Thursday, December 02, 2010

REVIEW: Apogee Components Model Rocket Design and Construction

I just picked up and began re-scanning this book and had wanted to post something about it.  Since I had an existing EMRR review, and considering the site's current state of flux, I decided to experiment with cross posting.  One thing I have already decided is that I'm dumping the numeric rating system.  I found that these ratings are not all that consistent even in my own reviews and my opinion often changes as my flight count goes up.  If I don't think my opinion is clear from reading the review, I'll add a statement or two. You can find additional opinions of this product on EMRR (although this link may be changing soon).


The 3rd edition of Timothy Van Milligan’s Model Rocket Design and Construction contains 328 pages of rocketry goodness covering everything from planning and design through recovery. This edition is twice the size of the previous and includes an impressive array of facts, techniques and concepts about all facets of the hobby. Much of the material Tim has added in this edition was extracted from his Peak of Flight Newsletter. (If you don’t subscribe, quit reading this review and go sign up!) These are really useful and I’m glad to see this material compiled in one easy-to-reference location. However, he has also included other unpublished materials too. The range of materials makes it useful to both newbies and us graybeards alike.

The book includes plenty of diagrams and photos. I found the use of diagrams and graphs were used effectively and made the book very understandable. The material ranges from the most basic to advanced. I found many familiar techniques, some that I had known of but had forgotten about, and many others that have never been in my bag of tricks. However, the material is covered in various degrees of detail. Some items are merely cursorily mentioned (e.g. back-sliding gliders are mentioned but no detail is provided) and other are discussed in detail (e.g. 20 pages are dedicated to the discussion of dynamic stability).
Here are a few of the things that I though stood out:

  • The inclusion of more esoteric concepts like pivoting forward fins and.cone rocket stability.
  • The emphasis on techniques for building light but still strong.
  • Techniques for motor retention in minimum diameter rockets and in boat tails.
  • Methods of making custom cones.
  • Orthographic procedures to build oblique cones (like the boosters on the Vostok) and templates to cut tubes at an angle.
  • An introduction to designing and building larger and high-power rockets.
  • The chapter of recovery, which includes information on custom parachute design.
  • A long list of rocket-related patents.
Tim references his RockSim software numerous times through the book and the short chapter on computer-aided rocket design is targeted at RockSim. I think these references are appropriate and the reader can mentally substitute the name of their favorite rocket software. The last chapter does seem a little like a sales pitch, but since I have RockSim, I didn’t mind. I actually would have liked to have seen more RockSim information tucked away, maybe in specialized sections at the end of each chapter.

One thing that was missing for this text was the presentation of the Barrowman formulas and basic altitude prediction calculations. Tim provided a good qualitative discussion of these subjects but then assumed the reader will make the jump to a software tool. I personally think every rocketeer should work through these formulas at least once as they provide a feel for and appreciation for what’s going on under the hood of said software. Maybe this is just my gray coming out?

As EMRR mentioned in his review, I have always considered Stine’s Handbook of Model Rocketry to be the benchmark that rocketry books should be compared with. Since the latest edition that I have seen is 5th Edition published in 1983, comparing the two may be apples and oranges. However, also like EMRR, I also think this may be a case where the student has become the master. While Model Rocket Design and Construction doesn’t cover everything that is covered in The Handbook, it does have more depth in other areas. Both are excellent as far as I am concerned.