Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Thoughts on American Rocketry

Note: this was typed up on tuesday, but my internet connection asploded, so it's actually getting put up wednesday. Oh well.

While doing research yesterday on international model rocket motors, something occured to me. Although the United States is one of the most technologically advanced nations, and has a higher population than anyone except India (which is almost absent from the rocketry scene) and China, we are fairly low ranking in international competition, and regularly beat out by China and a variety of tiny Eastern European nations. There are a few US fliers like George Gassoway who are up there, but the US always overmatched, especially in stuff like scale modeling and innovative designs.

Why is this? I don't think it's necessarily because folks here have inferior education or skills, or that there's not enough rocketeers. I think it's mostly a consequence of high-power rocketry. Rocketeers, by nature, are a type a bunch that will always tackle the coolest and hardest problems out there. When you can get H loads for 20 bucks, and with a L3 certification you can fly up to O motors, HPR is clearly the way to go for the most fun. Rocketeers here are working on such crazy stuff as extreme altitude records, hitting space, exotic new propellants, and pushing the upper limits of amateur rocketry.

In places like Europe and China, high power motors are pretty much unavailable. They're lucky if they can get their hands on C and D motors at best. So, they devote their attention to other cool projects, like competition rocketry and scale modeling. Competition is mostly held with the small motors, and the rest of the world has better small motors - smaller sizes and such - so they get better practice, and heck, if all I had was 10-packs of B3s, I might learn to make some pretty high-flying stuff as well.

With scale competition, it's the same deal, plus that since they're forced to build smaller models, they get real good real quick at building highly detailed small models, which translates into absolutely perfect models. They've got years to devote to a few small models for world competition; most Americans want a selection that they can fly at local and regional launches every month or two.

So, is there any way to get back on top of scale and competition rocketry? Perhaps. There still are dedicated LPR folks like Trip Barber and George Gassoway who build amazing scale and competition models. But for me, I'll take big rockets any day of the week, and twice on Sunday. **clears throat** I love the smell of APCP in the morning. Smells like ... victory...


KenKzak said...

I would've commented sooner if I'd read this sooner.

You're absolutely right about highpower. I've heard that NAR competition is going downhill as well. That brings up problem #2.
In the US we compete most often in NAR events instead of FAI events, same problem in the American model aircraft community. If we flew FAI rules more often, who knows...
Problem #3 is travel distance and sponsorship. It costs a lot of money for us to go over there, and we don't have the sponsorship structure/sources most foreign teams have.

The EGE said...

I don't really mind that competition is going downhill here; I think high power is much much cooler.

Related to your problem number 3 is motors. It costs about 10000 bucks to ship any number of the Delta motors that they use for FAI competition over here due to draconian import rules. The NAR has a small stock, but it's small, and each competitor gets 2 per competition cycle. If we could have more imports, and up that to say 10 per competitor, we could get some better designs.

KenKzak said...

You're right.
I completely neglected the motors issue. I used to know that.

In hindsight, I don't know where I'd be without HiPwr. Still flying something I'm sure.
I was leaning towards NAR competition way back when, but as I started to meet other competitors, I found it just wasn't my type of activity.