Thursday, September 07, 2006

A trilogy of Toddities

In the last post I mentioned that my brother Todd was prone to having interesting launches. It is time for the world to know his story, so here I will present his three best.

Chronologically, the Wizard must have come first. Actually, there were three Wizards, one each for Todd, our cousin Michael, and me. We were all between the ages of 8 and 14 at the time, I'd say--prime rocket-experimentation years. We probably bought the rockets with the dough we earned roguing fields for Uncle Robert. We all got them together, and we undertook the construction together, too. Todd and I were used to building rockets for 4-H, which could take a couple of weeks. Michael introduced us to ways to speed things along, like mixing a little CA in with the Elmer's to make gluing and filleting the fins into one messy but fast step. After a morning under his tutelage, I said, "Wow, this is really going fast. We ought to be ready to launch in another day or two!" Michael looked at me like I'd just thrown up on myself or something. "Day or two!" he snorted. "I don't know about you, but I'm launching this rocket at three o'clock this afternoon!" And we did.

But we had some problems. My rocket ejected its motor at apogee, but not its nose cone or streamer. Once it went into lawn dart mode, we lost sight of it. After a few minutes of scanning the sky and the ground, we saw it about a hundred yards off, sticking straight up out of the ground. That was the prang that caused me to cut it down into the Izard.

Todd was much worse off. The glue on his rocket was not dry when we went out to launch, but he was not deterred. One of the fins fell off before he even got it on the pad, but nothing could crush his indomitable spirit. He launched. When a 3FNC becomes a 2FNC, it does not make for a pretty flight. Todd's Wizard engaged in wild corkscrews, shed another fin along the way, hit apogee at probably no more than 75 or 100 feet, and started gently tumbling down. It was coming down so straight and slow that Uncle Robert just about caught it in the air. However, as his hand was about to close on the body tube, the ejection charge went off. I guess the glue on the shock cord mount wasn't dry either, because the nose cone, shock cord, and streamer fired out of the rocket like a kite-tailed bullet, and the body tube blew backward, leaving Uncle Robert's hand to close on empty air. All in all, it was one of the most arresting flights I've ever witnessed.

In a strange turn of events, another late ejection saved Todd's Strike Fighter a few years later. We had both built Strike Fighters, and we adored them. However, when we went to launch them the first time, we found that we'd expended all of our B and C motors. All we had were A8-3s, which were not recommended for the Strike Fighter because of their low thrust. I decided to save my Strike Fighter for another day, but once again, Todd's courageous disregard for the well-being of his rockets provided us with a spectacular flight. His Strike Fighter huffed up to maybe 60 or 70 feet, heeled over, and headed straight for the ground. It was literally no more than two feet off the ground when the ejection charge blew. This had the effect of firing the flat-edged nose cone down into some tall grass, and the reaction force essentially stopped the rest of the rocket dead still in the air, after which it also fell to the ground. This was equivalent to dropping the rocket from a height of two feet into thick grass, so there was no damage whatsoever.

I am pretty sure that was the same day that Todd's Nado made it's first, and as far as I can remember, only flight. The Estes Tornado was a short fat little rocket that was designed to break in half at ejection, with each half carrying an uneven number of the rocket's fins and coming down by helicopter recovery. Todd chopped the Nado down into an even shorter, large-winged Buck Rogers type spaceship. Of course, it was nowhere near stable, as we discovered when we launched it. Todd's wet-glue Wizard had ascended in a tight corkscrew, but the Nado zoomed around in ever-widening gyres like a time-lapse movie of a circling vulture. It was probably the least stable flight I've ever witnessed. But it came down in one piece, and as far as I know it's still up in our old room.

Maybe we should give it another whirl.

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