Monday, July 10, 2006

I Love These Things

When I was in my early teens I was crazy about model rockets. I am pushing 50 and I still have a soft spot for them. But how they have changed.

I got my first one, an Estes Scout, for 70 cents and a pack of engines for 70 cents. I was 12 years old

(note My digital camera seems to have malfunctioned -- no adjustment for light at all -- so I have to use stock photos instead of pictures of my own.)

I painted it red white and blue and loved it like it was a puppy.It only went up a couple of hundred feet but boy did it make my world. I later built quite a little fleet with an X-Ray, Mars Snooper, Trident (my pride and joy), Cherokee D, and a few others. My craftsmanship left a lot to be desired but I built them myself. When they flew I was on top of the world.

My older cousin got me started and he had a real beauty too, the Orbital Transport which was his pride and joy.

We did some stupid things, like a launch a mouse in an X-Ray. Poor thing was traumatized. Vern Estes, the man who made hobby rocketry possible, was one of my heros. When I read is columns in Model Rocket News I felt like he was "one of us" and I really like to think he was.

In my mid 30s I had a gift certificate for the local hobby shop so I went in and saw an Estes Starter kit and I purchased it. Soon my nieces and nephews were joining me in launching them and eventually getting their own starter kits and a few of their own rockets.

But something was missing. With plastic nose cones and fins, you didn't even have to pain them and they wound up looking perfect with no effort on my part. Not only that but the vast majority of them were what model-rocketeers called nc3f (nose cone and three fins). No real variety. Many different rockets might as well have been the same design with a different decal.

When I went on the internet a couple of years later I found that I was not alone in this disatisfaction, but I learned that I could still build them from scratch because there a lot of garage companies making rocket parts that Estes Industries no longer feels are worth the bother.

I found JimZ's, a site that with the apparent blessings of the manufacturers posts plans and complete instructions for discontinued models (Estes allows it as long as he doesn't post current designs.) Virtually every old Estes Rocket, plus a lot of old Centuri rockets and few other companies.

Sadly the big companies no longer carry a lot of parts for personal designs but there are a lot of garage companies that do. One that carries a lot of stuff is Balsa Machining Services out of some place in Illinois. I have never had a complaint about a part that I bought from them and I have bought quite a few. (Within limits, they can produce custom parts made to order for special rockets.)

I now have the fleet I wished I had when I was a kid. Once again imaginative rockets fly. We again have more than nc3f rockets. I now have my flying model of the Saturn V, the Mars Lander, and many, many more. My craftsmanship still leaves a lot to be desired, but I actually built these. I did not just pull it out of a box and insert an engine.

Plus when I was a kid, a two foot rocket was huge and a D engine was WOW! I now have one that uses E, F, and G engines and if you want, they get even bigger (H through O). But I have not dealt with high power, though I would like to some day. That is the realm of an organization called Tripoli. I intend to join Tripoli someday but can't do it right now. Even if you never fly them, go to Tripoli's site and check out the pics.


Blogger Patrick Joubert Conlon said...

I understand your hobby. As a kid I used to build balsa wood planes from kits. Some even had engines.

8:01 PM  
Blogger Crazy Politico said...

Those rockets were a riot when I was younger. I wish I had a good place around me to launch them now, because they would be a lot of fun again.

I'll have to check out some of those sites, thanks.

9:23 PM  
Blogger ABFreedom said...

Those things are a blast .. used to fire off, and lose a lot of them, with the kids. The engines had become kind of expensive when the US dollar was so high, but now it's back down. The most stable flyer we had, even in fairly heavy wind, was the SR71 Blackbird. You gotta bring kids to chase down all the pieces from some of the ones that fly apart with gliders etc .. LOL

We have tons of open fields, and have even fired them off in the winter, and at night. The night flights are totally cool, but don't expect to find them after... ;-)

9:41 PM  
Blogger Lone Pony said...

I love these things too! Last year, at a science conference, I got a great rocket experiment lab from a priest! He was pretty cool. Thanks for all the links. Loved reading about your experiences. I enjoyed this video, hope you do too:

12:45 AM  
Blogger shoprat said...

pjc I have built a couple of those but not in a long time.

cp look around and you may find a place.

abf I have lost more rockets than any sane person would own.

lp that was an interesting video but what were they trying to do?

1:33 PM  
Blogger Little Miss Chatterbox said...

What is that saying about men being just big kids :-)????

12:23 PM  
Blogger shoprat said...

The only difference between men and boys is the cost of the toys.

12:02 AM  
Blogger Lone Pony said...

Shoprat, it's a liftoff and perfect landing of a rocket. I suppose with the wind and all, it was quite an accomplishment to land back in the exact place it started, and upright too.

10:42 AM  

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