SARA's launch site in Marana is an excellent site for flying both high power and low power rockets, with largely open, flat terrain, nearby facilities, and expert rocketeers to help you learn to fly rockets safely. But what about sites closer to developed places for flying low power model rockets? We routinely get questions from rocketeers looking for local areas to launch model rockets. Because SARA is not present at launches outside our sponsored launches, we cannot vouch for independent fliers' safety practices, or whether the fliers have permission to fly at a particular location, so we cannot recommend specific sites. But we can provide guidance on building and flying safely, identifying a suitable flying field, and obtaining permission to fly there.
It is the responsibility of every rocketeer to learn to fly safely and legally. The National Association of Rocketry (NAR) Model Rocketry Safety Code is a set of guidelines intended to help rocketeers to develop safe habits when building and flying model rockets. Please start by reviewing the guidelines in the NAR Model Rocketry Safety Code: http://www.nar.org/safety-information/model-rocket-safety-code/. These guidelines include information about construction materials, motors, equipment, range safety, and launch site dimensions. Familiarity and compliance with the NAR Model Rocketry Safety code is required, and will help inform your decisions when flying model rockets.
Finding a Prospective Launch Site
The NAR Model Rocketry Safety Code outlines the minimum launch site dimensions for each motor size, under optimal conditions, and this should be considered only, a starting point in selecting a location to fly. The term 'minimum dimensions' is important here, because in real world practice, you should look for more space to safely and reliably recover rockets. In particular, do not fly close to busy public areas like soccer fields, parking lots, or near buildings like schools, businesses, or private residences. If you are pressed for space, it is better to find a launch area that borders less than ideal recovery space, such as open desert or trees, so you do not interfere with others' use of public space or risk injury or property damage to buildings or cars. Some school yards may have suitable open space, but ball fields may be in use by other users. There may be public parks that have suitable space and allow model rocketry, but check with the property manager--also known as the Authority Having Jurisdiction--before you fly.
A good first step in selecting a launch site is to measure the dimensions of the prospective launch range in Google Maps, by right-clicking one edge of the range and selecting Measure Distance from the menu. Then click the other edge of the field to display the distance. Measure the smallest dimension of the field. Once you have a prospective launch site in mind, set about obtaining permission to fly model rockets there.
Obtaining Permission to Launch Rockets
While it is tempting to think it better to ask forgiveness than permission, to do so not only puts you at risk of civil or criminal penalties, it jeopardizes the continued use of public spaces for all rocketeers. Be sure to ask permission before deciding to fly model rockets, whether that is at a school field, a municipal field, or apparently unused open space. Someone owns all land, so do your homework and work to build a good relationship with the landowner or property manager. And when you arrive at a prospective launch site, even after you have permission, be sure to be friendly and communicative with other users about your plans, your impact on public space. If there are other activities at the site, cancel your plans and launch another day. Many people will be interested in your launch if you are friendly, cordial, and share your knowledge and excitement. Do your best to be a good ambassador and to maintain our hobby's reputation as a fun, safe, and educational hobby, and always aim to leave your launch site a little better than you found it. This means, at a minimum, collect any spent motor casings, igniter, or igniter plugs, and any recovery wadding you can conveniently reach. But it looks good when you are rummaging around in the desert for your wayward rocket to collect any garbage you pass.
Here are some ideas of where to look to determine the Authority Having Jurisdiction:
- For school fields, the principal's office is the best place to start, and you should make clear that your flights will take place outside of school hours and activities. But it is often the case that highlighting the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) aspects of model rocketry will win over a reluctant school administrator. Offer to share your experience and grow the hobby, perhaps by teaching rocketry in an after school class. You can likely find the principle's email address on a school website.
- For municipal parks, look online to find who manages the park; it may be a city or town park, or it may be a county park. Information on many parks and recreation websites is sparse, but often, you may find mention of model rocketry policies or ordinances in sections dealing with model airplanes or drones. It is fair to say that busy parks, like Reid Park in Tucson, are not good places to launch model rockets, but parks with large undeveloped spaces can be good candidates.
- On private land, contact the landowner, demonstrate your knowledge, enthusiasm, and responsibility, and work to maintain good rapport. If you don't know who owns a prospective property, review of public records available online can help. Pima County maintains a good mapping system that includes property ownership details: PimaMaps Viewer.