NARAM 40 Contest Strategy for Beginners

By Tim Van Milligan, President of Apogee Components, Inc.
NAR 35872

NARAM 40, to be held in August of 1998 offers a nice selection of events that would be easy for the beginning competitor to try; and I think to do very well.

This article will give my opinions as what type of model the beginning competitor can use to not only get qualified flights, but actually have the winning entry!

Here are the events:

1/4A Parachute Duration

Doing well in parachute duration comes down to reliably deploying the biggest possible parachute out of the smallest rocket. The key word in the previous sentence was "reliably." If you can't get the chute to come out without being melted into a wad on multiple flights, you're not going to do well. Many people will opt for the Centrix model from Apogee Components with a 12 or 14 inch diameter parachute. If you have problems (like I do) with small body diameters, then switch to a 13mm tube. That will help you out a lot getting two qualified flights.

For parachute material, the current favorite is 1/4 mil thick aluminized mylar (available from Eclipse Components). But you can also use the thin plastic found in most dry cleaner's bags. Color it with a permanent marker to give it some visibility in the air.

You're going to need to practice your parachute folding technique before you head to NARAM. Find a local expert to show you how to do it correctly. If you can fold a parachute in under one minute's time, you're doing it wrong. It takes an expert about 5 minutes to do it correctly. And it always amazes me how small the expert can fold a big parachute. A 14 inch chute in a 10mm tube would be easy for them, and they'd probably use an 18 inch chute.

If you've got one, use a piston launcher to help you get more altitude. The plans in Technical Publication #11 from Apogee Components may give you some ideas for building your own. Ken Brown at QCR also sells a piston launcher kit for around $8.00.

1/2A Flexwing Duration (multi-round)

Don't let the small motor size fool you, flexies are typically the hardest event you'll fly at any contest. They are so light that they are very hard to trim; they usually either work, or they don't. This is one event that I've only seen flown, never having had a successful flight myself. So ask around for advice from the experts in your own club.

Also for this event, I highly recommend a kit from Ken Brown at QCR. The "Auta Sight I" will be very popular at the event, so remember to order yours early -- Ken runs a small company, and he could easily be out of stock if you order too late. And if you'd like to design your own, I also highly recommend the QCR technical report "Secrets of Flexie Boost Gliders."

This is a multi-round event, so you'll need to build three models. Make them all identical, and make sure that the design you choose is a "go-for-broke" design. You have to get a "max time" in all the rounds to have a shot at winning the event.

You also have to get at least one model back so that you can fly the third round. So have a buddy help you track the model with a set of binoculars. You might want to launch early in the round, so that in case you lose the model, someone might find it in time to bring it back to you for the last round. The addition of this multi-round feature is going to make this a really grueling event. The best rocket retriever may win the event by default.

A Boost Glide

After flying flexwing, this event is going to seem like a cake-walk. There are many good kits available in this range; QCR has three that would work, and Rob Edmonds of Edmonds Aerospace also has a few models that would work great too.

If you have never flown a boost glider before, then I'd recommend the Edmond's Deltie kit. The nice thing about the model is that it takes no trimming to get it to fly level; all you need to do is weight it properly -- as shown in the plans.

If you enjoy scratch building, you can find numerous old plans for boost glider designs. Check your club's library, or one of the plan books from NARTS. Remember to keep the weight low by using a smaller wing, lighter weight balsa wood, and being sparing with the glue.

As for all duration events, don't paint the model - it adds too much weight. Sand a good airfoil into the wing and tail sections, and seal it with a coat of model aircraft dope. To add color, use permanent magic markers. Use a dark color on the bottom of the wings, such as black so that you can easily see it in the air. But top of the glider should be a bright color so you can find the model in the grass. I prefer red or orange.

As far as motors, select low thrust and shorter delays; either Estes' A3-2T or the Apogee Components' A2-3. Stay away from the Estes A10-3T, as the high thrust will rip the wings off your model.

B Helicopter Duration (multi-round)

Since this is also a multi-round event, you'll need to build at least three models. You'll need two for the three regular contest rounds, and the last one for the fly-offs. And in this event, I am reasonably assured that there will be a fly-off round to determine the winner. With the new "B" motors from Apogee Components, building a small and lightweight model is very possible. They will fly so high, that they won't need a thermal to reach the "maximum time" aloft.

As mentioned, build very small models, but extend the blade area a little bit to assure yourself of good descent performance. The new molded rotaroc hub and a modified Centrix kit; both from Apogee Components, is your weapon of choice for this event. The hub comes with complete plans to make the helicopter model from the Centrix kit; and it will be as good as the most expert flier's (since they'll probably be using the same combination). Helicopter duration used to be a difficult event, but the molded hub makes building one of these models extremely easy - you'll be hooked on helicopters when you're done!

There is an alternative design for this event called the "Micro Rose-A-Roc." Plans for the model are available from Apogee Components, but I don't recommend it unless you are an expert builder. It has some very small parts that are difficult to assemble. The advantage of this model is that it will boost higher, making it easier to get a longer time in the air.

The recommended motor for this event is the B2-3, or B2-5 from Apogee Components.

The only thing extra that I would recommend is that extreme care be used when prepping the rocket for flight. The burn string on the model should be fairly tight, but should not cut into the balsa blades or the cardboard tube. If it does, the blades won't open, and the model will likely crash. Practice, practice, practice.

B Altitude

For this event, I'd recommend the Apogee Components "Centrix" rocket kit. It seems to be designed for the altitude events. The small size, light weight, and low price make it well suited to flying "out-of-sight." The engine of choice would be the Apogee B2-7 motor.

When building the model, make sure you sand a good airfoil into the fins, and that they are mounted on the tube straight-and-true. There will probably be tower launchers available at the field, so you can gain an advantage by eliminating the launch lug from the model. Adding a piston launcher to the mix will gain you about 5 percent extra altitude, so it is worth building one. Expect these models to fly approximately 900 meters high, so 5 percent additional altitude is another 45 meters (147 feet)!

Opposite of conventional wisdom -- in this one event -- you should paint the model. Why? Because if you perform a optimum weight calculation (use a computer software program like Apogee Components' RockSim), you will find that the model needs to be fairly heavy. The Centrix model is so light, that the extra weight of paint will help. It will also make the model more visible (red or orange typically give good visibility in the air, and on the ground), and reduce skin friction drag -- so it can fly even higher.

Finally, you absolutely must add tracking powder to the model. The best way to do this is to make a little pouch from stiff tissue paper (like Quest wadding). Wrap a small piece (about 3 inches square) around a pencil or pen. Partially slide the tube off the pen, and close off that end by folding the edges inward. Then slide the tube completely off and fill it with tracking powder (either powdered tempera paint, or carpenter's line chalk - the colors red or black work the best for visibility in the sky). But leave one end of the pouch open; it makes it easier for the chalk to exit the pouch, leaving a nice, easy-to-see puff in the sky. Use as much tracking powder as needed to get the rocket up to the optimum mass

Two years ago, at NARAM 38 in southern Indiana, the altitude event was for "A" motors. Because of the haze caused by fairly high humidity, it was very hard to spot the models in the air. I suspect the same situation will occur at NARAM 40 in Muncie, Indiana. So be prepared. Have a clunker back-up model ready to go in case the conditions are poor. A BT-20 size model is a good start with either a Estes or Quest "B" motor. For a little bit better combination, you could use a motor adapter in the model so that you can use the Apogee 10.5mm motor. Some people say they have better tracking smoke, which will increase your chances of getting a closed track.

D Dual Eggloft Altitude

The motor of choice in this event will be the Aerotech D21. It has the hefty kick that will be necessary to loft two heavy eggs.

There are a few kits that are competitive here. One of them is from QCR, and the other one is from Apogee Components (the "Hydra"). If you use the Hydra, you'll need an extra spacer tube for the nose cone to extend its length. These spacer tubes are available from Eclipse Components.

Since this is an altitude event, you don't have to use a huge parachute. Use a small one that will still allow you to recover the eggs without breaking them on landing. A 24 inch would be OK, and if you have guts, you might try an 18 chute.

There is one trick for "Dual Eggloft" that will help keep your eggs from breaking. That is: put a solid bulkhead of balsa wood between the two eggs. That way, they can't touch and shift around too much in the capsule.

Sport Scale

There is no 'optimum' model for this event. But I highly recommend that you read the article by Peter Alway in the Sept/Oct 1997 issue of "Sport Rocketry" magazine. It tells you what type of things the judges look for when awarding static and flight points.

Start building this model early, and build two at the same time so you can get some test flights launched before the actual contest.

Research and Development

This is another event where there is no "optimum" topic. You can get some ideas for topics and help in finding background information in the book "69 Simple Science Fair Experiments with Model Rockets." This book is available from Apogee Components.

The R&D event takes a lot of time to perform adequately, so this is the first event you should think about; and do that NOW. If you wait until a month before the contest, you'll be in a rush and make mistakes that could cost you a victory.

General Notes

Before you start building your models, read the rules as printed in the pink book. Your club library should have a copy. You don't want to be disqualified or be at a disadvantage for not following the rules. If you want to be the overall contest champion, concentrate your efforts on the events with the highest point weighting factors. In this contest, the top two events to focus on will be Sport Scale and Research and Development.

As always mentioned in articles like these - PRACTICE flying your rockets before the contest. One reason many people don't try rocket competition is that they are afraid of embarrassment. If your boost glider has a squirrelly launch, the damage to your pride is often worse than the crashed model. Prior practice flights will take care of this.

And when you do practice, take good notes so that you won't forget those things you learn about the characteristics of each model. I strongly suggest using the "Apogee Flight Record," "Apogee Rocket Data Sheet," and the "Apogee Countdown Checklist." They will really help you get the most information out of every flight. If you use some type of data collection method on practice flights, I will easily bet that you will do great during the contest.

A good strategy is to fly your duration-event models early in the day. If you lose a model, there is a good chance that someone will find the model and turn it in later. You'll be credited for "returning" the model for a qualified flight, and you'll get it back to fly again in another contest. So make sure you put your name along with your NAR number on all your models.

There is some strategy involved in flying rockets in contest. If possible, launch at the same time the "experts" launch. They'll be looking for thermals and waiting for calm wind, and so should you. And don't be afraid to ask for help; everyone's goal is to make sure that a good time is had by all! So enjoy yourself; and remember to be gracious when you receive your award for a first place flight!

Addresses of Companies listed in this article:

Apogee Components, Inc.
1431 Territory Trail
Colorado Springs, CO 80919-3323

Eclipse Components
570 Buckeye Drive
Colorado Springs, CO 80919

Estes Industries
1295 H Street
Penrose, CO 80940

Qualified Competition Rockets
7021 Forest View Drive
Springfield, VA 22150

Quest Aerospace
350 East 18th Street
Yuma, Arizona 85364
1-800-858-7302 ext 110

P.O. Box 1482
Saugus, MA 01906
Send email to Bill Spadafora:

Edmonds Aerospace
13326 Preuit Pl
Herndon, VA 22070-4341
email to Rob Edmonds:

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Last modified January 27, 2006

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