Fin Sets Basics

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Supported Fin Sets[edit]

Fins serve to stabilize a model rocket while in flight, and to guide the rocket on a safe and an intended trajectory. Most rockets, without the stabilizing forces acting on the fins, would tumble in midair soon after clearing the launch guide. Aside from their aerodynamic factors, fins are often what gives your rocket the character that others remember.

Component Function

Trapezoidal Fins: So what's a trapezoidal fin . . . a quadrilateral having two parallel sides. Yes, but what it means to you is that the fin's root chord (the edge that's against the body tube) is parallel to the tip chord (the edge that is furthest away from the body tube). The leading and trailing edges can be at whatever angle or length you want and it will still be a trapezoid; in OpenRocket a triangle is considered a trapezoid too. OpenRocket allows you to change the leading and trailing edge angles and lengths quickly and easily. And, if you want, with the click of a button you can even convert trapezoidal shapes into freeform form fins for even more design flexibility.

Trapezoidal Fins.02.Finished Raw.png

One thing to keep in mind as you design your rocket is that, if you are going to be flying at extreme speeds and velocities and intend to verify the OpenRocket simulation results using RASAero II, then you can only use a trapezoidal fin set.


Elliptical Fins: If your passion is competition flying, the elliptical fin likely will be your shape of choice. Essentially, an elliptical fin has the shape of a nose cone, oriented perpendicular to the body tube. Elliptical fins have the lowest induced drag because the shape of the fin keeps more of the fin’s lift force close to the body tube, where the fin is longer. And, just as you can with trapezoidal fin shapes, the click of a button converts elliptical shapes into freeform form fins.

Elliptical Fins.01.Finished Raw.png

Freeform Fins: What a freeform fin is almost speaks for itself. In the fin shape editor, on the left you have a table for horizontal and vertical points and on the right a grid. You can either manually type in the points or use a mouse and click on the grid, or both. The number of points (for all intents and purposes) is unlimited. You can essentially “put on paper” so to speak, whatever you can think of. And, one of the best time-saving features, you can import a fin pattern from an image file.

Freeform Fins.03.Finished Raw.png
Components.02.07.Body-Fin.Tube Fin.png

Tube Fins: Generally speaking, tube fins are short sections of body tube that are glued around the main body tube, near its bottom. The maximum number of tube fins of the same diameter as the main body tube is six, but OpenRocket allows you to either increase or decrease the diameter of the tube fins (relative to the main body tube) so that any number of variations are possible. That said, support for tube fins is currently basic in nature, meaning that the edge of a tube fin in OpenRocket is perpendicular to the body tube (it has a flat end). Those curving shapes you sometimes see are not yet an option.

Tube Fins.03.Finished Raw.png
Look closely at the tube fins and you'll see another new OpenRocket feature, the ability to have different colors (and decals) on the inside and outside of the tube fins. And, you can even choose whether the tube edge is the same color as the inside or outside of the tube fins.

Be careful using tube fins, they are still classified in OpenRocket as expeimental; and OpenRocket gives you a warning to that effect in the display

Limited Support and Unsupported Fin Sets[edit]

Ring Tail Fins[edit]

Warning:OpenRocket lacks native support for Ring Tails.

You can use an inner tube to model the appearance of the ring and calculate Center of Gravity, but it will not be factored into aerodynamic calculations (including the Center of Pressure), and therefore the simulation results will not be accurate.

Grid Fins[edit]

Warning: OpenRocket lacks native support for Grid Fins.

Fins, generally speaking, are aerodynamic control surfaces. Where grid fins differ from other fins is that they are not essentially just flat surfaces, but more of a frame with a grid inside. Usually made of metal (such as aluminum), not only can grid fins be light, they can be very strong (the very thin, spaced grid surfaces don’t generate much drag). Although OpenRocket doesn’t support grid fins as a single component, the pod and fin set components can be used to create them.

The simulated results with grid fins have not been verified and should not be relied upon without actual flight test verification and Cd adjustments of your own.

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