Steve Eves lives the dream

Steve Eves launched a 1/10th scale model of the Saturn V rocket on April 25 in a field in Maryland. It was 36 feet tall and weighed 1,600 lbs. It flew to an altitude of about 4,000 ft. and returned safely. Here’s video I found that shows a bit of Steve’s story, and the launch.

This was awsome to see, even just on video! Steve succeeded in setting the world record. This flight will be recorded in the Guinness Book.

Seeing this reminded me of when I once launched a 6 ft. tall Estes rocket called “Mean Machine” with some friends more than 20 years ago, out in a field that’s a block away from where I live now. I remember it used a D-size solid rocket engine and when it launched it was loud, sounding like a jet engine. It flew up so high we could barely see it. It looked like a small dot in the huge sky. I had launched many smaller, less powerful model rockets before this. They flew up between 50 and 200 ft. I had never seen one go up this high (the instructions from Estes always said “check for low flying aircraft before launch”, and of course power lines)! For a bit I wondered if I’d ever see it again, or if a wind current had caught it and blown it away. It came back down…without its parachute about 20 yards away from where it was launched. The 24″ parachute with a light plastic nose cone attached seemed to take forever to come down. It landed right near where I live now. The “launch lug”, I believe it was called, The shock cord mount, which attached the parachute to the fuselage, had separated from the rocket body. I had built the rocket 2 or 3 years before I launched it. The glue that held it on had gotten old and brittle. My interest in model rockets was waning. It had been overtaken by my interest in computers. It was the last rocket I launched.

Back when I was really into model rockets (elementary and jr. high school) I imagined building and launching ones like the one Steve built; how neat that would be. It’s really gratifying to see someone do it.

Edit 5/28/09: I found this video today of a Space Shuttle model rocket and I could not pass up including it here. The boosters detach in mid-flight, and at apogee the Shuttle detaches and ignites it’s own engine for a few seconds. The Shuttle looks like it’s radio controlled from its flight pattern, and it comes in for a smooth landing! WOW! I imagine this is homemade. I doubt it came as a kit. I have no idea who made it though. The description on the video at YouTube didn’t say.

Edit 3/20/14: I found yet another neat Shuttle model. Footage is from 1994. They even modeled the launch tower! According to another video I saw of this model, the boosters and main engine ignite separately, just like the real Shuttle did, though when it goes off all I can see is the main engine’s exhaust.


3 thoughts on “Steve Eves lives the dream

  1. This really brought me back! I was *really* into model rockets as well. My father and I spent a lot of time competing with them! We had built a launch pad that was essentially a triangular frame with 3 metal pipes with bolts running through them that would could use to adjust the size. The rocket fit in the middle of the pipes with the fins through the gaps in the pipes. This allowed us to much more accurately compensate for the wind, and eliminated problems with launch lugs. We also built our own launch electronics to be more reliable (more amps & volts) than the Estes kit.

    We also experimented a lot with alternative materials. One of my favorites competition categories was “egg lofting”, when your rocket had an egg as a payload and you were scored based on the time; a broken egg disqualified you. These were esecpially hard, because it’s hard to keep a rocket stable with a nose heavy design like this. Our “ultimate” machine for this event was very unique. We made an egg chamber by hardboiling the biggest egg we could find, wrapping it in a layer of fiberglass, then dipping it in epoxy. Once the resin set, we hacksawed the egg and cleaned it out. That was the “nose cone” for the rocket. The body, isntead of being made with the usual coated cardboard, was made from lampshade material. At the base, we used a standard engine holder (D engines for this category). For the parachute, we used a garbage bag with a hole cut out in the middle (which provided much needed stability; paracutes without the holes tended to not open properly). Instead of the paper “wadding” to protect the ‘chute, we used fiberglass insulation which worked much better.

    In fact, the second software project I worked on was a “type in” (like you talk about from “Compute”) of an application which caluclated the stability of a rocket. We used this software to tweak the design before putting it together, to help us mimimize surface area (and therefore, drag). This rocket blew away the competition. Unfortunately, we tested it one time without the egg. It drifted for literally miles, and we never recovered it.

    We also experimented with a number of multi-stage rockets. In particular, I worked with one that used the super-small engines, and could attain heights well over 1,000 feet (we also made an altimeter to measure!). Some of the contents were judged on height instead of time. 🙂

    Good memories!


  2. Just a note about the launch. There’s another video on YouTube that has “more extensive coverage” showing “the aftermath”. Towards the end of it they show the crater in the soil from the blast, and that the launch rig moved 3ft.!

    I remember hearing about the “egg” models.

    I got my rocket launching kit second hand. It had an old-style ignition system. It had a couple alligator clips I mounted to the poles of a car battery. It was very reliable. The newer launch kits used AA batteries for the igniter. They weren’t so great. My kit had a stand, but no launch pole or blast plate. I used a piece of piano wire and a soup can lid with a hole punched in it instead. It worked well.

    For whatever reason Estes stopped making many of the most sophisticated models by the time I and a friend got interested in them in the early 1980s. We used to build model rockets together. I remember I got ahold of some old Estes catalogs from the 1960s or 70s. They showed multi-stage rockets (a couple were 3 stages), a rocket that launched a glider, a rocket that had an 8mm movie film camera inside the nose cone, which was supposed to record the flight; a rocket with a small radio transmitter that emitted a “beep…beep” signal so you could find your rocket with a receiver. The most impressive one I saw was an Estes scale model of the Saturn V that you launched with three C engines ignited in series (all in one stage). I think it was about 3 ft. tall. I forget how the circuit went, but you were supposed to ignite all 3 engines at once. That seemed awfully risky. I’d seen igniters misfire.

    I think around the time I launched the “Mean Machine” (in high school) a friend of a friend gave me one of those old Saturn V model kits, unopened. I thought maybe I’d be inspired to build it, but I never got around to it. I ended up giving it away to someone else.

    When I got out of college every once in a while I’d take a look at what Estes was selling in their catalogs, and they brought back some of the more sophisticated models, like the large Saturn V they used to sell. Except I think they modified the kit so it could launch with one D-size engine instead. Makes sense.

    I did get a chance to see my friend build the Estes Space Shuttle when we were in jr. high. It seemed to take a lot of work. The model was designed to look like the real thing, with some “invisible” (clear plastic) fins added to the “solid rocket boosters”. The actual engine went into the “external tank”. The rocket launched the orbiter at its apogee, and it was supposed to glide down, while the rocket had its own parachute.

    The hard part was building the orbiter. It was very fragile, made from thin, light plastic. I remember he had something like a toothpick running sideways through the nose with a thin string attached, which was strung to an “axle” in the rear that had the balsa flaps attached to it. The kit came with some putty for ballast he was supposed to put in the nose. He was supposed to test fly the orbiter to make sure he had the flaps and the ballast calibrated just right, otherwise it would stall. I assume he “set” the “rear axle” with some glue when he thought he had the setting right. I didn’t see him launch it, but he told me later the glider didn’t work out. It “crashed and burned”. Oh well. At least he tried.

  3. Yeah, the Estes launch system from the 80’s (AA batteries) was pretty bad. I considered it dangerous, because if it failed to launch, there was always the lingering fear that it would be smouldering a “catch” just as you were picking it up. We replaced it with a couple of latern batteries wired up for extra oomph.

    There were still some of the sophisticated models when I was doing it; the “Nova” had a clear section that you could put things in to see what happened when they were under stress. They still had a rocket that had a small camera in it (110 mm, I think) to take pictures; I remember reading about the 8 MM film camera machine too, but I never saw one. They still had the Saturn V, but it was pretty pricey (the multiple engines firing at once is “clustering”, and it was always fairly unreliable). I remember seeing the Space Shuttle model as well. They also had one called the “Dragonfly” which looked like a glider; when the engine ejected, it actually would only shift about a 1/2″ or so, enough to change the center of gravity and have it glide like a plane down. Unfortunately, with its large wings, they produced a lot of drag and tended to get ripped off on the way up. Gliders were another category for competition.

    Once you got into competition, after a few month you’d leave the Estes kits behind, and move into home brewed engineering. The Estes model, with a few exceptions, were designed to be safe, stable, and look good on the package. Serious competitors rarely painted their rockets, because that added weight; some would put just enough clear coat or paint on to help smooth the wooden fins, but in general, it was better to have them really well sanded instead of painted. Where I was doing this, some folks had a cottage industry of selling phenolic tubes (for the fusalages) and vaccuum molded nose cones that were substantially lighter than the Estes stuff.

    I really, truly hope that model rocketry is still alive by the time my son is old enough to enjoy and appreciate it. Unfortunately, the youth of America seem to not be interested in these things, and parents don’t seem to want to put the time into these activities either.


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