2019 National Association of Rocketry Festival

2019 National Association of Rocketry Festival

Eight days of rocket nirvana in Indiana

By Jay Marsh, Matt Steele, Brian Muzek, and Marlo Purdue

Email: jaymarsh@ama-d4.org | Photos by Todd Schweilm

As seen in the November 2019 Model Aviation.

This is a momentous year. It’s a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, the first man walking on the moon, and “a giant leap for mankind.”

Tom Beach, editor of Sport Rocketry magazine, with his Saturn V, a salute to the Apollo 11 mission.

Tom Beach, editor of Sport Rocketry magazine, with his Saturn V, a salute to the Apollo 11 mission.

The AMA hosted a unique event in conjunction with the National Association of Rocketry (NAR) in bringing the 2019 NAR Rocketry Festival to the International Aeromodeling Center (IAC) in Muncie, Indiana, July 27 to August 3. The last time the NAR held its national rocket champion-ships at the IAC was in 1998, which was 21 years ago.

The event attracted rockets of all shapes and sizes.

The event attracted rockets of all shapes and sizes.

The Rocketry Festival encompassed a plethora of activities and events. It began with the 2019 North Coast FAI World Cup and the 2020 US Spacemodeling Team Selection Flyoffs for the 61st NAR Annual Meet (NARAM-61) to determine national champions. There was also a weeklong sport launch, each with its individual contests for everyone.

Ryan Woebkenberg launches his S8 glider under radio control.

Ryan Woebkenberg launches his S8 glider under radio control.

Many other activities were spread between the main competitions, and there was little unoccupied time. More than 300 participants and supporters came from across the US and Canada to compete, have fun, and make roughly 2,000 flights. Many made it a family affair. Some chose camping, while others stayed in hotels in Muncie.

The AMA put on some amazing flying demonstrations during several of the lunch breaks—showing a beautiful scale helicopter and some aerobatics that only an RC heli can perform. Thanks go to the International Radio Controlled Helicopter Association and its fine pilots.

Greg Alderman made an awe-inspiring flight with his turbine-powered F-16 Thunderbird and there was  a true example of speed by Terry Frazer, the current AMA RC Pylon Racing Nats Q-40 champion. Many of the participants had never seen airplanes such as these, and were full of questions.

There were food and rocket vendors on-site through-out the week, and the National Model Aviation Museum was open to all participants. Many tours of the facilities and AMA Headquarters were given.

At night, there were plenty of activities at the NAR headquarters hotel, including an NAR town hall membership meeting, manufacturers’ forum, scale model viewing, fliers’ briefings, research and development presentations, and a banquet in the convention center. There were myriad conversations among new and old friends who hadn’t seen one another for a long time. It was truly a fun-filled week.

North Coast FAI World Cup and 2020 US  Spacemodeling Team Selection

By Matt Steele, CD

The North Coast Cup was actually a subset of the 2020 US Team Selection Flyoffs. This allowed prospective team members to compete in realistic competition conditions, much like they could encounter at the 2020 World Spacemodeling Championships in Romania in August 2020. Similarly, the wind really blew and required competitors to adjust to the weather conditions, which are widely variable in Europe.

Cup events included the S2/P Precision Egg Loft. This is where pilots must try to fly an egg to an altitude of 300 meters and a target time of 60 seconds on three consecutive flights without breaking the egg. Matt Steele from Utah was the overall S2/P winner. The other events included S8E/P, S4A, S6A, and S9A.

For S8E/P, which is a rocket-powered RC event, models must stay aloft for 6 minutes and then make a precision landing. With three preliminary rounds and a flyoff, Kevin McLeod from Canada was the event winner.

S4A is a rocket-powered Free Flight (FF) glider event. It uses “A” motors, and mostly features models that flip, flop, and rotate their wings to transition from boost to glide configuration. Trip Barber, from Virginia, a longtime competitor, won the event.

Ryan ready to launch his rocket glider.

Ryan ready to launch his rocket glider.

S6A, which might be the easiest event to build a model for and the hardest event to win, features “A” powered models that recover via streamer. Plenty of black magic and thermals are needed to stay aloft  to get a three-minute max. Kevin Kuczek from Colorado, a former US team member in the event, won the gold medal.

S9A is popularly called “helicopter duration” because the models boost under A power then auto-rotate under three whirling helicopter blades to the ground. Dave O’Bryan from Maryland was the S9A medalist.

The 2020 Fly-Off s also selected teams for other World Championship events. These events included S1B, S3A, S5B/C, and S7.

Trip Barber prepares to launch his FAI model.

Trip Barber prepares to launch his FAI model.

S1B is a pure altitude event. The US tryouts featured two-stage models with A power in the booster to 1/2A motors in the sustainer. They used tiny electronic altimeters to measure peak altitude, which could be more than 300 meters! Washington’s Emma Kristal won the event.

S3A Parachute Duration is a fun event to watch because these models soar to approximately 500 feet, then deploy a 36-inch wide chrome Mylar parachute in the sky. With a 5-minute max, binoculars are often needed to track the rockets downrange on windy days, such as Monday at this year’s meet. Dave O’Bryan also won this event.

S5B/C is two classes of events, Junior and Senior, where scale models are entered and judged then flown to altitude. The highest combination of points is the winner. The Juniors, who flew B engines, were dominated by Michigan’s Trevor Harrison who flew a Polish Meteor 1. Chosen as the best Senior model was a Mistral missile powered by C engine power and owned by Jay Marsh. This was followed by Dr. Bob Kreutz, from New Jersey, with a Corporal.

S7 is the Scale event. The top two fliers in the Senior division were California’s Chris Flanigan, with a Saturn 1B, and Ohio’s Dr. Mike Nowak, with a Saturn V. Both models featured clustered first stages and realistic-flying second stages. The top-scoring Junior was Trevor Harrison with his Nike Apache, although Maryland’s Charis Houston had a nice two-stage Doorknob.

Charis Houston shows her FAI Scale entry, a Doorknob rocket.

Charis Houston shows her FAI Scale entry, a Doorknob rocket.

National Association of Rocketry Annual Meet (NARAM-61)

By Brian Muzek, CD

Another contest season has come and gone. Four days of NARAM competition completed a week of fun flying and a year of strong flying. Eighty fl iers competed in 10 individual events for the national championship trophy.

The AMA’s IAC provided an excellent venue for NARAM-61. The large, open grass fi eld lent itself to easy tracking and recovery of models and good thermal activity for duration events. In addition to the wonderful fi eld, we could not have asked for better weather. The sky was clear for most of the flying, with only a few clouds. The wind peaked at 5 mph at any given point.

A total of 702 contest flights were made over the course of the four days of flying, of which 544 (77.5%) were successful and qualified.

Each rocket was required to have a safety inspection before being launched.

Each rocket was required to have a safety inspection before being launched.

Wednesday was the day of the “Egg” and Boost Glider. The meet started off with C Egg Loft Altitude, in which pilots had to fly a raw egg to the highest altitude they could achieve. The event saw prolific use of the new Quest composite C12 motor.

A new record was established in B Division, and the old records in A, C, and D Divisions nearly doubled. In the afternoon, fliers again lofted eggs in B Egg Loft Duration, an event that challenges competitors to keep a raw egg aloft for as long as they can. Contestants clearly struggled with the combination of the heavy egg and low total impulse.

This event had the lowest qualification rate of any at 65%. This was borne out by some splattered eggs (apologies to the IAC groundskeepers). Despite the heavy egg, the winning fliers in A, C, and D Divisions managed times in excess of 3 minutes!

The moment of truth—is the egg broken?

The moment of truth—is the egg broken?

A Boost Glider is an event that launches a rocket-powered glider for duration that changes its con-figuration from a rocket to an airplane at apogee to glide back down. Some are equipped with RC. The winning fliers in every division of A Boost Glider managed at least one flight in excess of two minutes, with the winning D division flight clocking in at 6.5 minutes.

Thursday was the day of the 1/4A motor events and Payload Altitude. The contest director expected the new Quest B4 motor to be the motor of choice in Payload Altitude, an event flying a precision weight to the highest altitude. The winning strategy, however, was a staged Estes A10 to Estes A3. A new record was established in all four divisions by the winning fliers.

In 1/4A Helicopter Duration (autorotating helicopter blades), it was difficult for fliers to find any sort of thermal activity or place their models in it. The longest flight of the day was a mere 46 seconds. In 1/4A Parachute Duration (large parachutes), however, the comparatively lower descent rate meant that fliers could take advantage of lighter thermals. There were eight competitor-managed flights in excess of 5 minutes, despite the low impulse, with the winning fliers having total durations of more than 10 minutes.

Friday’s events inverted the theme from earlier in the week, whereas all events to this point were for heavy models, low-impulse models, or both. E Altitude and C Rocket Glider models had a plethora of impulse with which to work.

In E Altitude, this meant that the winning flights in C and D divisions were both in excess of 1 mile high, and new records were set in A, C, and D Divisions. Despite the enormous altitudes, the clear sky conditions and low wind made for easy tracking and recovery.

For C Rocket Glider Multi-Round in the afternoon, thermal activity was light and spotty, with small, tight thermals and copious sinking air. In A, B, and C Divisions, the winning fliers flew small Free Flight models to a high altitude to take advantage of stronger lift. In D Division, however, the top five fliers all used larger RC models that boosted to lower altitudes but were able to better find and take advantage of lift.

Saturday wrapped up the meet with the crowning event, Scale. Roughly 27 fliers entered scale models, and the level of craftsmanship was breathtaking. In this year’s event, the winner of all four divisions entered a sounding rocket of some description. A special shoutout goes to Vern Richardson, who flew his Saturn V in commemoration of the 50th anniver-sary of the Apollo moon landing.

Many impressive launches took place throughout the event. Nearly 2,000 flights were made by more than 300 participants.

Many impressive launches took place throughout the event. Nearly 2,000 flights were made by more than 300 participants.

Festival Sport Launch

By Mario Purdue, CD

The NAR added the Sport Launch to NARAM some time ago so that noncompetitors would have something fun to do. The sport range is all about flying rockets for fun and there’s no better place to do that in the Midwest than at the IAC. Unlike the contest range, the sport range is open every day of NARAM, and it remained busy the entire time.

The Sport Launch was the first event to open the weeklong activities. A large variety of rockets was flown at this year’s event. Everything from simple three-fins-and-a-nosecone rockets, boost gliders, and scale models was seen. Some of the models were actually built for the contest range but were being tested on the sport range before their official flights. Roughly 1,000 flights were made during the week.

Vendors displayed and sold their products throughout the event.

Vendors displayed and sold their products throughout the event.

Because of the anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, as you might expect, the Saturn V scale model was frequently flown. The most impressive Saturn V flight was launched from a scale Launch Complex 39A that included an operating crane and swing arms.

Models up to K size were flown with a 6,000-foot FAA waiver in place. There was steady activity each day. Some of the big flights were enjoyed by the AMA staff watching from AMA Headquarters.

Many participants also used this opportunity to apply and test for their High Power certification through Level 2. This is a safety program to qualify users of high-powered rocket motors and models, much like the AMA’s Large Model Aircraft program. Written tests and certification flights were taken almost every day of the event. Most of these flights were successful, allowing the fliers to move into new challenges in rocketry.

On Thursday, the sport range was visited by Vern and Gleda Estes, the founders of Estes Industries. The couple graciously spent a great deal of time with event attendees—answering questions and autographing rockets, catalogs, and pretty much anything they were asked to sign. They also listened to the attendees as they related stories about what model rocketry meant to them and how it has affected their lives. Their attendance was certainly a high point of the event.

As always, the NARAM sport range is a huge under-taking that is rarely handled by a single section. The Wright Stuff Rocketeers section of Dayton, Ohio, pro-vided most of the manpower and support, but a number of attendees took time out of their own flying schedules to handle various range duties so that every-one had a chance to fly. These people are the ones who make events such as NARAM work and cannot be thanked enough for their willingness to help.

Alpha/Alpha Challenge and Fly-It/Take-It

Let’s face it, rockets capture the attention of children at first sight and are a great way to introduce them to model aviation. That offered a unique experience for youth ages 19 years old and younger to combine two types of models to build and fly during the first weekend of the festival.

The Alpha/Alpha Challenge did just that by allowing youth to build an Estes Alpha III rocket and an AMA Alpha rubber-powered airplane. After assembling the aircraft, they could fly them for accumulated time, with the longest time winning. The participants had a great time, and even their parents enjoyed “helping.” (We had to give them a few to play with.)

The Estes Alpha III kit required using a knife and glue and taught the kids a lot about how to use their hands to build a model. The AMA Alpha airplane is an easy slide-together model but needs to be trimmed to fly well, which taught them about center of gravity and flying control surfaces. There was a great grassy area adjacent to the building tent, where they went to trim and fly their AMA Alphas, and there was an area on the sport range where they could fly their rockets. All had successful flights and fun.

Participants had the opportunity to build an AMA Alpha FF model.

Participants had the opportunity to build an AMA Alpha FF model.

Throughout the rest of the week of the festival, Tom and Maria Ha had the booth open for kids to come and fly a rocket for free then keep that model. A selection of model rockets was displayed, and participants could choose one that appealed to them. They were provided with a rocket motor, chute wadding, and assistance with prepping the rocket then flew their models on the sport range.

Both events were free to the public thanks to their sponsors. They attracted lots of interest and participation. This is a wonderful combination for STEM learning, so if you have an NAR section near you, try it at your club’s community day.


We are all in this wonderful recreational hobby together, regardless of what we fly. Working more closely together and sharing our enthusiasm will mutually benefit both organizations. The NAR is only slightly more than a decade younger than the AMA, and has grown and established itself as the leader in safe and responsible recreational rocketry.

I’m glad I could be part of this unique event at AMA. It opened a lot of eyes and informed many about rocketry and about AMA and its mission. The AMA looks forward to the next time that the NAR holds its Rocketry Festival in Muncie.

Go fly and have fun safely. 




Getting Started in Model Rocketry

“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to fly model rockets? A friend of mine answered this question by saying, “It is simply a matter of buying

a rocket kit and some motors at any box store, which can cost less than $20, [building] it with some help from a parent if you are a kid, [going] outside and [flying] it and then going to McDonalds.”

Yep, it really is that simple, but this is definitely not the only or best way to start flying rockets, or model airplanes for that matter.

Model rockets are enticing to play with for many reasons. They are cheap, simple to build, and are a lot of fun to fly.

Most rockets are built from parts with simple step-by-step instructions. There are few choices for ready-to-fly models. That gives a builder a sense of ownership for his or her creation and the pride of seeing it work.

I began flying rockets as a kid, in a vacant lot with my friends. Times have changed as far as where you can fly them now, but that led me to want more and developed into my love for model aviation.

There are many organized activities that get groups together for this activity such as schools, Scouts, 4-H, churches, and civic organizations. Just look around at what is offered in your community, or you can start or request one, such as a school STEM program. You can find a local club and support through the National Association of Rocketry’s website (see the “Sources” listing).

The important part of this—if you want the experience to be enjoyable for some time—is to do it with friends. The long-term benefits of enjoying a hobby such as this are profound, leading many to careers in aeronautics and aerospace.

Here’s a tip: One of the biggest problems that new pilots encounter with flying model rockets is using a rocket motor that is too large and flying the creation away into the wild blue yonder. Always start using the smallest recommended motor until you get a feel for how high it goes and the size of the field that you have, so that you can get your model back to fly again.

—Jay Marsh

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