Friday, October 21, 2016

Vintage Estes Cineroc Film - Lucerne, 1975

Image from The Rocketry Forum user K'Tesh's magnificent thread of OpenRocket files

Last night, on the Facebook group Space Hipsters, someone posted something I found truly fantastic: newly digitized vintage film from an Estes Cineroc launch, taken by her father. I sent her a message and asked if I might share it here.

The Cineroc was a two-stage model rocket produced by Estes from 1970-1975, and was the first commercially-available model rocket to carry a motion picture camera payload. Its predecessor, the Estes Camroc, which debuted in 1966, would take a single still photograph at apogee. The Cineroc carried a small, rear-facing 8mm film camera inside the nose cone. For the first time, model rocketeers could get a view of what it might be like to ride along with their rockets.

The Cineroc was much-coveted but short-lived. The company that made the mechanism for the camera stopped making it, so the story goes. Today, a good-condition Cineroc can go for hundreds of dollars, and is very sought-after by collectors.

The rocketeer in this case was Scott Pace. The launch was filmed in the Lucerne Dry Lake in the Mojave Desert, which is still used as a launch site by high power rocketeers to this day. The film was shot in 1975. Pace was about 16 at the time.

Here's the film:

You can find a number of Cineroc videos on YouTube, but they're rare. Much of the 8mm film footage from the day probably ended up in garages across the country, and were either lost to decay or disposal. So a good-quality video like this is a fantastic document of model rocketry history.

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The Cineroc was designed by the late, great Estes designer Mike Dorffler.

Mike Dorffler, showing the Omega rocket with Cineroc payload

During his 40-year career, Dorffler designed some 250 kits. The Cineroc was one of the greats.

Technically, Cineroc refers to the nose cone/payload. The booster itself was called Omega, and could be purchased with an ordinary nose cone without the Cineroc. A reproduction of the Omega rocket is available from Semroc, albeit without a camera payload. But I imagine it wouldn't be too difficult to recreate a new generation Cineroc by taking the guts from an inexpensive 808 keychain camera and installing them into the nose cone. The Cineroc had a fairing on the side for the camera lens (see the image at the top of the post from TRF user K'Tesh, and check out the link for more of his great sim work). I don't know if the Semroc Omega has that fairing, but a skilled modeler could probably make one. And with 3-D printing, creating a modern, correctly-shaped Cineroc nose cone to house a small digital camera is certainly possible.

And with Estes bringing back a number of classic kits these days, I could see them re-releasing the Cineroc with an inexpensive digital camera. It would probably be easier to operate and more reliable than the original. I think they'd sell a ton of them. I would certainly buy a few. One can only hope.

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One last interesting thing of note: The 16-year-old rocketeer - Scott Pace - who took the footage above with his Cineroc... Well, he's now the Director of the Space Policy Institute and Professor of the Practice of International Affairs at George Washington University. It just goes to show what the love of model rocketry can lead to in a kid's life.

Many thanks to Carolyn Pace for sharing this with us.

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  1. If you're interested in trying to have Estes re-introduce the Omega, perhaps with a simulated OMEGA nosecone that could be modified to carry your camera of choice, please contact them. Check out this link here:

    1. I've definitely seen that thread. In fact, I just replied to your recent comment.

      When we go to NARCON with The Rocketry Show (which we hope to do this year), maybe I'll get to meet some Estes folks and chat with them directly.