Saturday, July 22, 2006


When I was a kid, I was in 4-H. 4-H was definitely not as cool as Boy Scouts, but there were no Boy Scout troops around and there was a 4-H club. When you hear 4-H, you probably think of farm kids showing their prize pigs at the county fair. I did show a lot of stuff at the county fair, but mostly drawings, photos, and models (I did show some chickens once). 4-H had programs for all of these things and more. But mainly I was in 4-H for one thing: rockets.

I discovered model rockets through 4-H. The appeal is pretty straightforward. You build a rocket and then you fly it. The kits are cardboard and balsa, you get commercially-produced solid fuel motors at hobby stores, and the ignition system is electrical. It's all very safe and sanitary, assuming you follow the safety code, which is full of no-brainers like "don't try to build your own rocket motors" and "make sure everyone is standing at least 10 feet back from the launch pad before you push the ignition button." And this fragile thing that you built yourself roars off the pad and flies up to 1000 feet. It is very, very cool.

I used to build and launch rockets with my brothers and my cousins, and of course we started violating the code left and right. Just the little ones, things like "make sure your rocket has a recovery system" (most come down on parachutes or streamers, or glide down) and "do not launch your rocket at a target." There's really one one rule in the safety code that is best not broken, and that's the one about making your own motors. There aren't many horror stories associated with rocketry (unless you count rockets eaten by trees, or parachutes that failed to open), and those that exist mainly describe how Billy Bob Butthead blew off his thumbs or blinded himself experimenting with homemake rocket fuel.

I have a zillion rocket anecdotes, and maybe someday I'll share some. But the purpose of this post is to provide myself with an annotated list of cool rocketry sites. If you find it useful or entertaining, that's gravy.

The best site I've found for cheap rockets and supplies is They cover all the major manufacturers, and they usually have some screaming deals.

The granddaddy of the commercial rocket manufacturers: Estes. No one else makes so many rockets, seems like the older Estes kits had a lot more character. Too many of the ones they offer these days are simple 3FNCs (that's "three fins and a nose cone"). One exception is the new F-15-like Screaming Eagle. Fortunately, if you have a yen for old Estes kits, you can get them vintage at suppliers like, or get clone kits from Thrustline Aerospace, or build them from scratch using the damn-near-exhaustive blueprints at JimZ Rocket Plans.

Most of those companies offer kits, clones, or blueprints from other rocket manufacturers. Notable ones include:

Quest Aerospace makes some very cool kits reminiscent of old Estes offerings, including the thoroughly badass Space Shuttle Intrepid, a glider that is carried up by a mothership.

Custom Rockets also makes kits with a lot of character, like the old Estes stuff.

Semroc has a lot of cool kits. Their Retro-Repro line consists of clones of old Estes and Centauri kits, including two of the sweetest model rockets ever sold, the Estes Mars Lander and the Centauri SST Shuttle-1, another shuttle/mothership combo.

QModeling has staked out a nice little niche: they only make upscale clones of old Estes kits, including the Starship Vega and Mars Snooper.

Squirrel Works
has some rockets with a lot of pad presence, not least their Flash Gordonesque Ajax and especially the Fokker-inspired Mega Baron glider.

FlisKits specializes in wacked-out stuff like a giant rocket made out of coffee cups, and some badass sci-fi models.

Edmonds Aerospace specializes in gliders, from teeny ones with 6-inch wingspans up to monsters 3 or 4 feet long.

Art Applewhite Rockets makes the guys at FlisKits look downright sane, with rockets made from disposable plastic plates and Bic pens and even more unlikely shapes.

Just for completeness, LOC Precision makes high-power rockets...that are mostly 4FNCs (yawn).

Not quite finally, I have a serious jones for the Refit U.S.S. Atlantis from Sirius Rocketry. The old Estes U.S.S. Atlantis was styled after the starship Enterprise from old Star Trek. The Sirius "refit" is a near-clone updated to match the stylings of the movie Enterprise.

Finally (for now), the guy at Excelsior Rocketry sells decals and plans. My favorite among his products are the Goony sets, which use an Estes Baby Bertha to kitbash stubby versions of classic Estes kits. Hmm...I wonder if you could make a Goony Strike Fighter...

UPDATES: Put your local hobby store out of business by picking up cheap kits from Belleville Hobby and their even cheaper outlet, Estes Rockets Wholesale.

Get your DIY on with Jimmy Yawn's awesome pages on rolling your own rockets.

Video rocketry. Self-explanatory. Wicked cool.

Finally (again, for now), Ralph Currell's card models are not designed to fly, but they're not designed not to fly, and some of them do.

MORE UPDATES: Essence Model Rocket Reviews has a simply unbelievable amount of information on the construction and performance of damn near everything.

Attack of the clones: resources for cloning classic kits.

Apogee Components has all kinds of cool stuff, including an article on making rocket components out of paper.

The Rocketry Blog is another good site with lots of resources, including garbage rockets (i.e., scratchbuilt from household items) and probably the largest list of paper rockets anywhere.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stumbled across your blog---and added it to my bookmarks. Interesting way of rendering the planet further up the page! I may have to try that for one of my kit cards! Glad you like the Refit Atlantis! I'll visit again soon!

Sirius Rocketry, LLC

5:04 PM  
Blogger Dr. Vector said...

Hi Dave! Thanks for stopping by. I confess that I only tried the planet-making so I could have some cool backgrounds to put behind cropped photos of my rockets.

I'm living the starving student existence, so I'm putting the Refit Atlantis on my Christmas list. In the meantime, I have a suggestion. Why not post full-screen photos of your rockets? I'd kill to have a hi-rez version of the Refit Atlantis for my desktop background, and I'm probably not alone. And you have nothing to lose by doing it; it's free advertising. Whaddaya say?

11:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link to my site. I have added you to my links section.


11:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

how do you make fuel for your rocket out of scrach

5:27 PM  
Blogger Dr. Vector said...

how do you make fuel for your rocket out of scrach

I don't! And I strongly recommend that you don't, either. I use Estes motors and electrical igniters, and I've never used anything else. Mixing your own rocket fuel is a good way to lose body parts. Some folks think it's macho, but I've never had the slightest interest. Most Wal-Marts I've been in in the past two years have carried Estes rocket motors, so they're not hard to come by.

10:57 PM  

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