One reads in several places, including the 2004 edition of Stine and Stine’s Handbook of Model Rocketry and the 2008 edition of Van Milligan’s Model Rocket Design and Construction, claims along the lines of “Research done by Trip Barber and others at the MIT Rocket Society indicates there is an optimum streamer size for every model rocket design. Generally, the optimum streamer size to obtain the slowest descent rate has a length-to-width ratio of 10:1.” [Stine and Stine]
It ain’t so!
That research (T. Barber and T. Milkie, “Streamer Duration Optimization”, J. MIT Rocket Soc.) was done in 1972 and there’s been a good deal more done since then, and the more recent research indicates the “10:1” claim is just not correct — at least, not for all materials and all methods of preparing a streamer. Barber and Milkie themselves apparently showed 10:1 was optimum only for crepe paper, though they tested other materials. Further research was done by C. Flanigan in 1976, Charles M. Sykos in 1980, and B. Kaplow and A. Jones in 1984. The most recent research I’ve found is Chris Kidwell, “Streamer Duration Optimization: Material and Length-to-Width Ratio”, presented at NARAM-43 (2001). One of Kidwell’s results was that for folded 1.5 mil Mylar, 4″ wide, streamer performance improves as one goes from 20″ to 60″ long; no optimum length was found.
Kidwell also tested a number of other materials, though not with varying lengths. He makes claims about differing speeds due to differing materials, though to my eye the statistical significance of those results is pretty low. But un-folded crepe paper does seem to perform worse than folded streamers of any other material tested — so even if 10:1 is optimal for un-folded crepe paper, un-folded crepe paper itself isn’t optimal.
So as of 2001, and probably by 1984, there seems to have been good reason to dump or at least doubt the “rule” about the optimality of 10:1 streamers. Yet Stine and Stine in 2004, Van Milligan in 2008, and numerous online commenters up to 2013 continue to perpetuate it. Ain’t received wisdom wonderful?