Fireworks Guide: Rockets

This article looks at consumer rockets and some of the changes made to them under the new regulations.

 

Introduction

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.

Diagram of a rocket

Diagram showing the main parts of a rocket

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.

Big rockets

Two big display rockets (the hinged stick allowing them to be sold in a smaller box!)

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.

Pyro Mesh Rockets

This box contains some big Kimbolton rockets which would normally be classed as 1.3G but here they are forced into the 1.4G classification by the use of wire mesh surrounding the inner carton (photos with thanks to Knights Of Fire)

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.

Signal Rocket

Rest in peace signal and maroon 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”

Shell Rockets

A 2" and 3" shell rocket

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.

Rockets summary:

  • 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!

 

Further information

If you are working through the beginner’s “Start here!” guide you can return to it here. Or, pick a new help topic from the menus at the top of the page.

When you are ready to buy fireworks have a look at UKFR’s Buying Fireworks guide for advice and the Buy Fireworks page for a listing of fireworks suppliers. Always give these companies priority with your fireworks cash (find out why).

If you want to ask for help or have any other questions, try the UKFR Fireworks Forum. Beginners are warmly welcomed and the firework community here is standing by to help you.

Always a favourite with everyone, the rocket has a part in almost every amateur 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. 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.

Click here for a sample video clip of this type of firework

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. A small number of 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 loudly as a side effect of the payload detonating (even if the effect itself is quiet).

At the more expensive end of the market, particularly from brands such as Kimbolton or Weco, you can expect some very imaginative combinations of colour and sound effects.

As you would expect, large display rated rockets pack a bigger punch than smaller, garden rockets. The relationship is not necessarily directly related to price however, we have found that you have to pay a lot more to achieve a slightly bigger effect. This is why many smaller rockets actually offer better value for the majority of displays.

Rockets are sometimes described by a weight in ounces. This is the equivalent weight of lead shot that would fit into the motor and therefore has little or no bearing on the quality of the effect. A 4oz rocket may have a more powerful motor than a 2oz rocket, but this does not guarantee it has more effects in the head.

Some manufacturers do quote the actual payload content in grams, and this can be used to make very general comparisons between various sizes.

Descriptions sometimes refer to a rocket as having an “aluminium” motor. In this case the motor is housed in a metal tube rather than a card one. This is generally regarded as an improvement in build quality of the rocket as a whole, but does not improve the actual effect. This seems less of a selling point recently as the quality of fireworks continues to improve each year and such features become the standard.

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.

Click here for a sample video clip of this type of firework

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 (such as Lunig’s Ball rockets), shell rockets, ballhead rockets and so on.

Click for a sample video clip of this type of firework

A new arrival in the last few years, rocket “pods” are a tube or box containing a number of smaller rockets (typically 6-8) which are fused together. You light one fuse, and all the rockets launch together. This is intended to make multiple launching of rockets safer, at a premium of paying more per rocket than buying singles. These pods look set to evolve further with volleys of 25 rockets now on the market.

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