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NAR Competition 101

What to Expect at NAR Sanctioned Contests
by Lee James, NAR 15058 SR L1
Copyright 1998-2013 permission to use is granted provided the author is acknowledged


National Association of Rocketry competition is a BLAST! You get to fly your rockets much as in a sport launch. However, an NAR sanctioned contest provides more structure and support. The Contest Director (CD) is responsible for arranging for range support personnel, equipment, paperwork and the efficient administration of the contest. The Range Safety Officer (RSO) is responsible for pre-flight safety checks and all aspects of launch safety. The Launch Control Officer (LCO) is responsible for pad assignments, countdowns, and the smooth operation of the launches.


Youíll have more fun if you know what to expect. To help you prepare, Iíll present a brief overview of a typical model rocket contest. All contests are a little bit different. Details will vary. Be sure to follow the instructions of the Contest Director, Range Safety Officer, Launch Control Officer and other range personnel.


The section or NAR member who is hosting the contest will make arrangements for launch support equipment and range set-up. You can bring your own launch equipment if you want to, of course. The RSO will check it to ensure it meets NAR safety code and United Sates Model Rocket Sporting Code requirements. The LCO will tell you where and when you can set it up.


To compete and receive points in an NAR sanctioned contest you must be a member in good standing of the National Association of Rocketry. Non-NAR members are also allowed to compete in most contests, but only NAR members can compete for NAR placings, points, and national records. While NAR membership may not be required to fly, it does provide liability insurance and many other benefits. Membership in your local NAR section (for example, the Austin Area Rocketry Group, #585) also offers many advantages, not the least of which may be: a local hobby shop discount, regular sport launches, and NAR sanctioned events.


The first step in preparing for a contest is to learn the rules. NAR sanctioned competitions are run according to the United States Model Rocket Sporting Code (Pink Book). NAR members can get a copy from NAR HQ. Itís a good idea to read the whole book. Pay special attention to the rules of the events you will be flying. You donít have to fly every event unless you are very serious about NAR competition points. You might pick one or two events that donít require a special model just to get experience in flying in a contest. To figure out which events to fly or what rockets to build, contact your local NAR section. Many sections publish regular newsletters, hold meetings and have an email list server. The Austin Area Rocketry Group uses the rocketry-austin email list server.


Get ready before the contest. Ask questions, discuss the events with your rocketry buddies (online or in person), read online articles about rocketry competition. In Texas, the participating sections of the The Competition Consortium - Texas post competition suggestions for each contest. These suggestions, and many interesting items, are waiting for you in The Competition Consortiumís Competition Primer.


You should figure out what you need to participate in the contest. Decide what rockets you will have to build, what parts and motors you will need. Ensure that the motor(s) you select on the NARís list of certified motors. Approved model rocket motors will have ďYesĒ in the Contest Approved column. Approved motors for high power competition will have HPR in the Contest Approved column.


Reading articles in Sport Rocketry and looking at other fliers' models should give you some ideas as to just what you plan to build. Start working on your models as soon as you can before the contest. It's amazing just how quickly that contest date will creep up on you! Planning ahead also allows you to test fly your models before the contest to see if they will work as you intend them to. This will give you a chance to fix them before the contest, instead of "DQing" (being disqualified). It's a good idea to make a checklist of the models, motors, recovery systems, etc. that you intend to bring along to the contest.


When you arrive at the contest site you should check in before you start getting ready to fly. The check in table will probably be marked. Look for a table near the launchers, perhaps under a canopy. You may be asked to show your NAR license (so don't forget to bring it!), fill out an entry blank, and perhaps pay a nominal fee to cover expenses and awards. If you are under 18, you must have your entry blank signed by a parent or guardian. If your parents aren't coming, be sure to take care of this ahead of time. You will then get a set of flight cards. You must fill in your name, NAR number, competition division (A, B, C, Team), and the event you are flying (one event per card). The Competition Consortium Automated Competition Administration Process (TCC ACAP) produces personalized entry forms and pre-filled flight cards for those who pre-register at our contests. The hosting section may have a similar set up for pre-registration.


Now you can begin preparations for (prepping) your first flight. Get your model ready to go, making sure that the motor type is visible on the label. The motor type, manufacturer and date must be checked when you fly, so make sure it's visible. (When using mini motors, it helps to select motors with the labels near the nozzle.) At my sectionís contests, the Contest Director might arrange for contest motor inspection and marking during check in. This allows you to have all of your contest motors examined, marked and approved for use before you put them in the rocket. You must have your reloadable motor checked prior to assembling the motor, so consult with the range officials. Take your prepared model and the proper flight card back to the range table. The range support personnel, under the supervision of the Range Safety Officer (RSO) and the Launch Control Officer (LCO), will check the motor classification, assess the model's safety, and assign your launch pad. Following their instructions, go to the pad and set up your model. Once you are ready to fly, signal the Launch Control Officer (LCO). The LCO will alert whatever personnel (timers, trackers, or judges) are necessary to judge the flight, give a short countdown, and launch the model. The model will be timed (or tracked) and you can go out to recover it.


If the flight does not conform to the rules of the event (USMRSC), the judges may disqualify (DQ) the flight. The judges may also request that it be returned to check that it performed properly. If the rocket must be returned (either by judge's request or by the eventís rules) bring it back to the range table in flight condition within a reasonable length of time. This means don't remove the motor, recovery device, or payload. Otherwise, the flight may be DQ'ed! Some sections require that all recovered flights be returned to the range table to verify that the motor did not eject and is the motor that was checked in. You are responsible to ensure your flight card is marked to indicate you returned the flight.


With your first flight under your belt, you can now make the rest of your flights. Although you will find your time will be pretty full, there are other things to do. At NAR contests we give precedence to contest flights. We also allow non-contest flights (within the field and/or waiver limits, of course) such as sport flights and national record attempts. Sport fights will usually be made from a separate launch area away from the contest flight area. National record attempts will usually be made from the contest flight area and only with the approval of the contest director.


To make a contest happen the Contest Director needs many volunteers to work as timers, trackers, and other range support personnel. Please make yourself available for these positions. Even if you are not qualified to perform some jobs, the Contest Director can arrange for training or find a job that fits you. Timing the flight duration of models is one of the best ways to learn about competition. It gives you a good look at what works and what doesn't in each event. Itís a good way to gather ideas for the next time you fly. You can also learn a lot (not to mention have a lot of fun) talking with your fellow competitors. Most model rocketeers like to talk. They are willing to share their experience and supplies, especially with new competitors.


Texas sections use The Competition Consortiumís Automated Competition Administration Process (TCC ACAP) to administer competition and other events. ACAP relies on Contest Manager to process the flight data. The final results of the contest will be available either at the close of the contest or within a few days. Prizes, ribbons, and other awards are usually presented at the next section meeting.


NAR competition is a great way to have fun, sharpen your rocketry skills, and get better acquainted with your fellow rocketeers.


Related Links:


National Association of Rocketry†††††


The Competition Consortium


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