It really isn’t hard to make a model rocket, and model rocketry is a hobby that can be enjoyed by both kids and adults. There is no containing a young child’s imagination or enthusiasm when they make a model rocket and watch it launch. And parents will enjoy watching their kids get into the finer details of making a model rocket. Adults, too, can enjoy this hobby without feeling as if they are participating in a child’s activity.
Making and flying these simple and easy to build pieces of your imagination is a great deal of fun, and you just might learn a thing or two. Basic construction techniques, such as sanding, painting, gluing, and folding are used in model rocket construction. Eventually a shape starts to form. You’re very own rocket, ready to soar into the sky!
The History Of Model Rockets
With the launch of the space race in the 1950s and 1960s, young and old alike became interested in flying their own versions of these rocket ships. However, nobody knew how to properly make a model rocket on their own. Many early model rocket hobbyists were hurt during their amateur attempts. It wasn’t until G. Harry Stine, a pioneer in model rocketry, was contacted by two brothers in Norfolk, Nebraska, that the first reliable and safe model rocket engines were produced. These brothers, Orville and Robert Carlisle, had designed and successfully launched the first model rocket.
Since then, a curiosity and fascination evolved into a hobby that virtually anyone could do and enjoy. The first company to mass produce model rocket engines, Estes Industries, has continued to develop engine designs and model rocket forms over the years. From simple designs that a child can do to more complex designs that adult hobbyists enjoy, the variety of what flies is only limited by the builder’s imagination. Organizations have been created to assist amateur model rocket enthusiasts and help develop the hobby beyond what anyone ever thought it would be.
Fun Facts About The Model Rocket Hobby
- The first model rocket in the U.S. was built and launched in 1954 by shoe store owner Orville Carlisle and his model-airplane enthusiast brother Robert.
- The first American model rocket company was opened in Denver, Colorado, in 1957, by G. Harry Stine, who also wrote the first safety handbook for model rocketry.
- Model rockets have been used for scientific purposes by geographers, weatherologists, and meteorologists to take aerial photos and monitor wind currents and atmospheric conditions.
- The Saturn V is the biggest model rocket built to date. It took its builder, Steve Eves, two years to make the 36-foot rocket!
Getting Started – Make A Model Rocket
Deciding which design to build is not especially easy when you want to make a model rocket. There are many types, ranging from ready-to-fly to much-assembly-required. Supplies that you will need include sandpaper, standard white glue, some small blocks of wood to help line things up, and paint. This, along with a basic model kit is all you need to build your first rocket.
Once you have your supplies and kit, you need to find a clean workspace. This will give you room to spread out and assemble the rocket. Locate the fin guide that will come with the kit and follow the instructions for marking where to glue the fins. Use the wooden blocks to properly place the fins on the tube that will be the body of the rocket. Glue each fin one at a time using the guide blocks, letting each separate fin dry completely before installing the next one.
When the fins are dry, install the engine mount in the base of the body tube. This is the housing that will make sure your motor doesn’t go through all of your carefully packed recovery gear and out of the nosecone. These usually are created from a smaller tube and a couple of rings. A spring is used to hold the engine in place in this tube to make replacement easy after a successful flight.
The last step is to install the nosecone and parachute, streamer, recovery fin, or balance block to enable your creation to safely come back to Earth. Choosing the type of recovery device installed depends on the intent of the model rocket, because certain designs simply will not work with specific recovery devices.
The wrong device could cause a sudden failure of your carefully constructed model and a lack of fun for you. When everything is properly installed, you can paint and decorate your model however you like. Bright colors are the best choice because they make it easier to see your rocket majestically flying through the air…and so you can find it in the grass when it lands.
You will also need a launch pad. These are usually snap-together pieces that will break down for easy storage. The final piece you need is a launch igniter for the engines. These can be as simple as a couple PF batteries connected to a spool of wire and a switch mechanism. Or, they can be as complex as a fully electronic launch system with a keylock and built-in speakers.
Many stores sell complete kits to make a model rocket for approximately twenty dollars. The kit typically includes one rocket, a launch pad, an ignition kit, three or four motors, flame retardant padding, and a safety manual. The safety manual should be read thoroughly so you do not experience flying projectiles going to places where they shouldn’t go. Model rocketry is a hobby where you need to be safe and act responsibly. Hobbyists will have much more fun when they follow the simple safety guidelines.
Steps For Flying Your Model Rocket
Once you’ve built your model rocket, it’s time for lift-off! Finding a place to launch your rocket is the next step. An open field is usually a prime location for rocket launching. The rocket will need an open space to fly and land without becoming lost in trees or flying into someone else’s yard. You may need to experiment with a couple of different places before you find the perfect location for launching your rockets.
When you get to the field with your rocket, you will need to set up your launch pad. If there is little to no wind, launching near the center of the field is usually a good spot. If there is a breeze, setting up somewhere upwind is better for flight and retrieval. If there is a strong wind, you may want to reschedule your launch for both safety and convenience. The goal is to make sure the rocket lands in the field. After putting in all the hard work to make a model rocket, you really want to make sure you can launch it more than once.
When the pad is set up, place the rocket on the launch rod and connect the launch box to the engine. Remember to engage the keylock to prevent an unexpected ignition. Safety first! Now step back to the length of the connecting wires. Connect the ignition system to the wires, which should be hooked up to the igniter in the engine.
You should have inspected the field before setting up your platform for anything that could be a problem. It’s a good idea to inspect the site again at this point to make sure you didn’t miss anything that could be a hazard. Also, it probably is not the best time for a rocket launch if there is a group of people nearby who may wander into the flight zone.
Once you’ve secured your platform, connected the wires, and surveyed the area for dangers, you’re ready to launch. 5…4…3…2….1 – Lift-off! Give a loud countdown to warn anyone who might be in the area, and then go ahead and press the button. You should see an immediate lift-off.
If you do not have lift-off, turn off your launching system immediately. Make sure you wait a couple of minutes before approaching the rocket. Again, remember the safety manual. The motors are flammable devices and dangerous if defective.
Model Rocketry Tips and Tricks
The following tips and tricks can help you when learning how to make a model rocket…
- Take your time when making your rocket. If you rush while gluing or connecting wires, the rocket may not take off or will veer off course because it is not balanced properly.
- Balance the engine power with the model rocket design. Putting more power into your rocket than it can handle could destroy the rocket or cause it to go so far off course you never find it again.
- Know your limits. That “Nuclear Rocket Kit” may look awesome, but if you’ve never made a model rocket before, it is likely way beyond your current expertise. Start small and work your way up. You will be more successful and enjoy the hobby more.
- Have fun. If you aren’t enjoying the hobby, then you won’t continue the hobby. Taking your time to build the rocket and put details into it is where it starts. It also builds your anticipation of seeing it soar through the air after take-off.
Expanding Your Model Rocket Hobby
After making and flying the simple rockets a few times, it’s not uncommon to take the hobby to the next level. Here are some suggestions for growing the hobby:
- Join an amateur rocketry club and attend events and enter your rocket in contests.
- Use larger reusable engines in your rockets – how big can you get before you need FCC approval?
- Build in high altitude weather detecting payloads. These are sensors to determine weather patterns.
- Build in tracking payloads that are devices to measure distance, height, or speed of your rocket.
Related Model Rocket Resources
Below are some websites where you can get information on the different types of rockets, how to make a model rocket, how to take the hobby to the next level, events to attend, and more…
National Association Of Rocketry (NAR) – Promotes safe model rocketry with publications, rocket launches, contests and rocket clubs.
Estes Rockets – World renowned as a leading manufacturer of innovative hobby products for the model rocket industry.
Apogee Rockets – Sells model rocket kits, engines, software and launch equipment as well as providing “how it works” information.
Related YouTube Videos
Check out the following videos to learn even more about starting this hobby.