Monday, June 19, 2023

Early Father's Day present

 We had near perfect weather for the 6-17 WSR launch at E-Rockets field in Huber Heights.  Breezes were light with occasional gusts, but for the most part everything was calm enough that we had very few incidents of rockets overflying the field.  Things were already underway when I arrived, so all of my Friday night prep work was not in vain as I was able to get into the swing of things quickly.  First flight of my day would be the Fishhead Rocketry Little Joe, a long-suffering project that's old enough to drink a post-launch beer.  Dating back to 2001, the Little Joe came about back in the day when Johnny's Toys was still around.  They were my source for Estes and Custom kits, as well as motors, paints, balsa and inspiration.  After getting back into the hobby, one of the rockets from my old fleet that I most wanted to build was a Mercury Redstone.  Johnny's had them on the pegs at a very friendly price, so I bought two with the intention of building the Little Joe that I'd seen in the school library copy of the Handbook of Model Rocketry.  Twenty two years later, the Little Joe finally made it to the pads.

This was a hodgepodge project and gathered parts from some unremembered sources.  The outer tube and engine mount came from another Estes kit, but I'm at a loss as to which one it was.  It was picked up and put down several times over the years until being rediscovered recently.  I worked on it for several weeks and sprayed the silver during my Friday night prep session.  It crazed.  On Saturday at the field, the glamour shot didn't take, so you're spared the details of one of my worst paint jobs.

Despite worries over the tight fit of the nose cone, the flight was the perfect leadoff flight for me, especially considering what followed.  The C6-5 flight left the pad with a pronounced lean to the left thanks to the huge fins and the light breeze.  Ejection came easily despite my unfounded fears, occurring just after the rocket tipped over.  It swung back toward the flightline under chute and draped itself over the caution tape to the left of the flightline.  I couldn't have asked for a better first flight.

With a successful first flight of such an iffy bird, surely I was on my way to a day full of successful flights.  Are you new here?  My newly sanded and ready for paint Centuri Bulldog AGM-83A said "Hold my morning Mad Dog!"  This was another long-abandoned project recently rescued from the floor of the shop, dating back ten or so years.  

I'll save you the anxiety.  This would be one of two flights that wound up with the patient needing fairly major surgery of one kind or another, the other being the Estes Solar Flare, but we'll get to that later.  The Bulldog just looks ungainly, but I built it to spec and trusted in a 40 year history for a successful flight.  That said, I've never seen one of these fly before, so jump ball!  The first fifteen feet were fine, but by the 20 foot mark there was a pronounced lean to the right, followed by some skywriting.  (We're not sure what "PHLINGUS" means, so by all means, leave a comment if you know.)  It looped and dipped, up, then down, down some more, then sidewayish-up.  It ended up crashing next to some trusting souls who hadn't sought cover when the flight was announced.  It hit the ground just as the ejection charge fired, winding up with a broken fin and an apparently voracious appetite for nose weight.

Looking good so far.

One more time. Which way is up?



Okay, with the experimental stuff out of the way, it was time to bring out a tried-and-true veteran, the USS Atlantis upscale with dual 18mm Fliskits canted engine mounts.  This has always been a very consistent performer, so I was confident of a great flight.  Ugh.  Confidence.

The 2xC6-5 load has usually been a decent load to get the "slow, realistic liftoff" and impressive twin smoke trail in the past.  The flights aren't generally high, and usually involve some sort of damage to the pods.  This flight definitely wasn't very high.  The video tells the story better than I can.  Plus you get to hear the laughter.

A couple of things contributed to the non-flight.  One was that one motor didn't light, which contributed to the merry-go-round impression.  The other might have been the launch rod, which seemed to fit tighter than normal.  Didn't matter much.  As it was it was a rare flight without damage, and my wife laughed when she was watching the video and the nose cone blew off.  Little victories.

Flight #3.5 would be the FRW Long Distance Voyager, a 2x24mm cluster, BT-70 upscale of the FSI Voyager.  Not sure what my fascination with upscaling was when I decided to clone various FSI birds, but I have three BT-70 or BT-80 birds from that time period.  This one went for a long time without paint because the body tube reacted badly to the glue and soaked through when I attached the two halves.  No amount of Fill & Finish could cover the scar, so I painted it, slapped a sticker over the rough bit, and flew it.

And just like that I was back on my game.  The twin D12-5s both lit and the Voyager left the pad with a slight leftward lean.  Altitude was excellent, topping out well over 1000'.  At ejection it crossed back over the flightline and landed in the field to our right.  Couldn't have asked for better.  Sometimes you just need a simple cluster flight to set you right again.  

I have to do a recount because I forgot where we were in the lineup and the count landed just where I feared.  Flight #5 would be the Estes Solar Flare.  So, one successful flight to get my confidence back and it immediately gets crushed.  C6-0 to A10-3T was the motor combination.  I really thought this would be impressive.  It was, just not for the reasons I expected/

The best thing I can say about this is that it looked great on the pad.  Once again, it was built exactly as specified in the instructions.  Yeah, I read the instructions.  I'd never built anything like this before.  As I mentioned, it was a C6-0 to A10-3T combo, two fairly foolproof motors.  I expected that the C6-0 would get it moving well enough that the A10 could take over without a problem.  Nope.  The flight left the pad and immediately began heading left.  The C6-0 seemed to struggle with the load and tipped over just before it staged.  The rocket was midway through a loop when the sustainer fired at the parking lot.  The A10 had plenty of power to blast it into the gravel.  Apparently, the impact came just after the ejection charge fired because the nose cone and payload section escaped damage.  The body tube wasn't so lucky.  If it ever flies again, it will be two inches shorter.  I'll post the video and the captured stills, just to see if anyone notices anything off about the flight.  (Other than the power-prang into the asphalt.)

Normal liftoff

Still normal as it climbs out  

Sudden stability issues

Verticality failure?

Staging and thrusting toward the parking lot

Booster returns safely to the flightline

Good thing this was cheap.

Next on the pad was the Estes D.O.M. Intruder, a plan that I based my first scratch build off of 22 years ago.  The Intruder was one of the first DOM plans at JimZs that I copied off to build, but I found it smaller than I was interested in at the time.  I played around with the copier at work and upscaled the parts to BT-55 size, added the cockpit nose cone that came in a Designer's Special, and flew it as the Marauder.  I recently found the plan again and decided to build it as intended.

Man, is it tiny.

Such it is when young kids were trying to put to paper what was flying around in their heads.  The fact that they had to build and photograph their creation to enter the contest played a part in the rockets being on the small side.  It was cheaper to buy BT-20 parts than it was BT-60.  Simple allowance economics.  This would be the first flight for what I envision as part of my B6-4 Field fleet and would be on a 1/2A3-4T for this flight.  

A perfectly normal, successful flight.  It left the pad leaning slightly left and topped out around 250'.  Ejection occurred as it was tipped over and the only possible quibble with the flight occurred when the streamer failed to stream.  Didn't matter.  It crossed back over the flightline and landed in the unmown section of the grass.  I'll have what it's having.

Okay, we've reached the halfway point.  Flight #7 was the Goblin cluster I built with a 13mm Fliskits canted mount.  (I still have the 24mm mount downstairs.  Just need to be inspired by something in a BT-70 tube.)  

I just needed a BT-55 rocket that had four fins for this cluster mount, and the Goblin fit my needs perfectly.  Even a 2xA10-3T flight is about the same as an 18mm B flight from an altitude standpoint, so this isn't going to set any records.  Still, the twin smoke trails are always cool, and this flight was no exception.  The nice thing about this size compared to the BT-60 Atlantis I attempted earlier is that the motors are close enough to twist the igniters together and use the same clip, so no need for a clip whip or tying up two pads.  True to form, both engines caught and the Gob left the pad showing two distinct smoke trails.  Nice when it works, but also entertaining when it doesn't.  Altitude was about 600', and dead straight, with ejection coming a touch early.  This wasn't a problem, and the chute dropped it just to the right of the pads.

Back to the D.O.M. theme, this would be the first flight of the Nike Needle since the incredibly complicated paint and decal scheme was finished.  That's my story.  The truth is that I love paint schemes like this one.  Other than a one-color paint job, can it get easier?  I might try to come up with a few more military markings ala the Nike Ajax, but if it winds up with this being the final form, I'm good with that.

The Needle would fly on a C6-5, a perfect combination for this field.  It left the pad and leaned slightly left, topping out around 900' and ejecting as it was tipping over.  Recovery took place right of the pads in the fluffy grass.  As my notes said, it was one of my best flights on the day.

Pretty sure the Semroc Centaur was the first multistage kit I bought from Carl in the early days.  I was pretty happy with how it turned out, but the first time up the booster landed on a dry field and managed to find the only puddle in VOA Park.  The coupler and the expended motor casing soaked up water before I could get to them and as a result, I was never 100% sure the stages would separate properly.  It got locked away in a cabinet and largely forgotten for 15 years until I began to go back and fly the rockets I had that had long layoffs.

This flight would be a C6-0/B6-6 combo, because I had a good supply of both motors.  I've done C6-0/C6-7 here previously, but recovery is a lot iffier depending on the wind direction.  This day would have been fine for the two C combo, but since I packed it all up at home the night before, C to B it would be.  The Centaur left the rod dead straight and the arc to the left was fairly slight.  It staged between 300-400', which I caught on camera, and the booster glided back to the pads, which I didn't capture but which was a huge shock.  Altitude was impressive, reducing the sustainer to a mere dot in the sky.  It looked to be tipping over when it ejected, and like most of what we flew as the afternoon wore on, it recovered to the right of the pads.  Landing occurred just a few feet from the access road, and even better, just mere feet from the Porta-Kleen.  Like the Nike Needle before it, one of the better flights of the day.

Flight #10 would be the Custom Dynamic Carrier, one of the early offerings from Custom from back when they had something other than cookie-cutter rockets.  I bought this off of Chan Stevens when he realized he had more kits than he'd ever get to build.  I was actively searching for early Custom kits at the time, having built or cloned a bunch of them before the prices went nuts.

The flight started out straight, but then began heading left as if it banked off an invisible obstruction.  The angle suggested that it was heading for the quarry, but the C6-5 ran out of beans before completing the burrito.  (No, it's not supposed to make sense.)  The rocket looked to be out over Chambersburg Road before it ejected.  Normally this would mean that the recovery would bring it back closer to the pads, but in this situation the parachute fouled on the dowels and the whole wad of sci-fi goodness came down like a large flying burrito.  The recovery walk was the furthest I'd go to the left on this day, but it wouldn't be close to the longest.

My eleventh flight was the Kopter XK-1, a close enough clone that I put together based on information at Ye Olde Rocket Shoppe a few years ago.  KOPTER XK-1 #RK11 (  This was kinda the Kopter version of the Big Bertha.  I hopped it up a bit with the addition of an E capable motor mount.  That said, this would be a D12-5 flight.

I expected something of a wind cock to the left on this flight, and in that I was almost totally disappointed.  The XK-1 flight could scarcely have been more straight off the pad, and the flight topped out almost straight over us around 1000'.  Then came ejection, and the small nylon chute I'd purchased from Merlin Missile Solutions the previous launch took the XK-1 across the flightline and deep into the newly mown section of the football field.  The recovery walk was long, but compared to the previous launch when I watched three float away, it was a pleasure.

The long walk home.  Or at least back to the flightline.

Flight #12 would be another Estes sale rockets, the Fusion X25.  I think this one came from one of the Christmas sales and was one of the first I built when I got my order.  For some reason, I lost interest when the time came to do more than put on the base coat of gloss white.  That was in 2014, so it took nine years for me to finish the project.

This would be a C6-5 flight, and looking back at the previous flight in 2014, I remember being surprised at how high the rocket got on an A8-3.  That said, I wasn't really prepared for this.  The Fusion X25 followed the same flight path as the XK-1, dead straight off the pad and higher than expected.  Way higher.  I was able to follow it up to ejection, and for a few seconds as it drifted out and to the right, well into the soccer field.  Most of us lost it, but one of the younger flyers was able to keep eyes on it all the way to the ground.  Using his directions, several others also saw it for a while, but it was his eyes that saw the final drop over by the concession stand.  That was a long way off.

Lucky #13 on the pads was the Canaroc Eager Beaver, a clone that I fudged with a DRM nose cone at first before finding a resin copy of an actual Canaroc nose cone.  This would be the first flight with the new cone, and like a couple of others on the day, I was concerned that the ejection charge wasn't going to be sufficient to complete the ejection process.

The Eager Beaver is the Canaroc version Der Red Max, so I was comfortable with the idea of a C6-5 flight.  I've made a few DRM flights in my day.  This was a pretty standard 18mm BT-60 flight, and by the standards of the day, also pretty standard.  It left the pad and windcocked left to around 600'.  Ejection occurred well after it tipped over and my first thought was that the nose cone was stuck, but the resin cone is heavier than a PNC-60AH and it's possible that this contributed to the nose down position prior to ejection.  It drifted back to the right across the flightline and recovered within inches of the access road.

I didn't plan for #14 to be my last flight of the day, but that was the way it happened.  The Custom Satellite Drone would be another C6-5 flight, leaving the Estes Javelin, Custom Tristar and Estes Chuter Two unflown on the day.  (I also considered taking the motor from the Tristar for another attempt with the Atlantis.)  

There was no leftward lean to this flight.  It was almost dead straight to about 800', tipping over and ejecting perfectly, then riding the breeze deep into the mown section of the football field for my third 1/4 mile + walk of the day.  My feet felt like wood.  When I made it back to the flightline I found the other Stuffers striking the range.  We were packed up and ready to go before 5:00 and after a visit to Erockets to pack the equipment away and meet Eli the guard rabbit, I decided to freelance on the drive home and got lost in some of Dayton's finer neighborhoods.  For an hour.  So much for a sense of direction.


  1. Great day of flying Bill, glad to see your blog active again!

    1. Ebb and flow. Sometimes I feel like flying and blabbing about it, sometimes it rains.