A Spectator’s Guide to Indiana Rocketry Events

Check out a great video by ROCKETS Magazine, or this broadcast from our local WLFI evening news, both of which capture some of the essence of an Indiana Rocketry event.

Attending an Indiana Rocketry event is a fun, family-friendly activity. Not only are the flights exciting, such events afford the opportunity to get away from busy city traffic and enjoy the fresh air, sunshine, and wide-open spaces of Tippecanoe County. Spectators are always welcome and admission is FREE. Rocketeers are uniquely willing to talk about their flights, so visitors are encouraged to engage flyers to learn about rockets. Indiana Rocketry launches provide a unique opportunity for hands-on learning in the areas of science, math, engineering, and technology — nothing is quite as exciting as seeing a rocket fly!

If you plan on attending an Indiana Rocketry event as a spectator, below are some things you should know.

Event Times and Scheduling
Range hours posted for events are APPROXIMATE. Field conditions, road conditions, weather conditions (wind, rain, and/or cold temperatures), and other factors can affect the start of activities. If questionable conditions exist, check the right hand column of the front page of this site for updates.

Published range hours are the outer bounds of when activities will occur – that is, we will never fly before the start time nor after the closing time. Our events are governed by a waiver issued by the FAA which includes start and stop times, which are not flexible.

Most of the time, flyers will arrive early in the day and begin shortly after the waiver start time. Your best bet to enjoy the activity as a spectator is to arrive early. The exceptions to this are if it is really cold or windy or drizzly. In those cases, things might start slowly in hopes of improving conditions. If it is a “slow” day and everyone has finished, we pack up and go home early.

There is no advance schedule of events. Nearly all projects are individual endeavors and each participant has his/her own desires and constraints to deal with. Sometimes there are lull periods when there is no activity, and other times there will be a rush — for example, to enjoy particularly good weather conditions.

Operations and Flights
Spectators should stay behind the marked flight line at all times. Staying behind the flight line is mandatory and flight activity will not take place when persons are beyond the flight line.

Each flight is announced by the Launch Control Officer (LCO). The announcement will include the name of the flyer, the name of the vehicle, the propulsion being used and a countdown to launch. The LCO might also give a few more details about the vehicle, including any flight control electronics on-board or unique flight profile information.

There will be model rocket flights from the near set of launch pads. More complex flights occur at distances set back further from the flight line. Total installed power is classified by an alphabetical nomenclature that can give you an idea of what you might expect from the flight being announced. Small model rockets from the near set of launch pads have a designation of an A, B, C, or D class motor. For example, you will hear the LCO announce “On pad twenty-one Tommy Rocket flying his Estes Alpha on a Bee Six Four (B6-4) in three…two…one”, following which the rocket will head skyward. If you pay attention, it doesn’t take very many launches to get a general feel from the LCO announcement of the the speed and power of the rocket being launched.

A normal rocket flight will have a powered boost phase, during which time the motor is burning its fuel and the model is accelerating, a coast period after the motor burns out as the rocket continues skyward from the momentum generated by the motor, an ejection event near the peak altitude of the flight which deploys a parachute, and a controlled descent back to the ground under streamer or ‘chute. Some rockets will deploy a very small parachute (the “drogue ‘chute”) at apogee and descend quickly to a predetermined altitude where another ejection event occurs and a much larger main parachute is deployed to bring the rocket softly back to Earth.

Sometimes things can go awry during the launch or recovery portion of a rocket flight. You should pay attention to the flights and all announcements and warnings, should an anomalous event occur. However, model rocketry has a time-proven safety record, with over 500 million launches occurring safely since 1957.

Some Safety Rules
Never attempt to catch a rocket descending under parachute. Never go near a vehicle caught in power lines. Do not attempt to remove anything from power lines. Spectators and especially children should not approach or pick-up a vehicle that reaches the ground after flight. Most flyers like to perform an initial assessment of the vehicle immediately following touchdown, especially if the flight or recovery was not nominal. Parents should know where their children are at all times and ensure that they are aware of the safety rules.

Indiana Rocketry Events Are Fun!
Enjoy yourself while attending the event. If you have questions about what you are witnessing, most participants will be glad to discuss Indiana Rocketry with you. A few people, like the Launch Control Officer (LCO) and Range Safety Officer (RSO), are ‘on-duty’ during range operations, and might not be able to stop and converse with you. During slow times, the RSO should be able to answer your questions or direct you to another Indiana Rocketry member or club officer who can.

We look forward to seeing you at the field soon!