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Don't Launch a C Motor

June 2019

Do not let others influence what model rocket supplies you buy. It may seem like the first model rocket you launch should use the biggest motor you can get your hands on. My first launch had this principle in mind. If I could do it again, I would use the recommended first flight motor and launch into clear skies.

When I wanted to buy my first model rocket, my dad took me to Hobby Lobby. After about 20 minutes, I decided on the Alpha III rocket launch set. The box said I  needed a hobby knife, plastic cement, recovery wadding, igniters, plugs, and motors. I bought all those things plus a spare parachute. The moral of the story comes from the motors I bought.

Hobby Lobby stocked A through E motors. I told my dad, “we need to buy some A motors” and he said, “those don’t go up very high, lets buy bigger motors.” I said, “okay, lets buy some B motors.” My dad replied, “nah let’s buy C motors” and so we bought the biggest motor recommended for the Alpha III, a C6-5. 

About 2 months later, my dad did the majority of the work as we built the rocket in a few hours one weekend. I think the construction was pretty good considering this was our first build attempt. Another 2 months passed, and finally we had a chance to launch. We looked online to find a nearby field that permits rocket launches but is predominantly used to fly model airplanes. It was about 2 p.m. when we arrived at the field and though it was still a beautiful day, the field was empty except for me and my dad. 

As we set up the launch pad that came with the Alpha III, rain clouds started rolling in. My dad said, “should we launch this with the rain coming?” I replied emphatically, “I have waited 4 months – we have to launch!” My dad backed away, I hit the launch button and the rocket quickly shot up into low hanging clouds. A few seconds later the sky opened up into an intense downpour. We quickly gathered up everything and took shelter in our minivan. It was about 20 minutes before the rain let up. My dad and I looked for at least an hour but I never saw that rocket again.

So, to modify my initial advice, don’t let others influence what model rocket supplies you buy. Especially if you are spending your own money and assuming you want to recover and launch the rocket again. Give the cloud cover, I shouldn’t have launched but I greatly reduced my chances of recovering the rocket by using the C6-5 motor. Every Estes model has a first flight motor recommendation. I think Estes knows more about what motors to use than I do and have followed their guidance ever since. I now know that given the size of that field, even on a clear day I may have never recovered the rocket using a C6-5 motor.   

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