Robert Braibish

October, 2009

I have had several experiences at recent launches both personal and observational that inspired me to develop and share this information.  The truth of the matter is none of us are perfect.  That may come as a shock to some of you but it is the undeniable truth.  In rocketry, one of the ways this flaw manifests itself is forgetfulness, and at the wrong time, to catastrophic results.  I have seen Rockets tumble to the earth with a well packed parachute – neatly wrapped with a rubber band.  I have seen the sky littered with the remnants of an otherwise perfect rocket because a mach-delay wasn’t set.  I have also seen the frustrating frenetic dash from the launch pad back  to get the igniter – still sitting on the work table.  Not all of these examples are “tragic”, but all of them could have been avoided with the use of checklists.

Checklists are surprisingly easy to make.  All one needs to do, is to mentally walk through the process of launching a rocket and write down each step.  Doing this well in advance of a launch, even before departing for the site, affords you the luxuries of taking your time, thinking things through, and putting information in an organized order that works for you.  A checklist should be a “living” document.  As you use your checklist, and you discover things that you want to include or things that you really don’t do, note it on your list and make the revisions for next time.  Checklist can be as detailed or as simple as you’d like.  Of course, the consequences of an overly simple checklist are obvious and will likely make themselves known at the most inopportune time.  Additionally, one should not try to standardize a checklist too much.  A checklist that is too general may have critical elements specific to a given launch that are omitted.  Conversely, a checklist that is all-encompassing can have so much detail that it becomes unwieldy and steps can get lost in the myriad of inapplicable information. 

Having a master checklist as a basis for launch-specific checklist allows you to compile a comprehensive account of what you need to do then pick and choose what really needs to be there for a custom checklist.  If you are conducting launches that are varied (say ranging from hobby rockets to multi-staged rockets with avionics) then launch-specific checklist are in order.  If however, you are launching the same rocket with similar flights several times over the course of a weekend, then a single check list would do just fine.  Take note though, even though the checklist may be the same, one should have a separate checklist for each launch.  This is because each item on the list should be annotated to show its completion or its status.  Reusing a checklist with its annotations and markings will increase the chances that something gets skipped.  Finally, another thing to consider when making a checklist is looking for logical places to separate the list into separate lists.  For example, a “Preflight” checklist and a “Launch” checklist, to me, is a logical break.  When you do this, it might be prudent to include on each checklist an item that links the two.   For this example, the last item on the Preflight checklist could be, “Get Launch checklist and launch equipment” and the first item on the Launch checklist could be, “Review Preflight Checklist”.  In this way, you can cover every detail associated with a launch weekend from packing the rig all the way through to doing a final look-around before you leave.

One does not have to look too hard at the world around them to see that using checklists is a really good idea.  Would you want to fly on a plane that was serviced by a technician who “Had it all in his head”?  Would you want to be operated on by a physician who did not document the exact procedure to be done prior to picking up a scalpel?  Would you be willing to drive your family across a bridge that was designed and built by people who expressed the sentiment: “I don’t need plans, I‘ve done this before.”  The reality is, things that are important to remember need to be put down on paper in case – no, because we forget them.  It may seem unnecessary at times, but just consider the consequences of not doing it.

Below are two checklists that I have developed.  They are included here to serve as an example of what can be done.   If you want, use them as a starting point, but do develop your own list, it will be more meaningful, and then, use it; you’ll be a happier rocketeer when you do.

Preflight Checklist

¨     Initiate Flight log entry

¨     Inspect recovery hardware and harness

¨     Inspect rail buttons/launch lug

¨     Inspect parachute, parachute cover & shroud lines

¨     Inspect motor casing & closures

¨     Inspect motor retainer

¨     Pack parachute & wadding (if used)

¨     Read motor assembly directions

¨     Photograph or video reload parts and motor assembly

¨     Assemble motor

¨     Enter motor information into Flight log

¨     Inspect ejection charge seal/ cap

¨     Load motor into rocket

¨     Install motor retention hardware

¨     Inspect & test friction fit components and/or install sheer pins

¨     Check CP/CG

¨     Photograph assembled rocket (side and aft)

¨     Weigh rocket & enter into Flight log

¨     Inventory and resupply Launch bag

¨     Launch bag inventory

  • Launch and Preflight Checklists
  • Masking tape
  • Extra igniter
  • Blocking
  • Rags
  • WD/40
  • Multi-tool
  • Pen/pencil
  • Notepad/Flight log
  • Camera

 Launch Checklist

¨     Fill out flight card

¨     Clean launch rail

¨     Check wind direction and speed & record in log book

¨     Adjust launch pad as required

¨     Load rocket

¨     Check rail/rocket fit and smoothness

¨     Install blocking

¨     Install and secure igniter

¨     Connect igniter to launch system

¨     Get picture with rocket (in case it’s the last time I see it)

¨     Conduct continuity check

¨     Have Binoculars for tracking

¨     Have Tracking team /Additional Observers ready (at least two in case rocket separates)

¨     Have Camera/Photographer ready