“As a matter of fact, I am a rocket scientist,” reads a popular T-shirt among hobby rocketeers. If you don’t build and fly model or high-powered rockets, you may think it’s not that complicated, that it’s not really rocket science. But it’s much harder than it looks. To do everything correctly, to build the rocket so that it is aerodynamically sound, where the ejection system (even the simplest kind) performs correctly; to fly the rocket under the right conditions, aimed the right way, with the proper-size chute on it, using the correct motor(s) — all of this is harder than it looks. And when you scale up to high-powered vehicles, with sophisticated electronics on board, multiple ejection charges for the recovery systems, expensive launch rails, very large and expensive motors, things can get very complicated and prone to error fast. Lose a model rocket and you’re out a few bucks and a few hours of work. Lose a high-powered bird and you could be out thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of effort. And there can be real danger in a critical failure of one of these larger rockets. Frantic cries of “heads up!” and “incoming!” are not what you want to hear at a rocket meet.
Hobbyists use such colorful terms as CATO (Catastrophe At Take Off), lawn dart (for a rocket that plows into the ground), spontaneous disassembly, and a fishing orbit (landing in water), to describe such unfortunate mishaps. Here is a collection of YouTube videos showing particularly dramatic rocket wrecks. We end with a “unicorn chaser” of a few seriously impressive and successful flights to remind us all how it looks when everything goes according to plan.
Amazing 42′ Tall Rocket Drills for Oil in Nevada Desert
At the FireBALLS 5 amateur and experimental rocketry gathering of “large and dangerous” rockets in Nevada, Chuck Sackett launched his pet project, named Project 463. The rocket was 42 feet tall and weight 1200 pounds. The liftoff was beautiful and the rocket soared into the sky… and then came down. Hard! Project 463 failed to deploy its parachutes and became one of the world’s largest lawn darts when it plowed nose first into the desert floor. The rocket was destroyed and smashed into hundreds of bits and parts that scattered the area. The motto of this story: ALWAYS double-check your recovery system.
Run for Your Lives! Live Rocket on the Ground!
Rocket malfunction and crash caught on video at the 1998 Springfest Rocket Launch near Henderson, Nevada on March 15, 1998. It was an Adrenalin-laced moment for spectators and the launch control crew.
The Rocket’s Name was Even “Safety Rocket”
V2 Returns to its Origins as a Bomb
Successful Test of the Fire
Watch Fins Deform via On-Board Camera
The fins Shred off a 12′ tall high power rocket flying on an N motor. It exceeds the fins ability to hold up. The fins waive at you, bend around, and then fly off in real-time as the rocket continues to thrust away.
Huge Pershing Missile Becomes Missile
Supersonic Shred at Mach 2.5
Compilation of More Impressive Fails
Flying an Upscaled Estes X-Ray
Getting Everything Just Right
Ground-based video of the first flight of my Supreme Endeavour, a scratch-built 7.7 inch diameter 12.5 feet long rocket built for my Tripoli Rocketry Association (TRA) Level 3 Certification. The motor load for the flight was a central Aerotech L2200G and two Loki Research J320R’s which were air-started. The flight occurred on June 6, 2009 at the METRA range in Pine Island, NY.