Saturday, November 10, 2012

Plaster Blaster 2012

My V2 Rocket lifting off at Plaster Blaster XI
One of the things I love most about the Boy Scouts is that I invariably do things that I wouldn't ordinarily step up to. The "Salty Rat" a couple of years ago comes to mind - when Ethan led a group of canoe'ers around Mission Bay in San Diego in a training exercise. Or the infamous "Hiking Merit Badge" led by my buddy Dave Sanford which nearly killed half the troop: Five 10-mile hikes, followed by a 20-miler. Or the Mud Caves and the Wind Caves out in Anza Borrego. Or the family camp at Fiesta Island where we cruised around Mission Bay in kayaks trying to tip one another over. Or Trona where we dug into crystallized lakes about 3 hours North of San Diego to extract really cool salt crystals. ;-)

USG - Gypsum processing plant
You get the picture. Good stuff. However, right up there at the top of the heap MUST be my first Plaster Blaster weekend a couple of weeks ago!  It's a camp out near Plaster City, CA between the town of Ocotillo and El Centro. Basically, your average middle-of-nowhere flat desert plane. The only thing for miles is a Gypsum mining and processing operation.

Only on this particular weekend, Plaster City was over-run by Rocketeers. Young and old, experienced and rookies, all had one thing in mind: blast stuff into the air!

I had spent a couple of weeks building an Estes V2 rocket in the garage, inspired by my friend Robert Slavey who brought his wife's V2 to a recent Boy Scout Troop meeting. I had to have one. The next day I went to Hobby Town in Kearny Mesa and bought the kit and all the fixin's (paint, glue, big engines, etc.). I really wanted to paint the rocket silver and red...

The final night or two before Plaster Blaster I finished adding the fins to the fuselage - not easy to get them arranged at 90-degree angles to one another. The parachute was affixed and the shock cord tied off. Then, painting and sanding and re-painting. It was starting to look like a real (and bad-ass) rocket!

In the meantime, Ethan had a pre-built "Alpha III" Estes starter kit that required about an hour to build. He was feeling a bit under the weather so I built it while in-between stages on the V2. Soon, we had TWO rockets to fly!

Saturday morning came. We were to meet up with the rest of the Troop at our normal place, Hilltop Community Park in Rancho Penasquitos at 6:30am.  Wicked early, but realistic for getting out and set up with a 10am rocket blast starting time. I awoke Ethan in plenty of time, but he was sick - not deathly so, but enough that a weekend in the cold, dusty desert was not going to do him any good. Sadly I left him and met the others.

The Flight Line - Twilight
Once out in Plaster City, we lined up the vehicles so that a small camp could be made, and put up EZ-ups as well as our tents. The rockets were already firing in a random pattern. Most small, launched from the low-powered range, and some from the mid- and high-powered range. When the high powered guys took off, everyone watched as they streaked into the sky thousands of feet!

I was nervous about launching my rocket into the air - the balsa wood fins and cardboard fuselage just didn't seem up to the task of an explosive launch and descent from hundreds or thousands of feet. I took my time doing the final preparations. At the same time, the guy next to me was prepping his 12' fiberglass rocket, taping telemetry, transponder, and cameras to the machine before his epic launch. I later found out he was gunning for his Level 3 Certification and his rocket blasted to over 13,900 feet—whoa!

Launch control, but you supply the countdown!
A rocket launch is eventually a lonely matter. You are directed to a launch pad which consists of a table, some wires leading back to the launch box, and a long vertical wire that you affix your rocket to. And when you push that button to send it hurtling into the atmosphere, it's only you and the rocket.

The V2 streaks.

My first launch, I'll admit, was epic!  Very straight going up (see 90-degree fin note above!) and a sweet landing in the middle of the dirt road snaking through the camp. I asked the RPO ("Range Patrol Officer") to actually push the launch button because I wanted to take the pictures you see in this post.

Safe landing!
 The rest of the day was taken up by re-packing the parachute and loading new engines for a couple more flights. The Pack itself was doing awesome, building/repairing/firing until the sun went down.

Alpha III on the pad.

I also shot Ethan's "Monster Energy Drink" rocket up a few times to make sure it worked - LOL! 

Ethan's rocket, landed.
Plaster Blaster was a really fun trip and it's gotten me excited about building and launching even bigger rockets in the future. Here are a few pictures from the weekend that will give you a taste of the fun.

Slavey walking to the launch pad with mid-range rocket.
Preparing his mid-range rocket for take-off.
Mr. Slavey's Recovery Team!
Picture of USG plant.
Drag Race!
Slavey's V2
Slavey's V2, redux.
The "Walk of Shame" after Slavey's V2 rocket broke up  in mid-air.
Gorgeous Sunset!
The Rocketeers!
Can you tell I'm having fun!