Zia Spacemodelers Launches
2017 Incident Report

Rocketry Safety

Hi, Zia members,

We hit a spectator with a G-powered rocket today.

It missed being a tragedy by eight inches. The rocket came in ballistic into the parking area, left a paint stripe on the person's coat from shoulder to hem, tore the hem of his jacket, and thudded into the ground, making a four inch deep hole. (A woman with him fell to the ground, but I think she just jumped back after impact.)  I can't stress enough; eight inches to one side and we would be talking catastrophic, if not fatal, injuries.

I don't know if the spectators were watching the rocket come in or not. I know I was not, because I was talking, prepping and too busy (and dizzy) to look up.  (I was probably only four feet from the impact point.) Tia and others shouted a warning, but it was probably a second before the rocket hit. I can't speak to whether others were watching it or not. We didn't do anything different that we usually do, and the rocket was launched the appropriate distance away from the range head.

I think we may have become complacent when big rockets are being launched, and the results today could have been much worse. We need to remember; big rockets are dangerous. The chances of hitting someone are very small, but the risks of doing so are incalculable. We *all* need to pay more attention to big rockets when they are launched, and ensure that the rocket is pointed downrange (away from the range head) when it is launched. When spectators are present, we need to be sure that they know they need to watch as well. This is probably the most serious incident I've seen in 25+ years with Zia; we need to try to ensure that there is not another one.

I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year. See you all next year.

Mark E. Hamilton
Zia Spacemodelers Vice President
NAR #48641 SR

Rocketry Safety
Mark is correct that we need to pay more attention to rockets being launched.

A note about the rocket: The was prepped correctly, and this was not a matter of the parachute getting stuck in the tube; the ejection cap of the motor was still in place—the ejection charge did not fire.

It is important that we ALWAYS aim our rockets with the thought of "Where is this going to hit if it comes in ballistic?"  And this can be very tricky when the winds are very low (as they were today). If there is substantial wind, the rocket will pretty reliably arc upwind, even if it tips off of the launch rod direction by a few degrees, so the trajectory is pretty predictable. But with low wind, the dispersion off the rod can result in the rocket heading almost any direction due to a few degrees of tip-off...so MORE rod angle than normal is needed in low winds. I know that it is the tendency of rocketeers to want to avoid launching far from vertical (since it means a longer walk to recover the rocket), but we MUST remember to use sufficient downrange angle to be safe. And we must remember to remind each other to do this.

I will be mentioning the need for more diligence in our next launch notice.

--Thomas Beach
  Zia Section Senior Advisor


You should all be familiar with the provisions of the NAR Safety Codes for model rockets and high power rockets:

After the incident at our December launch where a large model rocket crashed into the rangehead area, coming very close to harming a spectator, we want to have a stronger emphasis this year on safety. Although the model rocket safety code doesn't specifically mention it, the high power safety code does state that we will not launch rockets on trajectories directly overhead of spectators. This is the single most important thing that you can do to prevent injuring somebody with your rocket: Aim the launcher rod/rail downrange so that your rocket, should it come in ballistically, will impact outside the rangehead area. ALWAYS aim with that in mind (expecting your rocket will crash) because sometimes motor ejection failures occur (as happened in December), and other deployment failures can occur. ALWAYS aim your rod downrange or cross-range, and TAKE INTO ACCOUNT that the rocket can tip-off several degrees when coming off the launcher--so add a few extra degrees. Yes, this means that you may have to walk further to recover your rocket, but that is much better than the possibility of injuring somebody. Take weathercocking into account when aiming. Always aim for safety!

Always give a LOUD countdown so that everybody in the rangehead knows that you are launching a rocket. Always pause in whatever you are doing to pay attention to a launch so that you can see if the rocket is coming in to the rangehead area.

If you are launching an untested design or a large complex model, you should launch it from the distant high-power launch pad.

Remember that all recovery wadding needs to be flame resistant (NEVER use untreated tissue or toilet paper) so that it won't start fires when the wadding comes back down.

Remember that you cannot fly high power motors unless you have a current high power certification (if your NAR or TRA membership lapses, you no longer have your certification).

Remember to check for low-flying aircraft over the launch area before launching. Our FAA waiver limits high power rocket launches to 5,000 ft. altitude above ground level (and if your rocket is going near that altitude, we need to see a simulation of how high it will go). Our field layout limits us to single K motor launches (or complex J motor launches), maximum.

If you need help or advice on getting your rockets to work reliably, ask your fellow rocketeers for help! We love to help other rocketeers.

--Thomas Beach
  Zia Section Senior Advisor