to pop open the chute. with a bigger motor 14.000 feet and Mach 2.


At least there is a 75% chance that it'll make it.  The little rockets are much safer.  The 1-284 motor would just be a test!!!  I named my rocket Dream On due to that fact that it will be a dream to launch in California, using the following engines, which I would like to use:  a 54mm J-425 and two 38mm 1-284-S.S.  The S.S. stands for super sparks.  They resemble and upside-down fountain when ignited.  Sparks should shoot out at least six feet.


 Here's how it would go:  The 54mm motor would be kicked in to launch the rocket to a height of about 2,900ft, then a digital timer would count to 1.9 seconds, at which point it would air start the two 1-284-S.S..  Then it would climb another 2,000ft, with sparks shooting from behind.  The combined noise would be awesome!  Yes, I need to get a sponsor, as the cost of the motors would be about $795.85 plus hazard shipping fees.  The timer costs about $295.95 +  tax.  My dream will happen sooner or later!  They always do!

 " Dream On" is a power ballad by Aerosmith from their 1973 debut album


Chapter 7  Rules And State Regulations

Launch control systems must be electrical and must have one spring-return launch button.  In addition, a portable safety kit must be provided.  When the key is inserted, the rocket can be launched.  Always remove the key and carry it with you until you plan to launch.


 Don't insert the key until you have hooked up the igniters on the launch pad.  All rockets must be launched from a launch pad with a rod and a blast plate to protect the soil from the direct blast of the flames.  Most small rockets use a 1/8-inch around by 32-inch tall launch rod. 


Bigger rockets require up to 1-inch around rods.  Always keep launch rods away from dry weeds and grass.  Just before launching, check the sky for low-flying aircraft, and wait to launch if there is!  Have people move away from the pad.  Read the directions for the motor that indicates the minimum distance to keep.


 Always use recovering wadding in rockets to protect the chutes from the hot gases.  Read the Estes catalog for the updated rules of rocketry, found at your local hobby shop or nearest dealer.  Don't forget to get the permission of the land owners before launching. 




1.         Can't use the fields of the Concord parks.

2.         Can't use the Mt. Diablo School District fields.


I'll try to change this at a later date! P.S Start with kits skill level 1 !!!

Then work your way up...

Chapter 8 – List of Manufacturers

Sentell Enterprises Tennessee             1-800-4-chutes


Tripoli Rocket Association    

PO Box 339

Kenner, LA  70063-033



Estes Industries

1295 H St.

Penrose, CO 81240


Countdown Hobbies CT          (203) 740-9010



MRC                                       (618) 234-5989



QRC                                        (703) 451-2808



Public Missiles Limited          $3.00 catalog

Mt. Clemens, MI 48045



Vaughn Brothers Rocketry       (805) 239-3818

Paso Robles, CA



Ralph’s Hobby Shop               (416) 690-4204




Adept Rocketry CO                 (303) 466-9605



Bruckner Hobby Inc. NY         (718) 863-3434



America’s Hobby Center        (800) 989-7993



Quest                                       (800) 858-7302



Stroud Parachutes                    (800) 554-4648


Loc-Custom OH                      (216) 467-4514



High Sierra Rocketry Utah      (801) 224-2276



Orion Rockets

PO Box 232504

Leucada, CA 92024



Magnum Inc. Ohio                   (513) 834-3306



Pratt Hobbies                          (703) 689-3541


Floaters Parachutes MO          (816) 373-9361



The Launch Pad

8470 E. Misty Blue Ct.

Springfield VA



Delta V Rocketry CA              (800) 335-8284



Cotriss Technologies CA        238-5610



Impulse Aerospace WA          (800) 568-2785



Robbie’s Rockets                    (219) 679-4143



Mred Industries NY                (518) 658-9132



Hobby Town USA FL             (813) 968-7233



Point 39 Productions (HPR)    (706) 790-5544

$20.00 videotapes


Georgia Dyna Com. PA           (412) 751-9515



Topflight Recovery WI           (608) 588-7204



This is not all of them, but it’s a start.  It’ll keep you busy, and will bring up your phone bills.  A special thanks to those who follow all the by-laws.  Have fun and an excellent time in the perfect sport of model rocketry.  Hope to see you out there some day.  I used to give rocket demos for schools, but gave this up due to the cost . . .


Bill Sawyers

Concord, CA 


                                         The End!!!