Alabama Rolls in TARC Finals Capturing Silver and Bronze

The state was made proud May 20 at the world’s largest student rocketry competition as Alabama teams from Russellville and Huntsville came in second and third out of 100 teams from across the country competing at the American Rocketry Challenge. More than 4,500 students from nearly 800 teams in 45 states entered the 2023 competition which held the finals at The Plains, Va. The Hardin Valley Academy Team from Knoxville, Tenn. was crowned National Champion. They will get $20,000 for the team, $1,000 for the school and a trip to the International Rocketry Challenge at the Paris Air Show in June. Tharpstown in 2nd Place will receive $15,000 for the team, $1,000 for the school and 3rd place John Paul II will get $12,500 for the team, $1,000 for the school.

The Tharptown team is shown in pink shirts, John Paul II in blue shirts.

Competing teams had to launch the rockets to 875 feet with a flight duration of 43-46 seconds in the first round of competition. The top 42 teams conducted a second launch that was required to reach exactly 825 feet with a flight duration of 41-44 seconds. All nine Alabama teams present at the finals made the cut to move forward to the second round. California was the next most having seven teams advance out of the 15 attending from their state. They did have a group from Orange County come in fourth.

This was Huntsville’s best TARC year since 2013 when John Paul II was fourth and Liberty Middle was eighth nationally. Bob Jones was third in 2010. Tharptown finished tenth last year.

The John Paul II team mentor is Duane Meyer, who also is the reigning HARA Geezer TARC champion.

Here are the teams, places and scores.

Place School City State Flight 1 Flight 2 Score

1 Hardin Valley Academy Team 1 Knoxville TN 11.4 2 13.4

2 Tharptown High School Russellville AL 13.8 1 14.8

3 John Paul II High School Team 2 Huntsville AL 17 6.92 23.92

16 Hackleburg High School Hackleburg Alabama 30.76 28 58.76

23 Lawrence County High School Moulton Alabama 39 36.36 75.36

34 Haleyville City Schools Haleyville Alabama 49.24 65.52 114.76

35 Winfield City High School Winfield Alabama 29.72 102.72 132.44

36 West Morgan High School Trinity Alabama 26 222.32 248.32

37 John Paul II High School Team 1 Huntsville Alabama 37.12 946.92 984.04

38 Bob Jones High School Madison Alabama 9.44 DQ 9.44


As participants launched for points, a TARC alumnus was circling above them in space. NASA astronaut Warren “Woody” Hoburg competed in the National Finals of the inaugural American Rocketry Challenge in 2003. Twenty years later, in March 2023, Hoburg blasted off to space as the Pilot of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-6 mission to the International Space Station (ISS). His journey to space began with a model rocket.

Not Our First Rocket Rodeo

The program that started with HARA launching three school rockets in 2001 has continued to a celebration of 48 launches this April 2023. Although 27 flights occurred last year in Huntsville, the rocket fair, normal RSO inspection schedules and group assemblies of NASA’s Student Launch were back for the first time since covid 19. The weather turned out perfect 4/15 for student teams to launch a rocket with the NASA challenge of taking panoramic video on landing mimicking a probe reaching another planet. The ensemble of high school and college teams flew J, K and L motors to altitudes not over a mile above Bragg farm on a range operated by NAR.

Nine Alabama TARC Teams Make Finals

For several years the state has consistently delivering a half dozen teams to the TARC finals and this year had another good showing.  These teams from Alabama scored in the top hundred ranking nationally and will compete for the 2023 championship at The Plains, Virginia as they vie for $100,000 in prizes and an all-expense paid trip to Paris for the International Finals.

The schools and cities are:

Bob Jones High School                           Madison

Hackleburg High School                         Hackleburg

Haleyville City Schools                           Haleyville

Lawrence County High School                Moulton

St. John Paul II Catholic High School Team 1     Huntsville

St. John Paul II Catholic High School Team 2     Huntsville

Tharptown High School                          Russellville

West Morgan High School                      Trinity

Winfield City High School                      Winfield

The Huntsville/Madison area fielded eight TARC teams this season. HARA is particularly proud of the three teams – The Falcon Rocketeers and Noah’s TARC (both from John Paul II Catholic High School) and the team from Bob Jones High School that scored well enough (20-30 points) to place among the top 100 teams in the country.

HARA would like to salute the other Huntsville area teams for their efforts in building and flying this year:

Girl Scouts of North Alabama (2 teams)

St. John Paul II C.H.S. (3rd team)

Huntsville School of Cyber Technology and Engineering (2 teams)

Scenes of team’s launches are shown here.

The state had a total of 38 teams for 2023. Thanks to the rest of these Alabama schools for registering and participating in TARC.

Alabaster Thompson High School (2 teams)

Bear Creek Phillips Engineering

Cullman Area Technology Academy

Florence Central High School

Florence Rogers High School

Girl Scouts of Central Alabama (2 teams)

Haleyville City Schools

Lincoln High School

Mobile School of Mathematics and Science

Muscle Shoals City Schools (2 teams)

Phil Campbell High School

Russellville High Schools (2 teams)

Tharptown High School

Sylvania High School

Trinity West Morgan High School (2 teams)

Trussville High School (2 teams)

Wetumpka High School


March Certification Madness

After three scrubbed launches in a row the earth and sky were finally dry enough for HARA to get out and fly. With them came a ton of people wanting to be certified to fly high power. There were plenty from the UAH Space Hardware Club, but the real blitz was added by a new sport rocketry club of employees at Huntsville’s Blue Origin plant. A likely headline for this story could be, “HARA certifies Blue Origin for HPR,” but that would be too cool. Twenty-two fliers got level 1 with two more achieving level 2 keeping the officers busy all day with paperwork. Sixty four rockets flew and most of them were high power. The light winds kept all the models landing nearby. Pictures by Pat, Doug and Vince.

Spaceweek School Demo


For several years it’s been an annual tradition for HARA to launch rockets at Columbia Elementary for their Spaceweek. Vince, Duane and Duane’s friend Vinnie put on the show March 6 for the entire school firing a dozen models in the sports field. The Huntsville area is growing proven by the school’s enrollment that last year was 650 students and is now 800, all of which were out watching the launch. Vince had several small streamer models, Vinnie flew his helicopter bird twice and Duane took video from a rocket and finished with a familiar D powered school demo rocket. Duane’s firing system was perfect with no problems or misfires keeping the show right at the prescribed half hour long. One model was sacrificed to the school roof but the left over make it take rocket accepted its fate.

No launch tomorrow (Saturday, February 18)!

Entire east side of the field is flooded and the road we normally use is impassible. West side of the field is a mudhole.

We encourage those with the urgent need or desire to fly (such as college/university teams) to consider attending tomorrow’s MC2 launch in Hopkinsville, KY. Yes, it’s a bit of a drive, but they have a fine field that is not next to a river – details/directions at If you need to certify, please contact Allen Hall at

This is the rainy season for the Huntsville area, and we only manage 2-3 launches per season. Please avail yourselves of the launch opportunities provided by other clubs in our region.

Tomorrow’s (Saturday, February 11) launch is scrubbed!

Due to worsening weather forecasts starting in early afternoon, the officers have decided to cancel tomorrow’s launch. We are looking at the next Saturday (the 18th) as a possible launch date.


Mother Nature does not like us this time of year.

Learning to respect OpenRocket – thanks to NARCON!

Like many others involved with TARC, I’ve used OpenRocket for years – it’s easy to use, has a nice database and is quite suited for designing simple 3FNC or 4FNC rockets. But for more complex models – such as those with pods, “fins on fins” or elaborate clusters/stages, I use Rocksim. It can handle almost any design, plus you can easily adjust things like the rocket drag coefficient to match the rocket’s flight data. Couldn’t do that in OpenRocket 15.03, which is the last stable version, released almost 8 years ago.

Plus there’s the fact that OpenRocket uses JAVA, which often caused installation problems for users. Fortunately that changed when the developers created installers for the various operating systems (Windows, MacOS and Linux) that eliminated the need to futz with a separate JAVA installation. However, OpenRocket 15.03 uses JAVA 8 whereas modern operating systems have gone to JAVA 11; for example, Mac users running Ventura (the latest Mac operating system) can no longer run 15.03 because Ventura has no support for older versions of JAVA. The good news is that the developers have released a pretty stable beta version of OpenRocket (22.02.beta.05). It not only runs under Ventura and other operating systems, but also sports some new capabilities previously found only in Rocksim. I’m going to touch on a couple of these, the first being the ability to manually set the rocket’s drag coefficient.

After the Geezer TARC launch, I received the altimeter profiles from the flights of Duane’s rocket as well as a question – “Why are the OpenRocket simulations so far off from the actual flight profiles?” The answer is pretty well known – OpenRocket 15.03 controls drag by setting the “roughness” of the component surfaces, i.e., “Smooth Paint”, “Unfinished”, etc. It tends to underestimate drag of the components and the model as a whole, resulting in simulated peak altitudes that are too high, by a significant amount. In fact, we tell our TARC teams to try for simulated altitudes 100 feet higher than the TARC goal in order to compensate for this issue. However, the new 22.02 version of OpenRocket allows you to manually set the drag coefficients of the various parts, and I decided to test this against Duane’s flight data.

There are 5 curves plotted in the below graph. The 2 blue curves are the flight profiles from the onboard PNUT altimeters, whereas the red dashed curve is from a Rocksim simulation with the drag coefficient set to the standard 0.75. It tracks pretty well with the data. Note that the OpenRocket 15.03 curve predicts an altitude way too high, by about a hundred feet. But when I import Duane’s design into OpenRocket 22.02 and play with the drag coefficient, I get a nice performance match. The advantage in doing this is that I can now accurately estimate how this model will perform with different motors or weather conditions. And so can TARC teams with their rockets – without having to shell out the bucks for Rocksim.

Click to enlarge.

The other capability I learned from the NARCON talk is how to use pods and boosters. To test my knowledge, I created a simulation of the Estes Little Beth X-2, an old Design of the Month model that has a clustered (3 motors) lower stage with dual parachute recovery mated to a single motor upper stage. There would have been no way to realistically model this rocket in 15.03, but it was a snap to do in 22.02 – took all of 30 minutes. I was able to model all the rocket components and the simulation handled all aspects of the flight, including the booster parachute deployment from the side pods.

Little Beth X-2 modeled in OpenRocket 22.02.Beta.5               (Click to enlarge).

OpenRocket 22.02.Beta.5 Little Beth X-2 flight simulation           (Click to enlarge).

Very nice!

So please download the latest beta version of OpenRocket. While it doesn’t have all the capabilities of Rocksim, it is catching up thanks to a team of dedicated volunteer developers. Also, you can’t beat the price!

Link to OpenRocket 22.02.Beta.5:

Geezer TARC showdown…


Doug with his rocket

A few of us took advantage of the nice weather on Saturday to conduct this year’s long-delayed Geezer TARC flyoff at Pegasus field. It was the usual cast of characters – Doug, Duane, Vince and me, along with a few spectators. People began arriving at the field around 9:30; within half an hour the range was set up and ready to go.

Doug’s rocket heads up the rail

First off the pad was HARA President Doug Aguilar, flying his scratch built rocket with the Pringle’s can payload section. He chose an Estes E16-8 motor for his initial flight, which did not quite have the impulse needed to reach the 850 foot goal. The rocket only made it to 496 feet, and the 8 second delay – which would have been great if the rocket had made it to the goal – was too long, ejecting the parachutes when the rocket was speeding towards the ground. The parachute ripped away from the payload section, resulting in a disqualification. Fortunately, nothing was broken and the rocket was readied for its next flight.

Vince readies his entry for flight

The second flight was made by NAR advisor Vince Huegele, who had Frankensteined together a rocket from pieces of various kits – a tradition for him. His model featured the plastic egg capsule from an Estes Scrambler, connected to a 2 piece BT-56 body tube and 3 trapezoid fins scrounged from another kit. It was also the only rocket to use launch lugs. The lightest of the rockets flown at the launch, this classic-looking egglofter was powered by a single Estes E12-6 motor.

Vince’s rocket clears the rod

Upon ignition, Vince’s rocket left off the pad, soaring past the mark to 943 feet. Naturally, the rocket took a long time to descend to the ground, with the egg capsule touching down 77 seconds after launch, well outside the 42-45 second TARC duration window. Realizing he needed to add weight to the rocket, Vince spent quite a few minutes looking for a suitably sized rock he could use as ballast for his second flight.

The reigning TARC Geezer, HARA Treasurer Duane Mayer, was next. His rocket was a simple 3 fin BT-70 based model, using an Aerotech E18-7 reload for the motor. Duane’s years of experience showed as his rocket reached apogee at 865 feet, only 15 feet above the mark, and was slightly short on duration at 38 seconds, 4 seconds outside the window.This put him in the lead, but it was clear that the ejection charge fired late, causing the model to fall from apogee more than was comfortable.

The motor in Duane’s rocket ignites.

My flight was the last in the first round. My rocket, Oeuf, was a simple model using Semroc ST-18 body tubes (the smallest diameter that can accommodate a “regulation” TARC egg) and upscaled Alpha fins. I designed her to be versatile, so the motor mount was a four engine cluster, capable of handling 2 or 4 18mm motors. For this flight I decided to keep the “pucker factor” associated with cluster launches to a minimum and chose 2 Quest D16-6 motors.

2 D16 motors propel Oeuf into the sky.

Both motors lit, and Oeuf flew perfectly straight to a respectable 879 feet, with the payload section touching down in just under 42 seconds. However, the sustainer parachute did not leave the body and the lower part of the rocket came streaking in, burying itself to a depth of 5 inches in the soft ground of Pegasus field. So my would be score of 31.5 – which would have put me in the lead by one point – became a disqualification. Not only that, but the rocket was too badly damaged to fly again – I was done for the day.

The agony of defeat…

The 2nd round of competition flights was fairly uneventful – I watched as Doug swapped the Estes Estes E16-8 for an Aerotech F30-7, which pushed his rocket up to 925 feet. Way too high, but at least he made a qualified flight. Vince followed with his rock-ballasted egglofter, which reached a too-short 777 feet and stayed up way too long – the payload section parachute was too large. Duane’s second flight came last, hitting 880 feet and landing in 39.8 seconds, ensuring he would once again be crowned the TARC Geezer. Even though his final flight went higher, Duane did mitigate the too long ejection charge issue by drilling away some of the reload’s delay. He thought he shaved off 2 seconds, and the altimeter profile shows that he came near to that.

The victor!

Geezer TARC 2022-2023 was over. Once again, Duane took home the victor’s trophy and will have another year’s reign as the best TARCer. As for me, I got the Flying Pig award for the worst flight, which sits right next to my Skunk trophy awarded for worst flight at a past Geezer TARC. I came so close, but a stupid mistake – which I am too embarrassed to reveal – cost me my chance at TARC glory.

There’s always next year…


2022-2023 Geezer TARC scores (Click to enlarge).

No launch this Saturday (Jan 21)

Mother Nature is not giving us a break – due to muddy field/road conditions, this Saturday’s launch attempt is cancelled. Our next launch is scheduled for February 11.