Archive for January, 2019


It’s been a long time; and twice a BAR

January 24, 2019

It’s been a long time since I’ve been here. What’s happened in the interim?

  • My granddaughters grew up – a lot – and spending time doing things with them is the best!
  • My part-time retirement job, Assistant Director of the Central States Judges Association, has grown to be almost full-time during certain times of the year.
  • My Dad had Parkinson’s, and his health gradually deteriorated. I spent a lot of time for a few years going back and forth to Ohio to see him. He passed away in September of 2017.
  • Our son and daughter-in-law moved to the Orlando area – he works for Electronic Arts, the game company. That was last May. Before that they were in the San Francisco Bay Area for about two years while he worked for another game company. This means a bit of travel to see them from time to time!
  • We had a couple of big-time renovation projects going on here. That takes time even if you’re not doing the actual work.
  • I finished the second edition of my Marching Band Arranging book and it has been for sale for over a year on Amazon.

Modeling, which was one of the things I discussed on this blog, has taken a back seat. Our two older cats passed away a couple of years ago and we got two new kittens. They want to help do everything in the utility room so glue, sharp objects and paint are a problem. They are now a bit more mature and, after some renovation to the utility room, I’m slowly getting back into modeling.

The granddaughters, my wife and I went to Space Camp at KSC last summer. (Highly recommended, by the way! One 10-year-old, one was just 13, and two over-60 grandparents, and all of us had a great time!) ) Once we got home we built some beginner-level model rockets and flew them. (I recommend Apogee Components for all your model rocketry needs!) This makes me a second-time BAR (Born Again Rocketeer) – first when my kids were young, now the grandkids 25 years later!

Now we are gearing up to fly the SpaceX Falcon 9 model sold by SpaceX. It will have improved, 3D printed landing leg shrouds and grid fins from Boyce Aerospace Hobbies. I’m updating it to the recent final Iridium-8 mission.

Boyce makes a similar set to expand the SpaceX kit to a full Falcon Heavy model. That will probably be next, with either a generic Block 5 center core (likely the one to b e used for upcoming commercial missions) or model the whole thing as the Falcon 9 Demo mission. I’ll either built that one next or the much smaller Dr. Zooch Falcon Heavy model.

Since the last time I built model rockets, a few things have changed a lot. First, 3D printing is becoming a significant force in modeling in general. Most of the resin garage kit models I’ve bought lately (more about those in another post) were created from 3D printed masters. As I mentioned, the parts to upgrade the SpaceX Falcon to the Heavy are all ABS plastic 3D printed parts – truss, engine section, nose cones, landing legs, and grid fins.

Second, there are now composite (as opposed to black powder) low-power rocket motors! Can’t wait to try them out in the spring! The thrust profiles are much different from the black powder motors. Composite propellants have been used on high-power rocket motors for years, but now Quest has started to build them in smaller sizes.

Third, finding a flying field in the suburbs is really hard. Why? Drones. Some of the towns around here have specific statutes prohibiting flying things in their parks, because of the danger of foolhardy drone operators. Grrrrr.

Fourth – and counter to the last point – rockets have gotten bigger. We flew little rockets on A and B motors, maybe a C if we were really lucky and had a dead-calm day. Rockets were a foot to maybe 18 inches long, tops.  Now, D and E motors are much more common, rockets can be two to three feet long, and easily reach 500 feet. That means bigger flying fields are required, and those are hard to find close by. The SpaceX Falcon 9 is a big, heavy model that is supposed to fly on D motors. I think they did it deliberately so the takeoff will be slower and more authentic-looking. But that body tube is about twice the thickness of a typical spiral-wound body tube. It should be pretty durable, except for the clear plastic fins. Those look pretty fragile.

What hasn’t changed? Most rocket designs are still four fins and a nose cone. There are some odd-looking things that sort of fly, but mainly, aerodynamics haven’t changed and that dictates what flies best. Lots of scale or semi-scale models of missiles are available now. Quite a few of the old designs from the 1960s are back, up-scaled to use bigger motors. I think we have bigger rockets because in the 1960s rockets were bought by kids, and today they are bought by the same people, 50+ years older. My first Estes order when   I was in grade school was less than $15, and that was a big outlay of cash for me. By the time I get done the Falcon Heavy upgrade will cost about $100. The upscaled older designs play to the BAR nostalgia pretty hard…

Here’s the old Estes Mars Snooper, a fun kit from the 1960s and 1970s. It’s now available from Apogee Components. It’s built by Semroc, which has recently been sold to eRockets.


It’s about 22 inches long, and uses an 18 mm (diameter) low-power motor. It weighs (without motor) about 3 ounces. Here’s a scratch-built upscale version, built by Douglas Gerrard:


Here’s his article about how he built it. Twenty-five pounds of rocket!

I’m not ready for that! Price, complexity, and not having a place a fly it all tell me I should stick to the smaller stuff. But it is very tempting…

So, what else? The Princess Cecile, from the David Drake books, is still on hold. All the components are in a plastic box, waiting for me to start again. I got stuck on how to make High Drive motors that would be cool looking. Drake describes them almost not at all. The rest of the ship is a cylinder with rounded ends, with cylindrical outriggers (it almost always lands on water). The fusion drive motors are under the ship, so there’s not much to see. But the High Drive motors are on the outriggers. One book places them as focusing somehow from a central point, but that’s the only place. I assume Drake forgot where he placed ’em. Most of the time he talks about them operating, but not much about how. Several times he talks about them being replaced, either in a dockyard or in the field, and once refers to some that were abandoned as “lumps.” Not much help there.

The younger granddaughter really got into Andy Weir’s book “The Martian” last year. She’s too young for the movies language – and the book version she had was one edited for school kids. But I bought the Fantastic Plastic MAV kit from the movie. No time to build it yet!


I have about 20 more kits that I want to build, but it will be slow going. I have the 1:350 TOS Enterprise that I bought as soon as Polar Lights put it on the market. It’s still waiting. At least we have a better idea of the original colors of the filming miniature after the restoration at the Smithsonian two years ago.

Oh, and I’m still writing for marching bands. Gotta get started on the first show for next year sometime next week!

Maybe there will be a new post in less that 4 years this time…one can hope!