The Rocket Eating Tree

The Thrifty Rocketeer blog continues...

Gosh, will you look at the calendar.... here it is August already, and we still haven't had a decent rocket launch.  This pandemic quarantine just never seems to come to an end...

All kidding aside, rocket launches may be one of the more safe type of activities that you can do as a group, considering that most adults drive their own vehicle to the launch site... set up at least 10 feet apart from other at their trunk or drop-down tail gate...and walk out to the launch pad alone.  Still, clubs are requiring masks, and wiping down launch control surfaces, and providing hand sanitizer as well.

And that's a good thing.

Which brings us to today's topic.
Rocket Eating Tree | The Rocketry Forum

Back in the 1960s, Charles Schultz  had an enormously successful comic strip which he initially called "little folk".  When his editor saw the drawings, he remarked, "why, they're just Peanuts." And the name stuck.

Peanuts, including a dog that rode his doghouse like a World War I ace, a concert pianist with a toy piano, an aggressive loud-mouthed sister who moved the football after placing it, and a little bald boy who could never keep his kite from landing in the tree, took the world by storm.

It was Charley Brown and his friends who introduced us to the popular expression, "The Kite-eating tree"... and our hobby adopted it as our own  "Rocket-Eating trees".

So, what should you do if your rocket gets into a tree?

The answer varies with every person that you speak to.

Some say, "go ahead and climb it."
Others say, "send your son or daughter to climb it".
Some say, "get a trained monkey"....

All of these involve some risk either to you or your insurance carrier.

Others recommend carrying an extension pole and a tree trimmer.  Some suggest a ladder, step ladder or extension ladder.

And others suggest either a coil of rope and a block of wood (You BLOCK HEAD!)... or a bow-and-arrow with a spool of kite string tied to the tail-feathers of the arrow.  The theory being that you could shoot an arrow with a blunt tip or suction cup tip, up into the branches with a strong string attached, and then tie a rope to the string, and pull the branch or the rocket down from it's perch.

My father was a  fan of the carved block of wood that was tied to the end of a rope for throwing purposes.  He pulled down many a dead branch, limb or other tree debris in his many years.  I have not inherited his block of throwing wood though.

It would seem to me that two facts are self-evident here:
  • First, get permission from the land owner before you attempt to scale any tree, or cut or pull down any limbs.  After all, it IS their property which you may damage.
  • Second, the faster you recover your rocket, the less damage it will suffer.
It's this second point that most people overlook.  Most of our rockets are craft paper tube based. That means, exposed to the elements (wind, rain, sleet, hail, snow, dew...did I mention rain already?) these paper-based products will begin to separate and dissolve. Heavy rains, or laying exposed to moisture, the tube will collapse, the shock cord will separate, or the nose cone and rocket engine will fall out. 

Let's ignore delaying effect that a good paint job can have on this process for now.   

If your ejection charge blew the nosecone off, then it's quite likely that your rocket is hanging either from its parachute, streamer, shock-cord, chute shrouds, and is positioned vertically, collecting rain water with each passing storm.  For this reason alone, you should try to move quickly. Get that rocket out of the tree as quickly as you can safely.

I am reminded of my friend Cole, who excitedly helped to recover a rocket that had been hanging in a tree for a month or more. It had slipped between sightings and was hanging lower in the tree than initially positioned.  He took a tree trimming extension pole and hooked the shock cord, pulling the body tube downward until one of the strings snapped  and the rocket fell downward to him.  It up-ended just a bit above his head, and a dose of brackish, stale, rainwater dumped out on him, soaking him in smelly water.  He was not pleased.  But he got the rocket back.

Recently, a friend lost his Red Crayon rocket when it corkscrewed and veered SE off the recovery field.  There were at least a dozen people at the launch who saw the rocket drift over the hill-cock and out of sight.  But only 3 went to look for it, in duos and singularly.  The rocket was not found on the backside of the hill, and everyone who looked kept staring up at the trees at the crest of the hill.  No one found it.  The individuals stopped looking for it after one pass.

The launch was over, and the rocket was left "in the field", location unknown.
Later that week, one of the people in attendance offered to bring a video drone back and sweep the area. Less than tree days after the launch, the search was rejoined, but the location of the target area was in dispute.  Nobody had made a note of the last sighting of the rocket.  Half a day went by with several passes of the drone at 200 feet, but though hundreds of snap shots were collected, no rocket was sighted.

Three days later, one of the foot searchers got a tip on where one sighting had been made when the rocket vanished, and it revealed the drone search was in the wrong quadrant. The volunteer returned to the launch field, walked the hillside once again, looking up at the tree from every possible angle.  No rocket.  Finally, as he was giving up, the volunteer decided to walk to the base of the hill and look up at the trees from a distant vantage point.  It could hardly hurt.
Within five minutes, he was close to the base of the hill and about to pick up some trash that had been half buried in sand and silt run-off from the exposed hillside.

That's when he noticed that it wasn't a shattered traffic cone that he was looking at. It was the soaked remains of the rocket...half buried in silt.  He recovered the rocket and looked around.
From the vantage point high on the hill, this location couldn't be seen. Anyone looking up at the trees were facing the wrong direction.

It occurred to him that had any of the volunteer searchers cooperated in a coordinated sweep of the hillside the day of the launch, they would have found the rocket on the first pass, and ruled out a snag in the "rocket-eating" trees, which were blameless.***

There had been two heavy rainstorms since the day of the launch, and the recovery was made on a drizzly day that was developing into a severe weather evening as well.  Had the search been made earlier, the rocket would have been found either after only one shower... or had been knocked out of the trees, if it was ever in those trees to begin with.
Midwest Rock Lobster: Rocket Eating Trees
The moral of the story is:  Don't give up too soon, and, you can cover more ground if you act as a group search party rather than an individual searcher. And, start that search as soon as possible.

Don't "leave one in the bush" as a tribute to a "rocket eating tree".  Go get that bird now.


  1. We fly on a Seminary Campus, either you sometimes find a roof or the other way line of trees than a river. June I put on on a dorm roof got it back the following Tuesday after a little front came in on Monday Night.

  2. A seminary campus? That must be a seminal event, Father Frank!


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

"Wood" Glue is Best? (groan)

Bunny Rabbit Goonie Plans - Part 1: The fins!

Egg Cartons Over Easy