FAQs about Wilson FX

The following are actual questions from rocketeers around the country that I’ve received over the years.


What kind of guarantee comes with a Wilson F/X launch control system?

As of right now, I am guaranteeing any of my Wilson F/X Digital Control system controllers and pad boxes from manufacturer’s defects for a term of 10 years from the date of purchase. I can guarantee my system for that long because that’s how long Tripoli Quad Cities’ Wilson F/X system has been up and running without a single manufacturer’s defect. This guarantee does NOT cover user neglect or abuse. It also does not cover the disposable parts which are the igniter leads and igniter clips. It also does not cover damage from fire or acts of God. (He’s my boss. And if you think I’m going to try and guarantee that my system will not be subject to any of His direct acts, then you are the one who is nuts.) I will guarantee that the new parts including igniter leads that you receive as part of the purchase of the system will work when delivered. But quite obviously I am not going to guarantee the disposable parts that are designed to be user replaced. I will also not guarantee that you will not loose your keys to the system but only that the two keys I give you with your system will work!

How does a digital launch system such as this meet the requirement for a safety interlock in series with the launch switch?

Actually, I believe that the rules require a “removable safety interlock in series with the launch switch.” Just because the Wilson FX system uses digital communications between the pads and the controller, does not mean that the necessary safety features are not in place. I assume that you have not yet actually looked at the controller. When you do, you will see that there is an on/off key switch built into the controller. When the key is removed, the system cannot fire anything! This is designed into the circuitry architecture of the controller itself and cannot be bypassed without opening the controller and physically bypassing the key switch. I do not believe that there is any requirement that says that a system cannot be bypassed even when you open up the works for that purpose. But the requirement is that one have a removable interlock in series with the launch button. The Wilson F/X System fulfills that requirement to the letter. There is even a second built in safety interlock built into the system. All you have to do is disconnect the communication wiring from between the controller and the wiring going out to the pad-boxes. It is as easy as un-plugging the male 16/3 commercial extension cord plug of the leads going to the first pad box, from the female 16/3 extension cord communications output from the launch controller.

How safe are the Pad-boxes? Is it possible to accidentaly fire an igniter?

The pad box does have a continuity test circuit built in that works independently from the launch controller. Can that be used to fire the igniter? The simple answer to that question is no! The continuity circuitry cannot be used to fire an igniter. The continuity test circuitry utilizes the same micro-amperage with which the whole rest of the system operates. In order for a pad box to close the 40 amp automobile ignition relay, it must be first powered up. Second, it must receive the correct continuity check command from the controller. Third, it must be armed by the controller. And fourth, it must receive the correct “fire” command from the controller, which is a unique command for up to 64 separate pads. There have been NO accidental ignitions in over 15 years of use, with dozens of operators and literally thousands of ignitions. Tripoli Quad Cities #39 is the Wilson F/X’s home prefecture and the Wilson F/X system is the only system that TQC has ever owned. There was one instance where someone thought there was an accidental ignition, but it turned out that the LCO had the wrong bank selected. I cannot guarantee that there will not be any operator errors but the system itself works flawlessly and has a perfect safety record.

Is the continuity checking circuitry flashbulb safe?

Yes, the system is flashbulb safe. The flyer can check his continuity at the pad and the LCO can check the igniter continuity at the LCO table, and they are flash-bulb safe.

What is the physical & link layer used for the communication protocol, specifically in regards to wiring, shielding, distance specs?

The system uses a single ended fault tolerant low speed multi drop communications protocol. As far as signal distance is concerned, three thousand feet is standard, but we’ve only tested to 2400 feet so far, because that’s all the 100’ extension cords we had available. But the system should work to far beyond even three thousand feet.

I'm guessing that if WFX uses 3 wire extension cords that it is fairly low bit rate.

That is correct! ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I would like to know what kind of redundancy is built into the protocol to handle corrupted messages, due to noise coming from other EMF generating devices.

The message architecture is such that if there is a fault in the transmission or reception of a message that the message itself is auto-dropped. If the preamble and post message frames are not correct then the message itself is auto-dropped. The system produces a multi bite message that if it is incomplete the system drops the message till it gets a correctly framed message. But the system also continuously sends its messages, so dropped messages are passed over and the only responses are to complete messages. As to “noise” from other EMF generating devices? Because the system does not respond in any way or fashion to any EMF messages, there are no problems from EMF generating devices.

I understand that the WFX system uses your own proprietory programming. What if it gets hit by some static electricity and quits working?

All the system inputs; communications, battery, continuity, etc., are shunted against any ESD damage. There is no way, short of opening up the box and directly exposing the components to an electrical discharge that any damage can result from normal usage of the system. However, if it gets hit by lightening, then you the operator are at fault because the safety codes of Tripoli, NAR, and even CAR require launch shut down if there is lightening within sight of the launch Am I saying it is impossible to expose the system to a static discharge? No, I am not saying that. But under normal use, following either the NAR, the Tripoli, or the CAR safety codes, the system is well protected from static discharges.

What if you (I assume he means me, Brad, the Rocket Rev., Wilson) get hit by a truck? Who is going to be able to fix it?

I am not the sole member of the Wilson FX. But for now, because of contractual agreements on the part of other members of the WFX Team, those team member’s names shall for the time being remain anonymous. Should anything happen to me, this person will step up and take over the operations of the business, maintaining the same guarantees that are currently in place. For the time being, I can fix anything that needs fixing and that should be enough.

What are the normal maintenance needs of your system?

The only maintenance that the Wilson FX digital launch control system has ever needed was replacement of igniter leads and alligator clips. An occasional cleaning is nice but if you set up in the mud, you have to expect to need to clean off the mud. Charge your batteries! This would seem to not need saying, but you’d be amazed at the problems I’ve had to diagnose over the phone because somebody forgot to re-charge the batteries for the pads. Replace broken 16/3 outdoor extension cord communications wiring. Again, this simple piece of equipment is the second most noted problem with WFX system “malfunctions.” I’ve received too many phone calls that repeat in variations of “Hey Rev., your system’s not working!” only to diagnose over the phone, that somebody broke off a ground plug on a 100’ 16/3 extension cord and managed to reverse the signal polarity by plugging the broken cord in backwards. The system will not operate with a section of reversed polarity communications line. It drops those signals like hot potatoes on the soft bare skin of fingertips.

What repairs have ever been done on your system?

I did have to replace four switches that were broken off of a launch controller from negligent handling, and there have been repairs from fire damage to some external wiring, which could have easily been replaced by the owner/user/operator of the system itself. I’ve also had to replace continuity push button switches on pad boxes because somebody broke them from poor storage practices. I sell pad boxes and launch controllers in 12 gallon industrial grade storage containers. Nothing should be placed on top of either a launch controller or a pad box inside their storage containers. And there is enough space below a PBU-8 to store the 8 igniter leads and still leave space between the top of the pad-box and the bottom of the hinged lid. Oh, I forgot, you may also need to recharge or replace your 12 volt batteries (automobile batteries work best, jumper boxes work almost as well) which are external to the system. If the batteries that you use at the flying field are dead, please don’t expect the launch system to work.

I heard that your WFX programming is highly encrypted. Is it true that attempting to copy your programming will render the system inoperable?

If this is true, this bothers me a bit. I understand there was a lot of work put into the coding, but this indicates that you are trying to keep things secret. It is true that WFX programming is highly encrypted. It is also true that attempting to copy your programming will render your system inoperable. Yes indeed, I am trying to keep things secret. You say that this bothers you a bit. Well your comment bothers me far more than just a bit. When you say that I have a lot invested in this product you are making an enormous understatement at best. I have about $10K invested in this product to say nothing of the many multiples of hundreds of hours of labor to bring this product thru the years and multiple generations of hardware and software. I certainly hope that the guy asking this question is not implying that I do not have the right to protect my intellectual property rights. If that is what he is saying then I beg to differ with him. If the poser of this question would like to produce a digital launch control system and post the whole thing on his own website free for anyone who wants it, he has my permission to do so. But the WFX system was not created without large costs in both time and money. Eighteen years ago, when my wife figured out what I was trying to create, she insisted that I not put the “time and the cold hard cash” into this “thing” unless I had hopes of being able to eventually get at least an equal return for all the investment of time and money. She’s no “dummy” unless you count genuine “Phi-Betta-Kappas” with two Master’s Degrees as dummies. And she still has the unmitigated gall to insist that we sell these systems for more than it costs us to produce them. And that’s where we are today.

Does the system at least come with complete schematics and bill of materials to allow repair without having to return the system to Brad?

None of the WFX components comes with a complete set of schematics nor with a bill of materials to allow user repairs to the internal components of a WFX system. There are no internal user replaceable parts because none of them ever need replacing. It is quite true that anyone with adequate knowledge of electronic circuitry could duplicate the circuit boards and hardware of the Wilson FX digital control system. It would be incredibly expensive to do that, but it could be done. It would be far cheaper to buy more real WFX components than it would be to try and duplicate them on your own. The only real reason to do so would be in hopes of producing them for sale. I doubt that someone would be dumb enough to try and God help them if they do. The real magic is in the programming itself and that I will protect without a moments hesitation. Yes, my programming is secret and it will remain a secret for as long as I want it to remain a secret. If you want to build and design your own digital launch control system, be my guest. But please do not attempt to steal the product that I have put so much time, energy, funds, and over 18 years (as of 2013) into producing and making available to the hobby rocket launching community. I have created many generations of hardware and software to get all the bugs out and all the desired features in. I hope that everyone can respect that. As to supplying a complete schematic of my system, I have to ask the obvious question: WHY? For all the years from 1995 when the first Wilson FX system began its use to the present day, there have been ZERO internal system failures that could be fixed by a user. Yes, the original 4 pad system was vulnerable to reversing the polarity on the battery. The guys set up the system with the negative and positive poles on the battery reversed. Unfortunately that fried the whole IC chip. I fixed that problem within the first month of operations and that was the first and last internal system failure. Now if you hook up the system with the battery cables reversed, nothing happens. The system won’t operate, but there is no damage done. And all you have to do is get the power going in the right direction and everything works like it is supposed. There have been not a few, not a couple, but exactly ZERO other internal system failures.

What external system failures have there been?

The only external system failures were all caused by either stupidity or fire. There was a fire at the pads that caused the melting of ignition leads, communication lines, and battery cables. Also there have been broken surface mounted switches resulting from stupidity in methods of storage. There have been NO other system failures. I use high quality components. Even the 40 amp relays that I use in the system are as rugged of construction as I can find. They are automobile relays designed to function in a moving vehicle for a couple of hundred thousand plus miles. I have never had to replace a single relay. Oh wait a minute… there was one other system failure. Someone forgot to pick up a 64 pad controller that was used at the far pads at one of the early Mid-West Power launches. It sat forgotten in some tall grass till the farmer came with a mower on his tractor to cut the grass about a week after MWP. I must admit that my system is vulnerable to lawn mowers. That specific launch controller was un-reparable. But the problem was stupidity, nothing to do with the system itself. Everything the user can fix is easily replaced with components you can buy at about any hardware store, most big-box-stores across the country, and any electronics outlet such as Digi-Key.