My fascination with hobby rocketry began in Arizona (4th grade), and resurfaced in Virginia (7th grade): both times I experimented with low-power rockets. I never wished to stop working with rockets, but my family moved often—usually to places which were not amenable to the flying of model rockets.
Fast-forward to 2005, and I just survived my first cardiac arrest. I changed my lifestyle: diet, exercise, and stress reduction. I thought I needed a hobby as a means of getting more exercise outside, and reducing stress from overworking (I was a research Professor of Medicine at Northwestern, working 90+ hours weekly).
So I went to Al’s Hobby Shop (sadly, now gone)—the best hobby store anywhere near Chicago at the time, for rocketry. There I found that my beloved little rockets were still available so I picked up a few, along with low-power single-use model rocket motors, construction materials (knife, brush, glue, sand paper, paint), and low-power rocket launching equipment.
I carefully constructed one of the kits—a replica of a military missile which in reality is flown from a mobile truck-mounted launcher. I did my finest-ever work in painting the camouflage pattern on the rocket: it was the best model rocket that I’d ever built. This surely DID reduce my stress!
I found out that Richard Bong State Recreation Center, in Wisconsin, was considered to be an excellent place to fly hobby rockets—being “home base” for one model rocket club, and for one high-power rocket club.
I drove to the park, paid the admission, found the rocket field, and set up the launcher. I flew my beautiful rocket on medium power, and it reached apogee (maximum altitude) at around the height of a 40-story building. The parachute came out and the rocket gently floated back to Earth. I was “sure” that I saw where it landed, within several hundred feet from where it was launched. I scoured the field and the trees multiple times from multiple directions. I deeply regretted leaving the field before dark—without my best-ever-so-far model rocket. I repeated this search over and over again perhaps a dozen times over many years. My rocket was never turned into the Ranger’s Station—it vanished. This surely DID NOT reduce my stress!
There’s good news and bad news in this story.
The good news is that I built and flew a rocket, and it worked!
• In the parlance of the rocket hobby, building and flying a rocket after spending significant time away from the hobby “officially” makes me a Born Again Rocketeer, otherwise known as a BAR!
The bad news, besides building a beautiful *one-flight* rocket, is—what was I thinking??
• Flying a camo rocket in a field which itself is pure camo—is like flying a piece of hay in a hayfield!
It was this realization that transformed me from a non-thinking, instruction-following, ignorant pretender into a true mad scientist/rocket engineer.
My first mission was to determine what color to make my rockets so that I could see them well when they were on the way up, were on the way down, and were on the ground. I want to fly my rockets more than one time…
So I began a course of study, tested at Bong, on the optimal color/pattern combination for rockets. Every flight I made studied this issue—I spare the fine-grained details. I didn’t think anyone noticed, and I didn’t speak about it—I was a beginner, and mostly what I did was listen and observe.
Rocketeers are awesome, they freely lend their expertise—they enjoy “talking everything rocket.” Better rockets are safer rockets—for everyone and everything at the launch—that is within the flight range of the rocket.
I found this collegiality to be generally true in launches I attended from east to west, north to south, and everywhere in-between. Attending and flying at national and regional high-power annual launches are some of the high-points, and sometimes some of the low-points, in rocketeers’ lives. The parties and collaborations which take place at the launch field, in the hotels, and in-between launches are the spice of life: friendships are forged which last a lifetime. But I digress…
After experimenting with numerous types and sizes of rockets, paint colors and patterns, and maximum altitudes achieved by the rocket, I finally found the optimal color pattern for rockets and parachutes. So, for the first time in more than a full season I flew a rocket, “just for fun”.
Frank, the beloved leader of our rocketry club, saw me bringing the rocket back after it had flown and he asked me: “Was that your first ‘for fun’ flight since you started flying with us?” I replied that it was, and commented how impressed (I should have added, honored) I was with his observational and deductive expertise.
The answer to my question required a lot of research but in the end it is straightforward.
• The best “color” for the booster (bottom part of rocket) is pure black. The bottom of the rocket is what one sees until the rocket travels out-of-sight. Black absorbs all color, so it is seen best against any background except black (this is why black is included in big-game fishing lure skirts).
• The best color for the sustainer (top part of rocket) is Ferrari red. No plant or part of any plant which grows in Bong Park is Ferrari red. No skiers, hunters, naturalists, hikers, park rangers or employees, bikers and the like use Ferrari red markers. So, when looking for one’s rocket, if any momentary hint of Ferrari red is seen, it’s the rocket.
• Both booster and sustainer should be coated using slow-cure finishing epoxy: this reduces aerodynamic drag (boosting performance), and light reflecting from the glossy surfaces can be seen at altitudes up to 10,000 feet above ground level.
• The best color for parachute(s) and ripcord(s) is ultra-fluorescent pink, for most of the reasons that Ferrari red is used. However, as the popularity of shocking pink tape markers increases, their overuse in the field can become disorienting. But, parachutes and streamers are much larger than tape markers, and this color of pink is arguably the most easily-spotted color when draped over green (alive) or golden/brown (dead) field grasses, or tree branches. When I first obtained pink chutes “way back then” they had to be special-ordered, but today shocking pink is a relatively popular color for rocket recovery devices.
The range is clear!
The sky is clear!
Launching in 10, 9, …
Paul R. Yarnold, Ph.D.
January 2, 2021