Fireworks Guide: Rockets
This article looks at consumer rockets and some of the changes made to them under the new regulations.
Always a favourite with spectators, the rocket has a part in almost every consumer display.
Most rockets comprise of three main sections. The head, normally made of card or plastic, contains the effect itself. This is mounted on top of a cylindrical “motor”, which the fuse ignites. The motor contains solid fuel propellant and can accelerate the rocket to several hundred miles an hour in some cases – giving it that loud “whoooosh” everyone loves to hear. When the motor has burned through, a reverse charge explodes into the head, igniting the payload.
These components are mounted on a long stick, normally made of wood or dowel. The stick is inserted into a launch tube which is normally a piece of plastic piping or conduit.
Rockets vary considerably in size and shape as manufacturers fight for supremacy of the sky. In recent years, packaging has changed to include metallic reflective casings, and double, triple and even quadruple effects are available.
All rockets have one thing in common: A very short effect. Unlike cakes or candles, the rocket’s effect normally explodes in one go and is therefore over in a few seconds. Some rockets manage to achieve a longer “hang time” with persistent effects such as gold glitter or fish, but durations of more than a few seconds are rare.
The majority of rockets contain a “display” effect. This means something pretty or colourful, sometimes accompanied by other sounds such as crackles. Some rockets have a pretty tail when they take off and nearly all rockets bang as a side effect of the payload detonating (even if the effect itself is quiet).
Wire mesh rocket packaging: The fall and rise of the big display rocket
Before recent changes in legislation, rockets of any size could be purchased singly or in packs. As you went up in size, the effect generally got bigger or louder. However even the smallest of garden rockets used to pack quite a punch. When fireworks were reclassified this all changed and rockets more than any other consumer firework has felt the effects of these new regulations (you can read more about 1.3G and 1.4G in the Fireworks Classifications article).
The new legislation reduced the amount of powder allowed in 1.4G rockets to such an extent that many packet rockets today are quite weak compared to the old ones. It is no longer the case that you can rely on the cheaper garden rockets to bulk out your display with big effects.
The fireworks industry has been hard at work however to remedy this situation. To get the “old school” big effects in rockets you either need to find a supplier who sells display rockets under the 1.3G classification (be aware of the storage implications however, the Safe Fireworks Storage article will help). Or, buy full power rockets which have been forced into the 1.4G classification by their packaging. This packaging is known as pyromesh or wire mesh. By surrounding the rockets in a wire mesh cage they are made “safer” in the event of a fire and are allowed to be classed as 1.4G fireworks rather than the more dangerous 1.3G classification. This means any firework retailer who normally stores and sells 1.4G fireworks can also stock these rockets.
Because of the expense of packaging rockets in this way, most meshed packs contain at least two (and usually four or more) rockets. Although the initial outlay is more, the cost per rocket works out to roughly the same as the “old days” and importantly they are just as powerful.
RIP maroon rockets
Some rockets concentrate solely on making a loud bang and these are known as signal or maroon rockets (and sometimes “flash” or “report” rockets). These are just plastic or card tubes filled with powder and the bigger ones can be very loud.
Like airbombs, very loud “bang rockets” have become the bad boys of fireworks and have been casualties of new limits on powder content and noise. As a result, the days of maroon rockets are over. The loudest bangs now are usually found in pyromeshed display rockets.
Bottle rockets, screech rockets and rocket volleys
Very small rockets which were often launched from a bottle (very dangerous, never do this!) and other small rockets such as screech rockets have been deemed as having “erratic” flight and are now banned on safety grounds.
Rocket volleys are boxes or tubes containing multiple rockets all linked by one fuse. These used to be an excellent effect before the new legislation which has severely watered down their power. Rocket volleys are now becoming quite rare as manufacturers concentrate on meshed rocket packs.
Ball rockets, shell effect rockets and “shells on a stick”
Surprisingly, professional displayers rarely use rockets. Instead, the majority of aerial effects at a professional display are created by aerial shells, which are banned from sale to the general public. This is why many rockets are compared to aerial shells. A rocket that can imitate an aerial shell in action is considered a good one.
Manufacturers have realised this and have taken the concept a step further by producing rockets that specifically look like they are a shell on a stick. In general these produce very good performances with the better ones doing a good job of imitating their professional cousins. These rockets are often called “ball” rockets.
To get good old fashioned shell effects under the new legislation you will either need to source 1.3G rockets from a suitable supplier (again, you should be mindful of the storage implications with 1.3G fireworks). Or, look for rockets which have been packaged in wire mesh and forced into the 1.4G classification.
It should be pointed out that most big meshed rockets give an excellent effect regardless of whether they are shaped like a shell or ball.
- Single effect fireworks that whoosh up, bang and deliver their effect
- Rarely as good value as cakes or candles for sustained effects
- The biggest effects under the new regulations can be found in rockets packaged in wire mesh boxes
- Still a firm favourite with the crowd!
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