Saturday, September 19, 2015

When the World Met Big Bertha

Long ago, Estes Industries published a newsletter called Model Rocket News. This was long before I got into the hobby.

This kept model rocketeers (mostly children in those days, though a lot of the information was very sophisticated, involving advanced mathematics and physics) up to date on the latest developments in rocketry, presented ideas for science fair projects, and allowed young rocketeers to present tips, feedback and ideas to both Estes and other rocket kids around the country.

You can find issues in PDF form around the Internet (though I think a complete collection still eludes us).

I recently downloaded as many of these as I can find. I enjoy reading them, because even though they are from the early days of model rocketry, and even though some of the information is no longer relevant (parts or motors which no longer exist), there are still good ideas in the Model Rocket News, and still tidbits to learn from. And much of the basic rocketry information continues to be true. And I appreciate them as historical documents.

And they have rocket plans!

Some of these were submitted by Model Rocket News readers - some of the kids who were designing rockets in those days had some pretty interesting designs, and you can still make them today.

Some of the designs were free rocket plans from Estes.

Tonight, I was reading Volume 3, Number 2, from April/May 1963, and I saw something surprising: A free plan for a rocket I'm very familiar with: Estes Industries Rocket Plan No. 13: Big Bertha.

It seems that before it was a classic Estes kit, the Big Bertha was a classic Estes free design. This might not be a surprise to longtime rocketeers, but to a n00b like me, it was a cool discovery.

It looks much like it does today, with a few minor differences.

The nose cone was made of balsa (which you can still find at or Balsa Machining Service or a number of online rocket parts vendors around the Internet), and motor mounts were made a little differently then. Also, instead of a motor hook, the original Bertha design used a friction fit, requiring you to wrap a bit of masking tape around the motor before inserting it into the rocket for a snug, secure fit.

Also, at least according to the drawing, the nose cone was slightly pointy.

Other than that, this is the Bertha we still know today.

You can find the full edition of Volume 3, Number 2 Model Rocket News here, including a full-sized plan which you can print out and build. You'll also get a glimpse into the early days of Estes Industries operations, complete with mail-order procedures.

It's informative and nostalgic!

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