Sunday, July 23, 2006

Building the Thunderhawk

Rockets have been on my mind because last week I got an announcement about a rocket launch coming up this Saturday at a park here in Berkeley.

Naturally, being the awesome but busy guy that I am, I had a few unbuilt kits in the closet collecting dust. So I pulled them out and started thinking about interesting ways to combine them. I am building a big-ass starfighter, and I'm calling it the Thunderhawk. Estes had a kit back in the day called the Thunderhawk, but I don't care. It was not worthy of the name. If you want to give something a name that is so sweet that makes you a little sick just to think about it, I think Thunderhawk is about as good as it gets. My rocket is definitely going to be worthy.

I haven't built a rocket in maybe 15 years. This is the most complicated model I've ever attempted, not least because I'm making it up as I go along, and most of the parts are made from scratch. The body tubes came from three Estes kits: a Screamin' Mimi, a Baby Bertha, and the Sith Infiltrator that I picked up on clearance for five bucks before we moved from Oklahoma. I cut down the nose cones from the Mimi and the Bertha to make the connectors. The fuselage braces, guns, and fins are almost all made from scratch using dowel rods and basswood stock, although I did chop some of the Mimi's fins into new shapes.

My three best friends in this enterprise have been my Dremel, good for cutting and power-sanding small parts; my Legos, good for building custom fin alignment rigs; and some cardstock, also good for building fin supports.

Here you can see the completed fuselage (the engine mount is sticking out at the bottom) sitting in the alignment rig for the main wings.

And here are the wings in place while the glue dries. The main wings are made from 3/16" basswood stock from the local hobby store and laminated for strength.

At the end of the main wings there will be vertical fins with smaller fins canted in at the top and bottom, sorta like a TIE Interceptor or a Gunstar. This is another Lego rig I built to hold those fins in place while they set up.

Lots going on here. The fuselage is laying on its side in the new Lego drydock. You can see that I've added additional pods on the top and bottom and small canard wings in front of the fuselage transition. The completed wing/gun combos are laying in front, waiting to be glued on.


Here's a closeup of the back end with one of the wing/gun combos in place. The white pillars are cardstock supports.

I still have a lot to do. I have to finish the other wing, cut down a breath mint container to make a cockpit canopy (no kidding), cut up some small dowels to make pipes for detailing, seal the fins, spray paint the thing, detail paint it, and put on decals, which I'll have to kitbash from something else.

Still, I'm having a hell of a lot of fun, and it should be a kickass rocket when I'm through. Stay tuned.

Incidentally, if you're still in the dark about why model rocketry is cool, go to this site and watch some the videos.

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