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Model Rocket Safety: For Educators... A cautionary tale.
#1
Towards the end of each school year, Mr. Deller of Ashland Middle School (Ashland, Oregon) would have his science class launch model rockets. It was a fun way to end the year.

In 1983, I was in his class, and we built our rockets. I had a Spin Fin that I had gotten in the class, as well as a Stiletto that I had made from a kit I bought with my allowance. This was my very first time launching model rockets with solid fuel engines, rather than the boring old water rockets we did in summer.

On launch day, he'd pull his truck up onto the field, pop the hood, and the launches would begin.

My rockets did admirably despite the lack of skill I displayed in making them. But one kid's rocket really flew well. After recovery he was being patted on the back by several of the guys for the nice flight and recovery of his rocket. He was only paying attention to the admiration instead of the next rocket being launched. While he was joking around with the guys, he repacked the parachute for his next chance to launch. I however was watching the rocket that the kid who had a reputation for trouble had just launched. A nicely built Nova Payloader.

Rocket goes up, and the we could see the smoke climb up straight, then it stopped, no sign of a parachute deployment. We quickly grasped that the rocket hadn't deployed it's parachute, and was now heading straight down, and I mean STRAIGHT down!

Mr. Deller, starts yelling, as does the rest of us to look out, as it's falling, and FAST!!! 

The kids around the previous launcher hear the alarm, and all look up, then scatter. Suddenly sensing that something was wrong (like the teacher, and 20 boys yelling at him to look out), he finally looks up from his rocket, sees the incoming missile, and falls backwards.

It hit, right where he had been standing. We all rushed to him and the earthworm seeking missile sticking out of the ground between his feet.

The rocket was pulled out, and Mr. Deller inspected it carefully to find the source of the malfunction. It wasn't a malfunction though, it was sabotage. The bad news kid had removed the parachute, and superglued the nosecone into the body tube without anybody catching on. All launches were subsequently stopped, while he was marched into the principals office. He was immediately suspended for two weeks (thus preventing him from advancing w/us). This incident could have seriously hurt someone, and gotten the program banned in our school/city, who knows perhaps even state.


The takeaway from this:

ALWAYS be the one who does the final inspection of the rocket before school sanctioned launches, you should NEVER trust the kids in this matter. If necessary, find another adult to assist you with the launches, I'm sure there's one out there with enough of a kid inside him to still want to help.

Be Safe Out There!
Jim
.
NAR #100544

"The Guide says there is an art to flying", said Ford, "or rather a knack." 
"The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss."

Launching is Optional... Landing? That Depends on Trees.

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#2
That's a good story Jim, thanks for sharing.
We all have seen too tightly packed rockets unintentionally come in ballistic, and that is not an issue limited to novice rocketeers only!
Even light weight paper rockets with balsa nosecones can cause injury when returning at 32 ft/sec/sec..
DSR
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#3
Great story. The point is well taken...
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#4
It's not just kids. We had an incident and one of our events where a High Powered Rocket came in ballistic. No malice was involved, it simply malfunctioned.

Even after repeated blowing of the air horn and yelling thru the PA system several people on the flight line were simply not paying attention and ignored the warnings. Of course that is exactly where the rocket decided came down, actually hitting one of the spectators.

This person received some substantial injuries and was taken away by ambulance to a local hospital.

Fortunately we had a couple of Doctors in attendance, and in the end this person fully recovered.

The lesson: PAY ATTENTION. Rocketry is not without risks and everyone on site needs to be aware of what's going on at any particular moment.
--
NAR / TRA
Level 1 - Estes Leviathan - CTI 164-H90 Classic
Level 2 - MadCow Sensor - CTI 716-J280-16A Smokey Sam
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#5
Did NAR or TRA wind up covering the expenses related to the injuries, or was a commercial insurance involved?
Greg Young - L3
TRA 00234
NAR 42065
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#6
(06-23-2015, 12:57 PM)Greg Young Wrote: Did NAR or TRA wind up covering the expenses related to the injuries, or was a commercial insurance involved?

I actually do not know.   I was not involved at that level.
--
NAR / TRA
Level 1 - Estes Leviathan - CTI 164-H90 Classic
Level 2 - MadCow Sensor - CTI 716-J280-16A Smokey Sam
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#7
This last Saturday at our regular club launch, at least twice, the low to mid power rocket on the pad described a 90 degree turn immediately after clearing the rod, flew over our heads under power, and buried the nosecone into the dirt below the grass for several inches.

Fortunately, having seen one medium-to-high power CATO blow the side off a rocket several months before, I ALWAYS turn to look at what's launching, and tend to try to stand behind someone or something. The illusion is that you can move faster or out-of-the-way of a rocket that's veered off course...
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#8
Kirk, that sounds like a couple of rockets made it past safety that should not have....
Greg Young - L3
TRA 00234
NAR 42065
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#9
Not so sure that is the case. The rocketeer who has launched them is WELL versed in rocketry, holding higher level certifications, and I believe really knows what he's doing. (I also think he might be trying out various adjustments or combinations of motors and rockets... or perhaps burning off some left over motors.) He's also launching in front of other senior rocketeers and announcing his rocket and motors, so it's not like he's sneaking out to the pad. I trust him, and think that some of this is just the luck of the draw, considering how many he launches and how few "go west"....
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#10
In our junior high rocket club, some 40 years ago, we had a large recovery team because some kids couldn't afford rockets and some...well...it was for the best they didn't build ones.

One time we launched a Maxi-Brute V-2 and it failed to deploy and came in ballistic. One of the guys had his hands out with the intent to catch it and (thankfully) he chickened out at the last moment and jumped back before the V-2 lawn-darted right where he was standing. We laughed about it but then we all looked at each other with that knowing look of, "never, ever do this."


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Living life dangerously...launching C's on a B field.
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