The one that got away.

I have a good friend that I have spoken about time and again. Yes I am talking about my friend John. He loves to star gaze, eat elk and launch serious rockets to high altitudes. Yes he is an altitude junky; he builds his rockets around the motor, minimum diameter, minimum length, minimum drag, optimum weight.

So back in 2002 when a new NCR contest was being talked about, well John had an idea.

“Let’s see how close you can get to a given altitude with out going over.” Then a bunch of “Oh yea I’d do that if I were you” This was dubbed the Icarus challenge. For obvious reasons, check out the mythology here.

At the time our waver at the Atlas site was 10,000 feet AGL. So 9,000 feet was selected as the target attitude. The motor would be an ‘I’ class motor, for two reasons.

  1. The name Icarus starts with the letter ‘I’, this seams kind of silly but it’s important for John, who names all his rockets after the impulse of the motor driving it.
  2. Shooting for 9,000’ with an H motor would be all but impossible, and using a ‘J’ motor would be limiting the contestant pool to only Level 2 certified rocketeers.

The next part of the contest is the prize. After much thought it was determined that it would be $5.00 to enter, $5.00 for each flight, and $5.00 if your rocket exceeded the target altitude. You can see how the pot can grow if there are a lot of contestants. Also there is a perpetual trophy, so bragging rights is a definite attraction to this contest.

Well, I just had to enter. So, off to Hobby Town for parts and supplies. I built an extremely small rocket that would run on an H180 motor instead of an ‘I’ motor. It was agreed that the limitation of an ‘I’ motor was a maximum not an absolute and if I thought I could get to 9k with an H, well go right a head. So I made my rocket small and fast. After months of preparation and waiting for the weather to be perfect I set my rocket on the pad ready to launch.

“5,4,3,2,1, Launch.” Click Woosh…. Gone.

It disappeared.

I wish I could remember what I named the rocket.

I looked and looked for the damn thing. Walked over 4 miles in a carefully thought out pattern looking for the rocket. I figured that maybe the $100.00 altimeter failed and didn’t fire the ejection charges, then it fell 8999.99 feet to the prairie and buried itself. The hole would be1.125” in diameter with three little slits around the sides. (Fins)


Try to find that in 3 square miles of prairie. I did get a direction on where it could have landed. But with a vertical altitude around 9k it could have easily drifted a mile this way or that. No there wasn’t any wind.

I went back later that week by myself with a borrowed GPS and looked some more. I learned that Antelope do not jump barbwire fences they go through them. Stupid animals. Scared the crap out of me.

Didn’t find the rocket.


Anyway it is the only rocket I ever donated to the prairie. Every other one I have found sooner or later.

Some people have made many donations.


You ask them about there rocket collection and you get the same old joke:

“I have a great rocket collection; I keep them randomly arranged all over the prairie.”



3 thoughts on “The one that got away.

  1. caveblogem says:

    Seems like a pretty cool contest. Although it makes me think about the Chinese stunt from last week, too. “Dr. Kangwei, let us see how close we can come to the old weather satellite without hitting it. Oops. . .”

    What would happen if you guys accidentally exceeded your 10,000′ waiver? Do you think that the guys at NORAD can actually see your rockets on their equipment? (Just so this is clear, I’m actually curious about these things and have no idea what the answers are. If I had an emoticon to show my face it would be like my avatar, probably. Like, “where was that noise coming from? Is that the dinner bell?”

  2. Layman Pong says:

    What’s the feasibility of fitting the rocket with a smoker that pops off on ground impact?

  3. prairieflounder says:

    The risk of fire is too great to use any kind of tracking smoke except on the way up. It would be great if we could have a long burning tracking smoke marker that has zero risk of causing a fire, but no one has been able to make one.
    There are rocket location transmitters that are popular and effective. They will show you exactly where the rocket is just before it hits the ground. But the earth being what it is (a ground plane) kills the signal as soon as the rocket hits the ground. This is still a very popular device and no I didn’t use one.
    There is also a popular theory within the “high altitude junkie” group of rocketeers. It’s the ‘buttersidedown’ theory of radio transmitters. If you use one the rocket will land with in visual range of the launch pad. If you don’t use one you will have to walk and search the rest of the day to find it.

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