As the UROC club grows, there are more and more flyers that are progressing up the ranks of level 1 and 2. Some of you may be considering making the jump to level 3 and wondering if this is something that you might want to achieve. UROC has seen a big increase in the number of Level 3 flyers over the last couple of years. I remember when I first got into high power rocketry I thought that those guys putting up level 3 rockets must have a PhD in astrophysics or some other connection to NASA. Surely, Level 3 rockets were beyond my basement building techniques.
The purpose of this article is to demystify the Tripoli Level 3 process for anyone considering making the jump and to set forth guidelines to help walk you through the steps.
I am not a NAR member so I am not as familiar with their procedures but I understand NAR has adopted similar regs and rules. Currently, Tripoli has about 700 Level 3 members nationwide with more being added all the time.
First of all, I am a TAP (technical advisory panel) member for Tripoli. TAP members must be level 3 certified and must apply to the Tripoli board for inclusion on the membership list. I wanted to become a TAP member because there was nobody in Utah at the time that could help certify Level 3 members at our launches. Also, I enjoy seeing the nuts and bolts of other Level 3 projects and I learn something new from each and every one. To date, I have flown or been very involved in about 50 M and N motor flights. That's some AP poundage!
Why does the TAP committee exist? Because Tripoli believes that as the rockets get bigger and the total impulse goes up, the potential danger also rises. These rockets should have more than one pair of eyes looking at them to ensure that they are safe and the construction and design techniques make them flight worthy. After the flyer has demonstrated the ability to construct and successfully fly a large M motor rocket, he or she is free to fly other Level 3 rockets without TAP approval.
Level 3 rockets are technically much harder to fly than level 2 and 1 rockets. Not necessarily true. In fact, many level 2 rockets, especially multi stage or clustered J-K rockets are tougher to fly and more technical than basic Level 3 rockets. For your Level 3 attempt you may want to employ the KISS method (Keep It Simple Stupid) to have a greater probability of success.
The Level 3 process is a lot of bureaucracy. Not true. There are some basic steps that you have to follow but with friendly TAP members (like me) guiding you, this should pose no problem.
Level 3 rockets cost a lot. Actually, this one isn't a myth. Level 3 rockets are definitely a step up in the cost factor depending on what you decide to do. But, if you can borrow somebody's motor hardware (with the typical lose-it-or-dent-it, you-buy-it policy) you can help bring the cost down. The 75mm reloads are also a lot more cost effective than the 98mm loads. Still, it is not uncommon for a level 3 rocket to cost over $1000 when you consider electronics, parachutes, motor hardware, motor reload and airframe parts. Everything but the reload is reusable but you still have to ask yourself, "What will this cost if it crashes and I lose everything?"
OK, so how do I get started on my Level 3 project? First of all, you need to select a project to build. It can be an upscale of an old estes kit or a Level 3 kit from some of the various rocket vendors or your own design. Some of the basic Tripoli rules for the design are as follows:
- Single stage design only.
- No clusters allowed.
- The project must be constructed principally by the flyer.No team projects allowed.
- Electronic recovery is required and must function as designed. A redundant (backup) recovery system is also required. This can be motor ejection but not recommended. I always advise that either two altimeters be used or one altimeter and a timer backup.
- Two-stage recovery is not required. If you want to keep it simple, blow the main parachute at apogee. A lot of Level 3 rockets don't go that high anyway.
- Currently, Tripoli is allowing kits from manufacturers to be used. There is some discussion among the TAP committee that only scratch built rockets will be allowed in the future. More to come on this issue
Next, you should contact a TAP member to discuss your project. He'll tell you what you need to do in order to get your paperwork signed off. In my case, I tell the flyer that I would like to see the following:
- Overall written description of the project with specification such as length, weight (loaded and dry), diameter, electronics involved, recovery systems, expected altitude, etc.
- A schematic of mechanical drawing showing all components of the rocket.
- Some photos of construction are nice if you can take them as you build.If not, then details of construction and materials used, etc.
- Some computer simulated flight profiles with the motors you expect to use.
- Tripoli paperwork.
For Level 3 certification, you need to have two TAP members sign off on your project at least one month before you actually make the flight. This is to allow time for minor changes that TAP members may suggest. If you would like to use me for one of your TAP members, I can suggest others that would be happy to serve as your second committee member. Rich Evans of UROC is also a TAP member in Utah and is happy and willing to serve as a second TAP member for UROC level 3 projects.
Finally, you need to launch your project. The day of reckoning! For the actual flight, a TAP member must witness the flight and survey the rocket upon recovery. The TAP member witnessing the flight can be one of the first two preliminary members that you used or it can be a third member. If the flight is successful, he will sign your paperwork at the site and mail it in to Tripoli headquarters.
In my case, I define a successful flight as follows: The rocket must work as designed and sustain only cosmetic or minor damage. Example: If you design in a level of complexity such as two-stage recovery, then the rocket must work that way. Damage such as zippers may mean that recovery was somehow compromised or structurally the rocket couldn't withstand the forces encountered during chute deployment.
What's the success rate? The Level 3 projects that I've been involved in have had about a 65% success rate. 2 successes for each failure. That's not bad. And for the failures, most were able to launch again at a later date and have a successful flight.
Hopefully, this article will encourage some of you who are thinking about Level 3 to go for it. If you want to call me to get started, my phone number is 277-9006 hm or you can catch me at a meeting or launch.