Friday, January 14, 2011

Mega Review: Vintage Estes

This post covers the following out-of-production Estes kits:
  1. Helio*Copter (Kit #1995)
  2. Sizzler (Kit #1906) Starter Set
  3. Skinny Mini (Kit #0880)
  4. Space Shuttle (Kit #1284)

Helio*Copter (Kit #1995)

This rocket in BT-55 based and flies on 18mm motors. The nose cone uses helicopter recovery and the body uses a plastic parachute. This model dates back to the late '80s.

Parts included:
- BT-55 body tube
- plastic nose cone
- a plastic hub and three plastic blades
- three rubber bands
- three balsa fins
- 18mm motor mount
- launch lug
- rubber-band shock cord
- plastic parachute

The instructions were clear and easy to follow and the construction was simple. This kit was rated skill level-2, I guess because of the added complexity of the helicopter recovery.

The plastic hub was glued to the nose cone using plastic cement and the three blades snapped into the hub. Small rubber bands connected the hub and blades.

The kit came with decals and I painted mine as shown in the picture. The yellow plastic nosecone remained naked.

The only recommended engines were the C6-3 and C6-5. I have also flown mine successfully on the AT SU D21-7. The motor mount used a metal clip so no tape was required.

The shock cord attached to the body tube with the folded-paper method and the chute was attached to the other end. The chute and shock cord are packed between the folding helicopter blades. The fit is snug and you need to make sure the blades fit around the shock cord mount. Recovery has always been perfect-except for when the helicopter nose impacted something hard and broke off one of the blades. I jury-rigged the blade by melting an small hole through the end of it and wiring it to the hub. It comes down a little wobbly but is basically OK. The helicopter recovery is cool and is a crowd-pleaser.

It was easy to build, flies great, and the helicopter recovery is icing on the cake.

Sizzler (Kit #1906) Starter Set

After I entered some old flight logs on the Estes Sizzler, I decided to look at the EMRR review. To my surprise, this was not the same kit! The newer Sizzler was not merely a re-issue with materials differences, it was larger (BT-60 vs. BT-50), had a different fin design, and used rear ejection vs. standard NC ejection.

The original Sizzler (#1906) was a basic 3FNC Skill level 1 rocket. I bought mine in 1987 as part of a starter set - my first act as a BAR. The attached pics provide a good description of the rocket (click picture on left to enlarge). I really loved the looks of the original. Originally, mine looked like the ads - now it is fairly flight worn.

I flew this rocket many many times times on A's, B's, C's, and one D It has landed on people's roofs and a ledge of a nearby office building. We were lucky they had scheduled a window cleaning that weekend (before it rained!). It survived these flights well, with a 12" plastic chute and the rubber band shock cord. On its last flight, I used an Aerotech D21-7 for a really fast take-off. The ejection charge burned the body tube and blistered the paint. The tube almost feels like it melted. The Sizzler is now enjoying a happy retirement in the Dungeon. Maybe someday, she will see an offspring (upscale).

PROs - Flies great on any class of 18mm engine CONs - Uses a short rubber band shock cord. However, this was typical for all Estes kits back then.

I think the new version is a more interesting rocket (with rear ejection, etc.), but I liked the overall look of the original better. I think Estes should have issued their rocket under another name, IMHO.

Skinny Mini (Kit #0880)

The Skinny Mini was a 'longneck'-style, 13mm, minimum diameter rocket that used streamer recovery. Mine dates back to the late '80's.

The parts included:

* 2 sections of 13mm tubing
* tube coupler
* plastic nosecone
* 3 die cut balsa fins
* plastic streamer
* rubber band shock cord
* launch lug
* engine block

This was a typical skill Level-1 kit. As with other Estes kits, it came with good instructions, a fin marking template, etc. The biggest issue was making sure the two body tubes were aligned properly. This is always an issue with long, skinny rockets.

The kit came with decals. I originally painted mine as shown in the attached pic.

The Skinny Mini flew on 1/2A and A engines. All my flights were on A10-3 with expected altitudes in the 700' range.

The shock cord was a rubber-band style as was typical of Estes at that time. It was tied to the nose cone shoulder and used a folded paper mount to the BT. This relatively wide cord made packing the streamer fairly difficult. It really needed some thin Kevlar® twine. One one flight the streamer didn't deploy and the tubing was destroyed. It was replaced and the rocket has flown well since.

Pros: Long and sleek design, easy to build and flew great Cons: Needed a thinner shock cord, tended not to deploy the streamer.  

Space Shuttle (Kit #1284)

This is a review of the OOP Estes Master's Series Space Shuttle, EST# 1284. It is a 1/162 scale replica of the Space Shuttle and includes both Orbiter and booster sections. These sections are connected at launch, boost on a single C5-3 or C6-3 engine, and separate when the 'main engine' ejects. The Orbiter uses glide recovery while the booster uses a parachute. For flight, there are removable fin units that mount in the SRBs. For display, plastic nozzles are provided.

The Space Shuttle came packaged like a typical Estes kit (plastic bags, etc). This is definitely a skill-level-4 kit with 16 pages of detailed instructions containing 53 steps. It claims to require 4 types of glue and 6 colors of paint. The parts list includes 27 line items including the chute, decals, etc. The balsa fins, cardboard body wraps/detailing, and vacuum-molded Orbiter components are all die cut. The die cut plastic components made the Orbiter assembly a lot easier, as I never seem to get a good fit when I have to cut them with a knife.

I built the kit stock, down to the elastic shock cord. I figured it was good enough for several flights, and I probably will not fly it too often. I substituted Titebond for the white glue, and since I didn't want to go out and buy 3 types of glue that I normally don't use (contact cement, plastic cement, and liquid plastic cement), I used CA (medium and thick) instead. I assembled the entire booster (main tank/SRBs) this way and it worked fine. Later, when I got to the Orbiter, which is almost all plastic, I broke down and got some liquid plastic cement. I want to point out a general rule in building models - one that I don't seem to follow. That is, read ALL the instructions before you start. I didn't pay attention and used the elastic string required for the adjustment of the Orbiter's elevons in another spot. DUH. I did, however, find a suitable replacement when building the Orbiter. My feeble mind was confused by the fact that the chute came pre-assembled, and the instructions called for a piece of twine from the chute. I followed the instructions pretty much as is, but I did skip ahead at times to keep busy while parts dried. I found one fin was broken out of the bag; however, this was easily fixed with some glue and tissue. I stopped at the point that the main tank, SRBs, and removable fin units were complete.

At this point, I decided that I would separately paint each section. After these sections are assembled, it would be very difficult to paint them different colors. The fit of the plastic Orbiter parts was not perfect, but not too bad. The first step in trimming the Orbiter glider is balancing it and adjusting the nose weight. The kit provides two weights. I used one weight and some clay instead of cutting the second one up. Next, you adjust the elevons with a string that is run through the center engine nozzle in the rear. This string pulls on a plastic arm on the elevon assembly, while the elastic string mentioned earlier maintains tension. After quite a bit of adjustment, the Orbiter still seems to glide like a brick (kind of like the real thing?).

I decided to use the current Shuttle paint scheme, with a brown main tank and white boosters. As I mentioned above, these were painted prior to their final assembly. I used white spray paint and the rest was brush-on. I didn't want to buy multiple spray paints, nor am I that skilled in masking small details. I even mixed my own light gray-green for the tip of the Orbiter's nose and the leading edge of the wings. The decals are the water-slide variety. They went on fine, but some of the smaller ones literally blew away when I sprayed the final clear coat. The end result, like many of my finish jobs, looks good from a distance.

The kit flies on C5-3 and C6-3 engines only. I chose a C6-3 because that is what I had available. The winds were blowing between 5-10 mph (my guess) when I launched. The boost was slow (read that realistic) and there was some wobble and weathercocking.

The recovery system is typical Estes with an elastic shock cord and a plastic chute. Ejection appeared to occur just before apogee and the Booster separated, just as it was supposed to. It turned with the wind and came down at a fairly steep angle, again, just like the real thing. It landed nicely without damage. The one problem was singeing on the elastic shock cord, which is no big surprise. I will have to replace it before the next flight - should have done it at the start!

PROs 1. Great looking scale model. 2. Relatively easy to build, considering the number of components. 3. Realistic looking boost and Orbiter recovery. 4. Neat rocket!

CONs 1. Fin stock was broken out of the package. 2. Some steps are hard to understand and require looking at all the finishing diagrams to understand what is intended 3. The fit of the Orbiter parts is so-so

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