Ok, we had a good flight and your rocket is up there somewhere. Keeping it in sight is sometimes difficult, especially if it is high up and upper altitude wind conditions are unknown. And, landing sites often are obstructed with brush, crops and the terrain. So, how do you find it?

Visual Tracking

Use a parachute color that will contrast with the sky and also ground features. The most visible color I have seen was a “neon pink”. It lit up in the sunlight like a bright Chinese lantern and the color was quite visible against the blue sky. Other colors work to varying degrees. Usually, the brighter color, the better it will be seen. (as long as it has contrast against the sky)

Visual tracking can also be enhanced with a highly reflective ribbon of holographic mylar film if it is large enough. It is commonly available as wrapping tissue. In bright sunlight it sparkles much as a strobe light and may be visible at altitudes that render the parachute too small to be seen.

Use a big ribbon. As a minimum, I have found that a 2” x 12” ribbon worked well at 1600’ altitudes, less than that and it wasn’t visible enough. At higher altitudes more will be needed. The bigger the better.

Use care to ensure it does not foul the chute deployment.

Sheets of this material can also be used to make smaller chutes, perhaps up to at least 18” diameter.

Use a visible color to paint your rocket, and if polished it may reflect the sunlight in flashes as it is drifting down and swinging under the chute.

Strobe lights have also been used, usually mounted in the nose cone. The more powerful the better(this means a bigger charge capacitor)

A good pair of binoculars will help greatly. A pair with a narrow field of view will make it difficult finding the rocket, use a pair with an ample field of view.

Radio Tracking

This is a very good method. There are commercially available units normally used for tracking falcons and other small wildlife that have been used successfully on rockets. They are quite durable and perform well. One well known brand is “Walston”, it performs very well and is used by many in HPR.

Also, some rocketeers have used GMRS and other radio equipment though the strict legality of these for this purpose may be questionable at best.

The FCC may not be as aggressive as the BATFE, but why push the issue? There are radio bands that the FCC has approved for radio tracking. The FCC website www.fcc.gov has all the info needed to determine proper usage of the radio bands.

A directional antenna will needed to “point” to your rocket. The range can be quite good even with a very low power transmitter.

Audio Tracking

Using a small alarm module such as a “Sonalert”(tm) or similar device, you can track your rocket at the landing site by just listening for it once you get within hearing range. These are available with 110db or higher sound levels and usually use anywhere from 3 to 12 volts at low current levels appropriate to small batteries.

I’ve not tested, but believe would help, is a hearing enhancing device. I’ve seen one advertised on TV touting the benefits of hearing things you never heard before. Equipped with a directional microphone this could be effective in retrieving beeper equipped rockets that land in crop fields.

Submitted by: Dan King