Friday, January 11, 2019

Built from Scratch - A Tale of Two Berthas - Part 2 (The Plan)

Click here for Part 1

Scanned, downloadable PDF files of The Model Rocket News can be found in a few places around the Internet. There are probably a few missing, and I don't know that any one site has the whole collection, but a lot of these have fortunately been preserved.

A note to the long-timers and the historical detail-oriented: I'm not going to do much fact-checking on this post. I'd like to get to the build. Feel free to add any historical facts, details, or corrections in the comments (but be nice!).

These can be downloaded for free, and you can read them online or print them out. It's interesting to go through and see where or when some of the ideas we now find common practice in model rocketry originated.

If you print these PDFs out, they should print in the original size. This is particularly helpful if you want to try and build one of the many rocket designs published by Estes in the 1960's and 1970's. Some plans use parts and tube sizes which are no longer produced by Estes (though you may find something similar through Semroc at - you can always email Randy Boadway and ask. Sometimes he has made custom parts for people), but a lot of plans use still-common parts or tubes.

Instructions are pretty simple, and if you've put together a few kits, you should be able to follow the plans.

The Big Bertha was originally published in a 1963 edition of the MRN - Volume 3, Number 2 (click here for the PDF). A printout of the page would make a nice, framed wall hanging, I think. But if you're building a rocket, you need the printout for the fin templates, which you will cut out and trace onto some balsa sheet.

While I planned to make the rocket look as close as I could to the original Bertha plans, I'd make a few minor changes.

I would follow the fin templates exactly. These were of a slightly different shape than the current kits. Things change over time, due to plans being re-drawn, or tools used to cut parts wearing out over time and changing shape (this is particularly true of balsa nose cones), or what have you.

The motor mount from the original Big Bertha plans

Early instructions called for motor mounts being assembled with the centering rings attached to either end of a coupler. I guess they wanted more strength back then, or felt this would give better alignment. From what I've read, they'd sometimes get stuck halfway in when the glue would seize up. But I almost considered giving this a try. In the end, I decided against it. I would do a standard, modern motor mount - two centering rings and a motor tube, without the coupler.

You'll also notice there is no motor hook mentioned in the original plan. Presumably, you would keep a motor installed in the rocket with a wrap of tape, either friction fitting the motor into the tube, or wrapping tape around the base of the motor and motor tube.

That's fine to do, but I prefer the convenience of a hook, so I decided to include one.

These plans also predate the trifold paper shock cord mount common in today's Estes kits {sometimes referred to as a "teabag mount" because of its resemblance to a tea bag). Instead, two slits were made in the rocket body, and a shock cord was passed through from the back to the front and secured in place.

I really have no idea how they did this. That looks like some tricky weaving to me, threading that shock cord from back to front from the inside of the body tube. I would find that terribly frustrating. In any case, I didn't want to mar the rocket by cutting slits into it, so I'd use an internal shock cord mount on my Bertha.

One thing I was unsure of was the nose cone. I wasn't exactly going for 100% historical accuracy with this rocket, but if I had been, I'd have had some questions about the nose cone.

The current Big Bertha kit comes with a plastic, elliptical nose cone which is about 2.5 inches long (not counting the shoulder), and notably, it isn't pointy.

In the old days, of course, all nose cones were made of balsa, not plastic. The part, as listed, is called BNC-60L. BNC for "balsa nose cone," 60 for the fact that it fit a BT-60 body tube, and I suppose L... because it was long.

A couple of rocketry suppliers sell a BNC-60L today - with their Semroc line, and Balsa Machining Service.

The plan drawing shows a nose cone which is nearly elliptical, except that it's got a slight point on the end. Is it an ogive? Is it a pointy ellipsis (if that's a thing)? I don't know, except that it's a different shape than on the Berthas I'm used to seeing. Does the drawing in the plan accurately represent the shape of the part Estes was selling at the time, or did it differ?

One thing that's sure is that nose cones changed shape over time, as parts used to machine them either changed through wear, or were replaced, or the parts themselves were redesigned either for aesthetic reasons or maybe even to save a little bit of balsa.

The current Estes Big Bertha kit uses a 2.5 inch elliptical (non-pointy) plastic nose cone. Estes stopped selling that cone as a retail part a couple years ago, when they started selling a new 3-pack of BT-60 cones.

A few vendors sell Bertha-style balsa cones. sells a BNC60-L, the part listed in the plan, and it's 3.1 inches long. The image shows it as a non-pointy elliptical cone. They also sell a BNC60-MS. It's about 2.6 inches long. Balsa Machining Service and Aerospace Specialty Products also sell the BNC60-MS, though they're slightly different lengths. Balsa Machining describes it as the Bertha cone. This may represent another era of Bertha cones.

Now Vern Estes' original Big Bertha definitely looks like it has a longer nose cone than the current one. In pictures I've seen online, it really doesn't appear to have a pointed tip, though things sometimes look deceptive in photographs.

Detail of an image of Vern's Bertha

So, I'm going to guess, at this point, that the prototypical Big Bertha, the one you'd have built from the plan in the Model Rocket News, using parts purchased from Estes available in 1963, would have been about 3.1 inches long, maybe pointy/maybe not. And if I'd have intended to build a historically accurate 1963 Big Bertha, and had done all of this research beforehand, a 3.1 inch nose cone is what I'd have settled on.

But it was a lot of information to digest, and not being sure about any of it, I went with a guess. I decided on a 2.6 inch nose cone, which I would attempt to make myself. If that failed, I'd go online and buy one.

I figured I'd have a well-made, scratch built model rocket which most people would look at and simply say "That's a Big Bertha" without nitpicking nose cone length or historical this or that.

Which is what I did. In the next post: making the nose cone - from scratch!

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Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Saturn V Standing By

I buy a lot of my Estes rockets and motors from AC Supply. They discount most Estes stuff at around 40% off, and sometimes more.

I've been waiting... and waiting... for the latest release of the 50th Anniversary Saturn V 1:100 scale kit to show up on the AC Supply website. This new release is supposed to be even more detailed than the last, and comes with a lunar module (for display only - it doesn't fly!).

Still, I needed at least one spare Saturn V in case I make a major goof building the one I managed to pick up before they were discontinued early last year. But I didn't want to pay retail - rocketry is expensive enough!

The Saturn V 1:100 scale kit is finally available for pre-order on AC Supply! It's well priced at $53.99. It should ship in a few weeks' time.

AC Supply offers free shipping on orders within the continental US over $100, so... you know... you could order two of them and have them delivered free of charge! (I did - but it's my birthday, so if Mrs. N00b asks... this is my birthday present to myself.)

Here's the link.

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Sunday, January 6, 2019

Stickershock Is Returning!

Mark of has decided, after many supportive messages, to return to business! This is excellent news.

On Stickershock's Facebook page, he posted:

I want to thank each and every one of you for the VERY KIND AND SUPPORTING WORDS
I would love to thank each person one at a time.. but I it would take us days..
I know I dont post here as much as I should.. I WILL TRY TO POST MORE OFTEN STARTING NOW!
Yes the go fund me page is still up and I BELIEVE its working. I have had many ask how they can donate and help.. That would be the way to do it..

Thank you for all that have donated, it has been very helpful,

Ok heres the big news.. I WILL BE OPENING THE STORE AND WEBSITE VERY SHORTLY.. (just gotta get with my webmaster to get it done) We will be back open for business hopefully within the next 24 hours.. thank you for your patience!

there will be some small changes.. again MOSTLY to how custom orders will be handled and Priced!


My design time will be $50.00 an hour (minimum 30 mins)

THIS WILL BE FOR ALL CUSTOM REQUESTS. I may ask for it up front, be prepared for that when contacting me please..

I HAVE THE RIGHT TO WAVE THAT FEE AT MY DIGRESSION.. (I will wave it for MANY things.. such as VERY simple changes, CUSTOMER HAVING ART OR ALL INFORMATION READY TO GO!!, IF its an item I would probably add to my website etc!! )

I will NOT charge for simple changes.. "hey can you make this decal... but in green instead of blue" Yep no charge.. " can you change the serial number to XXX.YYY" YES NO CHARGE..

PRINCES ON SMALLER ITEMS WILL REFLECT MINIMUM CHARGES.. they are NOT priced by size.. they are priced by DIFFICULTY to create and to make.. and the smaller things are the more difficult they are to make.. PERIOD! YES I love doing them for you.. but they will cost based on these things..

I WILL BE CLOSED SOME DAYS! I know I have always tried to respond ASAP.. I CAN'T continue to do that.. FIrst I gotta have some time off just to purge etc. PLUS I have to have days to do Doctors appointments etc..

WE ARE looking into some new machines so we CAN do some more specialty things.. such as print whites chromes and silvers.. THIS WILL GREATLY reduce the costs of SMALLER reproductions etc. BUT IT IS VERY COSTLY (YEP MORE THAN MY LARGE FORMAT PRINTER) so it might be a while.. but its in the works!

for now this about covers it,

again WE WANT TO THANK ALL OF YOU FOR THE SUPPORT AND ENCOURAGEMENT, I SERIOUSLY was ready to just be done with it.. but all of you have really helped me realize how much you like what I do and how much you support us in return.. THIS TRULY IS THE BEST HOBBY AROUND!

Mark and Marian..
"Never fly naked"

So, there will be some much needed changes. Someone who does the work he does deserves to get paid well for it, and a one-person business operator still needs a day off.

In my original post on his closing, I had mentioned that his wife Marian has had a cancer recurrence, as I and others had assumed this was the reason for going out of business. Later, he wrote that this was not the reason for his closing, and I then deleted that part of the post. Still, you have a chance to help by donating to Marian's treatment fund on GoFundMe by clicking here.

We're glad you're coming back, Mark!

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Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Stickershock Is Gone

Mark has closed shop permanently. It seems time has come for him to quit the business.

Mark did great work, producing high quality vinyl decals for all shapes, sizes, and styles of rockets big and small, and this is quite a loss for rocketeers.

This hobby is one with a few big players, and a lot of small family businesses. Nothing is permanent, and it's important to remember to appreciate the small vendors while they're around, because we may not always have access to that special thing they do.

Thanks for the great work, Mark. Take care of yourself.

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Sunday, December 23, 2018

Great Planes Hand Sanders Back On the Market!

Just a quick post to let you know that one of my favorite tools - the Great Planes Easy-Touch Hand Sander - now appears to be back on the market!

This simple but really well-designed sanding block is a must have for hobbyists, including model rocketeers. They're lightweight, easy to use, and comfortable to work with even when sanding for a long stretch of time. I have three of them, so that I can quickly switch between coarser and finer grits of sandpaper.

Because you adhere sandpaper directly to the face of the sander, the sanding surface remains perfectly flat while you work, something you can't quite achieve by wrapping a piece of sandpaper around a block. You can either use standard sandpaper shot with spray adhesive, or self-adhesive sandpaper strips which come in long rolls. I get mine from Klingspor.

Earlier today, the Great Planes website was down, and I worried the company had gone under. It was one of the casualties of the big Hobbico bankruptcy, which had some of us worried about the future of Estes.

While it ended up working out better for Estes than anybody could have imagined, Great Planes seems to have taken longer to recover. I don't know who owns them now, but I can say that I've been watching their stock of tools for a while, and the hand sanders were on "back order" on the Great Planes website for ages, and couldn't be found anywhere else.

But the Great Planes website is now back online, and the hand sanders are back up for order there, as well as on Amazon.

So, if you see one pop up on eBay for an inflated price, save your money. Order one directly from Great Planes or Amazon. Heck, order two or three. This is a great tool for rocketry. Very comfortable to use, and you'll use it on every build.

While you're at it, check out my post on how to apply and remove self-adhesive sandpaper to the hand sander without having to spend an hour peeling off sticky adhesive.

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Sunday, November 25, 2018

Build Series - The SBR Diablo - Part 1: Unboxing

Scott Binder of SBR sent me his latest high power rocket kit to check out: The Diablo. This is a simple, easy to build, short and fat (4 inches in diameter!) high power kit, as easy to build as a common model rocket - just bigger. Because it's a draggy rocket, it's good for small fields. With its light weight, it can fly on anything from an F motor all the way up to an I or maybe some J motors. And its small size makes it easy to transport to a launch even if you have a compact car.

I'm working on a video build series of this rocket to show how simple it is to put together. Here's the first installment, shot on my phone (sorry about the sound quality) - Unboxing:

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Thursday, November 15, 2018

Built from Scratch - A Tale of Two Berthas - Part 1

I recently finished building two Big Bertha rockets - from scratch, rather than from kits. As a guide, I used the original plans, published by Estes in Model Rocket News in 1963, when Bertha was a free plan, before it was sold as a kit (the Big Bertha is now the longest continually produced model rocket kit in history).

I meant to build just one scratch Bertha, but ended up building two of them, almost by accident. I do this a lot.

I started this project for a few reasons. My original Big Bertha kit was one of my earliest builds, detailed a few years ago on this blog. I mention the Bertha a lot here, not because it's always been my favorite model rocket (it hasn't), but because it's so iconic, and simple, and with its large parts, it makes a good demo rocket.

But last season, I flew my now beat up Bertha for my final flight of the fall on a C6-3 motor. Our Launch Control Officer, Kenn, commented "There's no better combination of rocket and motor, folks!" and I thought, you know what, he's right. That is a great rocket!

The Bertha is such a pleasure to see fly. I always brought it to a launch as a kind of afterthought, thinking I should take something that doesn't fly too high, just in case. But each time I flew it, it was just... fun! It goes up relatively high, but you can still keep your eye on it, and it floats gently back down on its 18 inch parachute, and... Well, I guess I just have a soft spot for the Bertha. So, I wanted another one.

That was reason 1. Reason 2 is that, while it does fly really well on C motors, I've always wanted to put a D12 in it, but I built the Bertha kit before I knew you could upgrade these things. The Berthas I've seen fly on D12-5 black powder motors are really fun. With its large fins, the Bertha is plenty stable, and can handle extra weight at the back. So, I decided to build a Bertha with a 24mm diameter motor mount, for those Estes D12 motors.

Reason number 3 is that I always wanted to build one of the plans from the old Estes Model Rocket News. Back in the 1960s, many of these early newsletters featured rockets either designed by Vern Estes himself, or by readers of the Model Rocket News, who'd send in their own designs, which used Estes stock parts. In those days, it was pretty common for model rocketeers to have a fleet which was at least in part built from scratch, rather than from kits.

I figured the Bertha would be a good place to start. No odd, out-of-production tube sizes or nose cones to buy. Just a BT-60 tube, some 1/8 inch fin stock, and a stubby elliptical nose cone. Speaking of which...

Reason 4: I had always wanted to try turning my own nose cone from a block of balsa.

 The plan was to see how hard this could be, using a hand drill as a kind of lathe. From what I'd read in both the Model Rocket News and the Handbook of Model Rocketry, this was supposedly not only doable, but not all that difficult. I wasn't sure that was true, but I wanted to try my hand at it.

It's been a while since I've done this kind of Rocket N00b stuff where I try to figure out how something is supposed to be done and then publish it here. I thought this would be a good place to start, and it would save me having to buy a cone. I wanted to keep this Bertha cheap, if I could.

Spoiler alert - it turned out pretty nice!
So, despite my promise to myself to finish building everything I'd been working on for a year and a half before starting any new rocket builds, I began working on the Bertha. Then I ended up making a second one. More on that when we get to it.

The next few posts will detail my scratch build of the two Berthas.

Click here for Part 2 - The Plans

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