Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Since I started this blog, I've been either too tired from work, or too busy working on or reading about rockets to actually post anything. And I've gone from knowing nothing and having done nothing to acquiring a lot of new knowledge and having done a lot of stuff, and it kind of reminds me of when I've written in journals every day for weeks, and then stopped. Then a lot of stuff happens. Then I think, Do I do a recap? For, like, posterity?

Well, I'll probably get to that. Since I don't know who, if anyone, will actually read this, and a lot of people I've told about my rocket obsession have a lot of questions - "How do they, like, work?" "Do you, like, throw them away after you launch them?" -  I'll probably start simply. Apologies to any advanced rocketeers (yes, that's what they're called) who stumble upon this blog in the early stages. I'll get more technical as I go on.

Anyway, since this is a rocket blog, I should probably start by showing you some rockets. These are the ones that I first bought. Just to kick things off.

My first few were ready-made rockets which required little or no assembly. The very first was part of what's called a "launch set." This includes a launch pad, a launch controller (a little electronic box with a couple of buttons on it you push to make the rocket launch), plus an easy-to-assemble rocket, all for less than the price of a pad and a controller you'd buy separately. I got this exact one as a kid, and never put it together.

I'm not wild about the rocket, partly because it included stickers. The kind you can't move once you've touched any part of it to the rocket. This is what messed up my toy Millennium Falcon when I was a kid. It's called the Silver Arrow:

I mean, the thing flies great. But it's mostly made of plastic, and I didn't get any of the stickers on straight. I even messed up the purple underneath by trying to adjust one:

Also, one of the fins fell off a few days ago.

Anyway, not to complain. It's a cheap kit I got for about 20 bucks and I've used the launch pad for much cooler rockets since.

Next, I found a bunch of premade rockets on clearance at a Michael's Crafts here in town. This was before I became obsessed with building my own. These are all Estes rockets. For years, Estes was one of maybe two or three model rocket companies, and they're still probably the best known. Today, if you're starting out, and Googling "model rocket," Estes is about all you'll encounter at first. But as I've discovered, there are a lot of great, non-Estes companies who also make rockets.

These are actually all great, and fly really well.

This is the EX-200. It's a tiny little thing, and when you load it, it's packed so tight, you think it might just explode. But it doesn't. It flies fast and straight, and pretty high, on a tiny little A motor. Cost me 4 bucks!

Motors, in large part, are labeled by letters. A is the least powerful, and they go up by each letter. This is n00b information. I'll elaborate later.

This is the Patriarch. 7 bucks. I love this thing. It flies really straight, and it's heavier, so you can really watch it ascend. Some of the lighter ones go really high, but in less than a second it's so high you can't see it any more.

I nearly lost this one on the first launch, because the shock cord (which holds the nose cone to the body of the rocket... if you don't know, I'll explain later) wasn't securely tied. So the body came crashing down (it was fine) and the nose cone drifted across the fields on its parachute and was nearly lost, before being rescued by the 5-year-old (Cody), who was with us. Whew!

Estes Athena. Awesome rocket. Flies really high. This was either 4 or 7 dollars (I forget which). The bottom sticker comes off a bit - I need to tape that down one of these days.

I used this rocket for a little experiment I'll detail in a later post. Let's just say, it was a successful experiment I'm pretty proud of.

This is the rocket that gave me the bug for rocket building. It's a re-release of a classic Estes rocket called "Der Red Max." The design is based loosely on the look of the Red Baron's airplane, and the thing is freaking cool. Nice, thick airframe. Awesome decals. Black and red look. And the ascent is awe-inspiring. The kicker is the skull-and-crossbones parachute.

I saw this rocket on Amazon for about 16 or 18 bucks, and they only had one left at the time. I was worried about building my own, but it was too cool to pass up, so I bought it. I followed the instructions, and loved the process of gluing and priming and painting... I was terrified I'd get the fins on crooked - in fact, you have to look really close to see that one is slightly to the fore of the others, but it doesn't interfere with a great flight - and I was terrified of the decals. But I did some research, took my time, and it came out great. This is my baby.

Here are some more views of the decals.

As you can see, I did get a little chip in the paint job from a hard landing after the parachute melted to itself:

After building this one, I started researching how to get a better finish. Up close, this rocket has a lot of texture you might not want. And you can see the wood grain in the fins. I found out that you can fill that in with a few techniques. My second build was Estes Crossfire ISX. I built this one because Chad had one, and it was the first rocket I'd launched. We lost his first one after the second launch, and Chad got a new one.

The crossfire is supposed to look like this:

It's the color scheme Chad went with. I wanted mine to look different, and once I realized you can make a rocket look any way you want, I decided on my own paint job. (Besides, Chad's paint jobs are terrible. He rushes them, has no patience for "craftsmanship," and he uses paint brushes. Paint brushes, for crying out loud!!)

Mine looks like this:

I contacted Chris Michielssen of, a really gifted rocket builder, for advice on this nose cone color I had in mind. He had a tip or two, but said it would be pretty tricky. When I sent him my pictures, he posted them on his blog. I totally geeked out in nerdy pride over that one!

I also rounded the leading edges of the fins and moved the launch lug (I'll explain later, fellow n00bs) for greater aerodynamic performance, so that my rocket could defeat Chad's rocket in a competition. We finally did this on Sunday, and I think they were about equal. From where I was standing, mine appeared to go a bit higher. From where others were standing, his did. But we were all really too close to the launch pad to tell.

Here's a detail of that cool nose cone mask I did:

My most recent competed build was a cheap, impulse buy. An Ested Mini Honest John, which is a scale model of an early U.S. nuclear missile. I got it because it looked cute on the package, and was about 9 bucks. I considered this a practice rocket, since what I'm working on now is mostly my finishes:

These are all "Skill Level 1" (according to Estes) rockets, which means that they require the least amount of experience building model rockets.

I'm currently building two more rockets and have three I haven't started, plus one on the way in the mail. I'm just about to bump myself up a skill level, people!

Well, there you have it. Rockets.

I know this entry was pretty long, which is probably some kind of blogging crime, but I'm new to this. Just figured I should actually show some rockets on my new rocket blog.

Here's the whole (completed) fleet:

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