Monday, December 21, 2009

Great results despite a crummy start

Pics by:KeithAlanK

This is my first train post at the Lab.
Along with my other bad habits, I'm fond of trains too.
Plural of caboose is cabeese and a common nickname is
crummy. These days you can simply call a caboose a trailing

This crummy started out as a toy cast in at least 5 clashing
and semi-translucent colors of plastic and covered in
meaningless and/or contradictory crooked stickers. It's part
of a battery powered christmas train set by New Bright,
running on 45mm gauge plastic track. It's aproxximately 1/32
scale. Along with repainting and adding window glazing, I
added a few details. I ordered and installed Ozark Miniatures
marker lamps and eliptical springs castings on the
trucks.  I had to build new roof walks to replace the originals
which I lost somehow. The Y-type rerail was fabbed from a
track part.  Standard operating orders my imaginary railway
company, the GT&O, requires that all locos, cabeese and
plows must carry a rerail device [the imaginary trackage
aint so good]. The chain slung on the other side is for the
crews to drag stuff with. Sometimes a car has to be dragged
at a distance, and once, the conductor shot a moose.  The
marker lamps are functional with a 3V grain of wheat bulb
in each one.  Another bulb is hung inside as a ceiling lamp.
I chose to use a pair of C batteries so that I could use up
tired hand me downs from the loco which sucks up 6 at a
time. Too, I had several spare battery holders handy.  I
frosted the windows so you can't see in, and it simulates
window fogging on a cold day.  
I modified the track in the photo to be a grade crossing.
The wood strips hide some superfluous toy crap underneath.
The wood is aged with grey art markers and detailed with
a fine Sharpie pen.
After the crummy, I refinished the boxcar and gondola that
I have. Next will be the loco and tender, ugh. When I start
on the tender, I intend to get lettering and logos for

I decided to leave my christmas tree mummified in a closet
this year, but the xmas train is coming out tonight.  I found
some tiny plastic wreaths to put on each end of the train,
and some snow covered pine trees to put along the track.

       ~Merry Christmas Y'all!~

Monday, November 30, 2009

Atlas? 5

I was surfing for the X37B and landed on the Atlas 5 which
is going to be the X37's launch vehicle soon. I didn't know
much about the Atlas 5 and admittedly, I still don't know
enough.  Research will continue though.  I have a few
points to make in this post, more may arise in the future.

As near as I can tell, this is practically a new vehicle, it
bears so little commonality with the Atlas that I know,
it hardly deserves the name. Atlas always had  3 liquid
rocket motors in a stage and a half arrangement. It took
off on 3 motors, then later drops the outer pair,
continueing on the center motor alone. A sweet solution.
This new bird has only 2 liquid motors.
More important than the name, L-M adds the older Atlas
launch success rate in with the new one, claiming over 600
successful launches. Most of those flights were made by
the original Convair later renamed General Dynamics.
Marketing hype that doesn't fool anybody who cares.

The pics above are from the recent launch of the Intelsat
14 satelite. Reading about the flight, I found that it used
3 strap-on motors. Scrolling through the roll-out pics,  I
was struck by the sight of 2 of the strap-ons side by side.
Typically 3 strap-ons would be attached equidistant around
the booster. Further through the pics I find the third strap-
on on the other side next to an empty mounting pad for a
fourth. The Atlas 5 is outfitted for only 4 strap-ons mounted
in 2 opposite pairs. I would've designed the booster with 6
mounting pads, which would allow any balanced combo of
2,3,4, or 6.  It's a pure guess on my part that they didn't
want to rebuild the launch pad. The umbilical tower is a
bit too close to allow strap-ons on that side.

These days, strap-on motors are about as likely to have
inward canted nose cones as traditional concentric cones.
The Atlas 5 strap-ons have a cone style I've never seen
before. They are canted inward but the tip is full width
and flattened next to the main booster.
Wonder what they call it?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

French Rubber

pics by KeithAlanK
This is a Coupe deHiver called the Coupe deVille.
Coupe deHiver is French for Winter Cup. We all know that a Coupe deVille is, or was, a top end 2 door Cadillac.

In rubber power competition the king of competition categories is Wakefield  It's been around since the 1930's or longer, and as a consequence, is packed with rules and dominated by guys who've been flying them for decades, or the occasional young aerospace engineer who still has the ability to innovate after 6-8 years of college.  Coupe deHiver has been around since the 1950's or so, and while it has some tight rules of it's own, they still fit on one page.  After going to a few contests, I knew the event I wanted. I bought a 2nd rate kit called Slats and set it on a shelf straightaway.  Not long after, Blue Ridge Models introduced the Coupe deVille and I was hooked.  A truly great kit for it's day. All the rib sets were milled, the propellor blades preformed, and all the wood was 1st rate and appropriate to the task. Another nice feature is that with a couple quick adjustments it can be loaded with as much rubber as desired and flown in Unlimited event as well.  I built it immediately during July-August 1977.  I finished the decorations the night before the first day of my senior year. Too nervous to sleep, I stayed up finishing it by about 3am. The name and shark mouth are all cut tissue, both based on my own sketches. The color on the tail used to be a very nice royal blue.

I had started collecting all the support equipment back when I bought the Slats kit, so I was ready. I took it out a few times that fall and it flew great.  A real pleasure to watch. In October I got my own car.  The car and girls quickly pushed everything else out of mind.  Occasional flying still took place now and then, but weeks long bouts of steady onstruction projects were at an end.  

When I moved back to Texas in 1981. the Coupe deVille made the trip, but the box full of ground support equipment and supplies didn't.  By then I was a mad biker, and flying was even farther from my mind.  I thought about getting the ground support together but it didn't happen soon enough.  Consideration was even given to doing a sacrilegious electric conversion.  By 1990 the tissue covering was already too old and brittle.  It's made 6 moves over the years, and hung from a lot of walls and ceilings, but this is the end of the line.  Now that it's finally digitized, it's headed to a viking funeral.  Like most rockets, the build time far exceeded the total airtime.  This model may have as many as 35 hours construction time, another 15 hours or so invested in the ground support.  At most, the Coupe deVille probably amassed no more than 20 minutes in the air, with only one flight making a full 2 minutes and having the dethermalizer triggered by the fuse.   Pure magic to watch though.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Sidewinder on Steroids

Here's yet another gem I found at China Lake Alumni.
1970 gallery.  It's called the HAP Sidewinder. HAP
stands for High Altitude Project.  The limited research
I found indicates that it was created by combining a
Sparrow rocket motor with the front end of an AIM-9L.  
Some test flights were performed, but the project was
soon cancelled.

I've never been a big Sidewinder fan and the
proliferation of variants has always made the study of
them a bit bewildering.  Having admitted that, I must
say;  I LIKE THIS!

I can look up the 2 diameters and easily scale a drawing
from there.I have an Estes Python nosecone which will
serve for the Sidewinder seeker section,  or I can turn
one, as well as turning the transition section.  
Sigh... just add it to an already long list of unstarted
and semi-started projects

Monday, October 26, 2009

Playing with a Stubby Euphemism

3d by Dick Stafford

Photo KeithAlanK

Photo KeithAlanK

Photo John Lee

I can appreciate a clever euphemism.
The USAF nuclear arsenal is typically modular in nature. A sensible
approach when technology is progressing rapidly. The nuclear
explosive is a seperable unit from it's carrier body, either a
missile or a gravity bomb. In the case of a gravity bomb, the
body is referred to as a drop-shape.   Cute, I like that.

This it the DS-3r; Drop Shape, 3"dia, rear ejection. This is also
the 3rd DS that I've built over the years. Won't be the last either.
I had been sketching and dreaming this particular design for a
couple years already, and when Giant Leap introduced it's 3", 5:1
plastic nosecone, I knew the time had come.  I turned an upscale
Cherokee cone for a rocket buddy in trade for the Giant Leap

I always thought the slo-mo vidclips of gravity bombs with retard
packages looked cool. The small close coupled chute ejecting out
the rear to slow the bombs down. For a low altitude drop, this
gives the aircraft a lead over the slowing bombs so that they
don't explode directly under the aircraft. Nukes often are
configured the same way for the same reason, despite much
higher release altitudes.  The DS-3r has the internal space to do
this well. The motor mount tube extends well into the nose. The
ejection gasses must 1st go forward, then return through the
baffled centering rings to eject the tail cap and the chute which
is packed around the motor. This utilizes the entire internal
volume of cool air to push the chute out before any hot gasses
can even reach it.  Another trick I pulled is that by removing the
nose cone, the entire motor mount/baffle assembly slides right
out for servicing or for chute replacement.

When the DS-3r was nearing completion, I decided that It
needed to be run through RocSim.  I've used it a time or two,
but don't have it.  I still use Barrowman CP calc on paper, and
did it this time, though knowing that it has trouble with rockets
this stubby.  I contacted Dick Stafford of Dick's Rocket Dungeon
fame and he helped me out. After tweaking the mass and balance
in line with the the real model, he found that only one ounce of
nose weight would be required, I added 1 1/2oz.  RocSim
Barrowman CP agreed with paper Barrowman CP, and RocSim CP
was indeed a bit further back.  The wedge airfoil fins [which
RocSim as yet doesn't handle] actually moves the CP still further
back a bit.  The performance sim crosses Estes motors and the
24mm Blackjacks right off the list, too slow off the rail.  E18W is
good for 800ft, the F39T goes to 1200ft.  Just about perfect
upper range, and I may work my way down the motor list over
time.  That new Aerotech E20W looks nice too.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

China Lake YouFoe Quiz

Here's another pic I found at China Lake Alumni.
The very first pic in the 1962 gallery.
I haven't seen one of these in at least 20 years.
I do know what it is.
Do you?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Mystery Mono at China Lake

Sometimes it pays to repeat a search from time to time.
Previously, when I Googled Monocopter I'd get some of the
usual scattering of model vidclips and discussion, and a whole
lot of that Euro turbofan jetpak, which may be mono, but
aint no copter.  This time around the photo below popped
out at me.  Quite a find.
It was at the China Lake Alumni website, in the photo gallery
page for 1963. China Lake is home to the US Navy weapons
test facilities.  The site search engine, unfortunately, yielded
no other photos or info. I kept the original file name on the pic;
Monocopter perch 16AUG63 CLK SL-027985

I am able to infer a few things from the pic. Foremost is that 
the protuberance on the far side of the hub is not the same as
the wing on this side, so I believe this really is a monocopter.  
The wing is mounted to the hub at the center of lift, therefore  
is probably capable of changing pitch in flight, likely in response
to control inputs to the elevon at the wingtip. If the hub isn't
made from actual truck hubcaps I'll be surprised as hell.   If it's
heavy enough the disk hub will stabilize a rotor despite the lack
of a proper flybar.  I had already designed a monocopter using
a ring shaped hub, although the ring on mine is proportionately
larger in relation to the wing since it'll have no extra internal mass.

Two things are puzzling.
Obviously; what is the powerplant?
The other is the source of the 1/2 round shadow directly below
the hub? You can see that the sun is to the left and the shadows
are stretching to the right, therefore the hub's actual shadow is
to the right as well.

If anyone knows ANYTHING further, PLEASE comment!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Low Flight 2, The Heli Version

Today, while surfing the web for something completely different,
I ran across another version of Low Flight, this time written by
and for helicopter pilots.  I previously posted the original High Flight,
and then Low Flight written for Phantom II crews earlier this year.

Low Flight

Oh, I've slipped the surly bonds of earth
And hovered out of ground effect on semi-rigid blades;
Earthward I've auto'ed and met the rising brush of non-paved terrain
And done a thousand things you would never care to
Skidded and dropped and flared
Low in the heat soaked roar.
Confined there, I've chased the earthbound traffic
And lost the race to insignificant headwinds;
Forward and up a little in ground effect
I've topped the General's hedge with drooping turns
Where never Skyhawk or even Phantom flew.
Shaking and pulling collective,
I've lumbered the low untresspassed halls of victor airways,
Put out my hand and touched a tree.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Campitch 1 Monocopter Pt2

On Sept 19, I went to fly with the Alamo Rocketeers over in China Grove.
Since my truck is broken, I went on my Harley Sportster with whatever I could carry in a knapsack. It's been a long time since I did that. You're limited to rockets that are either small enough, or that disassemble. Sturdy is important too. The Campitch 1 is certainly small enough once the flybar is removed.
The hard part is getting by while leaving a new 25LB field box at home. It helps to have friends.

The CP1 sitting on a borrowed pad, loaded with a D12-0

After ignition it's only spun 180 degrees and the wing is already extended for ascent at least part way. The pads' rod angle adjuster is slipping.

That's the wing in the foreground after bouncing off the ground, and tossing up a small cloud of orange soil.

The hub is falling after making a respectable altitude, wingless.

No major damage to speak of, but the cam follower pin was sheared off where it came out of the reinforcement plate on top of the wing. The pin was essentially a 2-56 steel bolt. I've already done repairs and replaced the 2-56 with a 4-40 socket head bolt, and widened the
camtrack slot to take it.

In retrospect it's not too surprising that something happened, given the number of MC's that come apart under centrifigal loads. I would've been much less surprised if the 2-56 pin was simply bent but still there. While I was at it, I installed the heavier return spring I had pre-selected as a possible upgrade. I never liked the limited wing attachment method on this model. A secondary safety attachment would be nice, but how to do it without making the next failure worse?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Campitch 1 Monocopter Pt1

This is the Campitch 1.  The 1st of 2 recently finished
monocopters. Both monos employ quite different wing
control mechanisms, but I decided to build both at once
because most of the construction is routine enough to be
a bit boring and I always mix too much epoxy  anyway.  

The Campitch 1 uses a system similar to that of the
Rotary Space Ship that I posted about back in March of
this year. When the vehicle begins to rotate, centrifigal
force causes the wing to slide outward on its' pivot rod,
as it does so, a pin on top of the wing root follows a
cam track causing the wing to rotate from down pitch to
up so that it can ascend.  Once the motor burns out, the
mono will slow it's spin until a spring can retract the
wing, returning it to down pitch so that it can autorotate
for a gentle landing.   No stopping, no falling.  

Now, I've done away with the burn string that the
Mousetrap requires.  After I work the bugs out on D12's,
I'll be able to fly it on my own small moonburn sugar motors.

Monday, September 21, 2009

It was a Gorey Show [sorry]

I can't remember the last time I was hot to go to a museum.
The Cosmodrome when I was in Kansas for LDRS 12?
That was a space related museum, no surprise there.
This time it was the McNay art museum here in San Antonio.
I've driven past it a 1/2 a million times without knowing it
was even there, this time we were pulling in. What snagged
me was a traveling exhibit of the art of Edward Gorey.
We aint in Kansas anymore, for sure.
We managed to get down there on the final day of the exhibit
and it was great. There were plenty of prints of course, a
mere drop in the bucket from a prolific artist, but mixed in
were occasional originals, and pencil layout sketches. One of
the prettiest displays was a cabinet with hand drawn and
watercolered envelopes that Edward sent to his mother over
the years. I'll spare you further descriptions, the book covers
above are adequate examples. The Doubtful Guest above was
my intro to Ed Gorey, it was read to me/us when quite young,
but then I grew up with hippy school teachers.
My brother and his Sylvia were the ones who went with me,
in fact drove me as I had no transportation at the time. Last
weekend was my birthday and they gave me Ed Gorey's
Amphogorey Again, a compilation.  Love it.

The website below is a .net, but it's actually a .com.
Other than that go to Amazon for books or simply Google,
there's plenty of E.G. out there.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Flying a better Mousetrap

I've been flying monocopters since 1988. I've also seen
other people fly them. They all shared two common
problems, the first is getting them to stay in one piece
throughout the flight despite the high rotational loads.
I've seen a few fly apart, including some of my own.
Anyone who hangs in there a while, can conquer this
sooner or later.
The second problem is the subject of this post. When
a monocopter's motor shuts off, they typically stop
spinning and fall down. Some falling monocopters will
reaquire spin, either backward or upside down, hopefully
before impact,and make a safe landing.

In short, after getting monocopters to go up reliably, the
next trick is to get them to come back back down safely.
I've seen other recovery methods tried with varied success,
but the coolest will always be autorotation, ie; true 
mapleseed recovery. Spinning up, and spinning back down,
without stopping, without falling.

Last fall, I built the 1st step on this quest. I call, it the Flying
Mousetrap. It somewhat looks the part. Mousetrap has a
wing that pivots around the center of lift. There's a spring that
pulls the wing to descent angle, and a length of string to hold
the wing at ascent angle until the motor [D12-3] ejection burns
it through. This gives a timely transition after slowing to
autorotaion speed, but without falling or reversal. The string is
actually dental floss, it's easy to work with at the field, and it
comes in a neat dispenser WITH a built-in cutter.
Minty fresh too.

I don't consider this to be the best approach to the problem.
It's a simple up/down system instead of being reactive, and it
limits the choice of usable motors to ones with suitable delay
and an ejection charge.  Since I make my own sugar motors,
I would prefer a system that can use them, and they're all
capped.  However, I figured this would be a good first step
that others might prefer.

The 1st flight video was posted by friend John Lee at the time.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Welcome to the Pirate Art Institute

"Aaarh, Ye be welcome to the Pirate Art Institute"
How many ways can you COPY this pirate?

When wewere kids we would see this art school ad in the back of magazines. "Can you draw this pirate?" or some other bit of cutesy art. "Then enroll today  and have a future as
a commercial artist, bla-bla-bla..."

When my brother and I had a print shop back in the late '80's, it became a running joke early on. Customers would bring us totally crappedout art, or ask for art that we didn't
have, or to infringe on copyrights in a questionable manner.
The Pirate Art Institute to the rescue!
We would clip, photocopy, photograph, trace, or redraw,  then shoot a transparency, use it to expose a screen, and finally silkscreen  print it in [hopefully] vast quantities.
Whatever it took to make a buck.

Anything but FAX!
We refused to install fax service because at least one customer a week would want to fax their art to us.  No, nope, nu-uh, don't do it!  Most fax looks terrible on a good day.  Imagine what it would do to the aforementioned already crapped out art.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

What a Bomb

As I perused online photo albums from NARAM-51, I saw
another rocket worthy of note amongst the scale and fantasy
scale models. Fantasy scale designs are rockets and spacecraft
that are serious designs that were never built, or designs that
are entirely fictional in nature.  This is a very nice model of
the Alpha Omega Bomb, the doomsday missile that radiation
fried mutant humans worshipped in the movie, Beneath the
Planet of the Apes.  I didn't quite have a primal moment when
I recognized the model, but the apes in the movie sure did.  
Reading up on the history of the movie, it was Charlton
Hestons idea to set off the bomb at the end of the movie.  
He rather hoped that would be the end of the series. 
No such luck.

All the models entered in competition at NARAM have to fly,
but I doubt the Omega Bomb flew as is. It only has 2 fins.
No doubt the model has a set of removable clear plastic fins
that are added to make it flyable.  Unfortunately, I have no
info at this time on the owner builder, or the photographer.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Quest for New Designs?

When I first saw a pic of what I take to be Quest
Aerospace's dealer table at NARAM 51 I had a primal
moment. I curled my lips back and hooted a few
times while slapping my head. A quick check of the
Quest web site confirmed that what I spotted in the
pic was one of Quest's new kits, the Striker AGM.
Well there's new and then there's new. I've seen that
design before and it takes an old rocketeer to know
Way back when, some of the movers and shakers of
model rocketry got together to create a truly  cutting
edge company called Enertek. To make a long  and
mostly unknown story short, Enertek failed to make it
into production. Gary Rosenfield and/or his company
Aerotech was a major participant, others participants
went on to form Quest. A lot of Enertek tooling had
already been done and this formed the core of
Aerotech's kit line. The Mantis launch pad, the Initiater,
Strong Arm, and Arcas kits. All underwent some changes
minor or major, but there they were.  Enertek was
where C-slot motors and Copperhead igniters [called
Top Shot Igniters then] gestated as well.

A close look at the Astra 2000 will cause a lot of fellow
rocketeers to have a primal reaction themselves, the
critter is obviously based on major components from
a Black Brant II. Nose cone, boattail, and the narrow
waist ring [the white section below the upper fins].
Quest naturally used what was at hand and used a Nike
Smoke nosecone.

I always wanted to build a clone-rok of the Astra 2000,
but being a difficult person, I wanted to stage it and
that upper fin set is dreadfully small. I have cloned a
couple other Enertek vapor-roks over the years, but
that's a story for another day.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Kaman's Kooler K-Max

Enter the Kaman K-Max.
This is a pure work helicopter employed to transport and set
bulky and heavy objects. It's got a centerline winch and the
fuselage is extra narrow so that the pilot can stick his head out
the sides to look down. The K-Max has a long tailboom so it
doesn't need as much fin area as the Huskie has, but like the
Huskie it doesn't need a tailrotor either.  As a direct
consequence, a lot more horsepower is available for lifting.
In fact, 6000lb at sea level, impressive for a 5100lb helicopter.

Another neat design feature shared by all Kaman helicopters,
eggbeater and conventional alike, is the blade control flap.
On other helicopters, the blade pitch is controlled by pitching
it directly at the hub. This requires hydraulic controls on any
helicopter of size. With the blade control flap, the flap is
actuated in the opposite direction and this causes the blade to
twist in the desired direction, Just like the elevator on a
conventional airplane. This means the control input required is
much lighter, [no horsepower robbing hydraulic pump needed]
and because the blade is being controlled out where lift is
created instead of at the hub, the blade trim is more precise
and reactive to the airflow around it on a per blade basis.
This spells greater efficiency and reduced vibration. The
simplified rotor hub also reduces mechanical friction losses,
and reduced aerodynamic drag in forward flight.

Kaman has utilized the K-Max's light and easy main rotor
control and the lack of a squirrely tail rotor to produce a
dual function version that can be remotely controlled as well
as piloted. As far as I know, this is the first full size
helicopter to be flown unmanned. The fact that it can still
be flown manned as well makes it quite versatile.

Kaman has partnered with Lockheed Martin, called Team
K-Max to modify and demonstrate the UAV K-Max for military
operational testing. These modifications are at least the minimum
needed to turn a civilian bush aircraft into one that's integrated
with the 21st century US Navy and Marines.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Kaman Cooltech Heli's Pt1

As kids we lived on and around Randolph AFB, Texas back in
the '60's, Randolph had a squadron [well at least 2 anyway] of
Search and Rescue [SAR] helicopters stationed there. A bravo
idea. At a training base accidents do happen.  Back then, the
helicopters they used were the HH43 Kaman Huskie. Along
with patrolling the local flight paths and training areas off
base, they would take part in practice crash rescues and fire
suppression. There were a couple wrecked airframes on the
east side of the base and once a week or so they'd light one
on fire, then scramble a Huskie and the base firetrucks to
come in and put the fire out.  Top entertainment for a kid,
a bit nerve wracking for pilot's wives.

As helicopters go, I ALWAYS thought the Kaman Huskie was
the coolest. A stubby little glass box with a whole bunch of tail
fins and those eggbeater twin rotors counter-rotating overhead.
A unique look and a unique sound.  At least till recently.

I onced swapped a few beers with a heli pilot who flew USAF
SAR Huskies in Thailand during the "Police Action". He loved the
Huskie, but he said they had one major drawback at the time.
The rotor blades were made of Spruce wood. After a rain or
even a heavy dewfall, the wet blades would sag far enough to
risk a strike during startup. The blades had to be dry before
takeoff. No doubt modern composite blades have little or no
trouble with this.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

1000 Visits, No Steenking Carbon Credits Required!

ZZakk's Lab passed the 1000 visitor  mark today.
Not bad for a blog that's only 5 months old, with 34 posts.
I swear, I accounted for no more than 200 of them myself.
250 tops.  By May the count had crept up to 138 for the
month. June practically exploded with 345 visitors. July
may edge that out by a few.  According to the average visit
duration,  most visitors are even staying long enough to read
Thank you everybody.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Such a great idea...

Such a great idea, yet even Estes doesn't seem to
want to build one. WTF?
In the 1997 Estes catalog there was a kit that never
reached production. It was a model of a fly-back booster
called Star Booster. It's based on descriptions in Buzz
Aldrin's sci-fi book; Encounter with Tiber. copyright 1996
Great book by the way. I dug it up for this post and then
read it all again.

In the book, the Star Booster is built by Boeing to take
a slide-in Zenit motor/tank assembly, built under license,
in the USA. One or two of them would be attached to a
core vehicle as a strap-on like an SRB is. After using up
it's propellants, the Star Booster would seperate from the
core vehicle then glides back to an automated runway
landing near the launch site. After each flight, the Zenit
is removed for seperate servicing. When the airframe is
ready, the next available Zenit gets installed for a quick
BTW; Boeing really is building licensed Zenits for the
Sea Launch commercial launch program.

The Estes Star Booster model was going to be 18" long,
with a 9.5" wingspan, parachute recovery, C motors only.
By the looks, I expected it to have a cast styrofoam
fuselage over a cardboard core tube, just like the large
Shuttle Orbiter kit of the same time period.

I've been looking at the Estes Star Booster recently  with
ideas for reproducing it. I have hot-wire foam cutting
equipment, so it's not a big stretch for me to model it at
the original size or larger.  The difficult part is that not
only do I want it to glide, I want it to glide with an unfair
chunk of reload casing inside it. In short, a realistic mission
as afly-back strap-on,  boosting a level 2 size rocket.  For
the sake of balance it needs a long thin motor case.  Either
a 29/360 or 38/480+ sized case, probably EX  and burning
sugar. The big trade-off [ya can't design anything without
trade-offs] is, to maintain balance, the bigger the  model,
the longer the motor case needs to be, and  vice-versa.   
Of course, it'll glide like a brick!

For more info see;  Fly-Back Boosters, Reprised
right here at ZZakk's Lab on Monday, May 18, 2009
These 2  posts [of 3 before long] were supposed to coincide
more closely, but I'm easily distracted.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Uncle Walt Believed

Early today I read that NASA released some early photos
from the LRO, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, showing
most of the Apollo landing sites on the moon.
Curmudgeons Corner, the blog that clued me in,  said that
the conspiracy nuts are now invited to apologize and then
shut up.   My first thought was that this is a NASA
spacecraft and therefore not independant coroboration.  

I didn't bother leaving a comment, let alone feeling the
need to compose this post.

On the evening news I found out that Walter Cronkite
passed away today. I grew up watching Uncle Walt on
the news.  He was a great great man, and a first rate
journalist.  He was also a staunch supporter of the space
program, but no wide eyed fool.  So, here's my answer to
all the lunar landing hoax theorists;  

Walter Cronkite believed!

Goodbye Walt, you'll be missed.  11/4/16-7/17/09

Monday, July 13, 2009

MLAS of the Future

The illustrations above show what the MLAS shroud
will look like in the near future, more or less.

Obviously it was drawn when the number of motors
were to be as many as six, the version just flown
is designed to use only four motors. The folding grid
fins are shown though, and four is the number since
no matter what, one side is reserved for crew
access.  Once the MLAS gains it's grid fins, the boost
test vehicle will lose it's coast skirt and associated
upper finset. Depending on the  nature [flight
envelope] of the future tests, the test  booster will
mutate further still.   MLAS's current good looks are
probably a one shot deal.

Before a live MLAS shroud abort flight can take
place, the motor manifold connecting the four
shroud motors around the apex will have to be
ground tested. That'll be an event to look for in
future NASA news releases.

The Block I & II Ares LAS uses a single abort
motor that is mounted upside down, with the exhaust
flowing through a hot manifold to turn it around
approxx 135deg in order to exit the nozzles, this
constitues a large weight and performance penalty.
Scary hot too.
With the MLAS motor system there are multiple
motors which all must ignite. Of course, the motors
and ignition systems are very reliable, but just in
case, the motors will be interconnected with a
manifold at the top end. This allows exhaust gasses
from the other three to ignite the stubborn one.
Since gas cross flow will be minimal once all motors
are lit, the MLAS manifold will run a lot cooler and
can therefore be made a bit lighter than on the LAS.

BTW;  Rumor has it, Quest is fast tracking an 
MLAS modroc kit.  

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

MLAS takes to the Air!

Wahoo!  Look at that gooneybird go!

After several delays in June, I found yesterday that the
MLAS was scheduled to fly this morning 7/8/09. Well
it took off at 6:25AM ET, which is soon after the launch
window opened, so it seems the countdown went well.

There are only a few sparce articles out so far, but that
should grow, shortly. I've seen 2 ascent pics so far.  
Despite the massive base drag, I was hoping to see the
individual flames of the severely canted boost motors,
however you can seethe lobes they create in the smoke
Now that the MLAS has made it's 1st successful flight,
it paves the way for the rest of the MLAS test program.  
It also takes it from an interesting sport modroc and turns
it into a legal NAR scale subject.

The 2nd pic above is NASA's picture of the day today.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Orion Abort Test Booster, Almost.

I Found it! Almost.
This info is less than a year old, so it's practically current.
This hasn't been an easy search, I had to buildup a string of
clues. I knew the test flights would occur at White Sands Missile
Range. I more or less trolled through the NASA facilities until
I found that NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards
AFB has the project. Dryden is responsible for vehicle integrations
and ops.

The linked Dryden document below is a treasure trove.

I found that Orbital Sciences Corporation, Chandler, Ariz. is
constructing the Abort Test Booster. Thus the all important
acronym; ATB. For a successful technical search, having the
correct acronym for a keyword can be crucial. Even when I
went to the Orbital Sciences website it took a bit of searching,
I had to use their search box, but "ATB" gave up a bunch of
documents.  Unfortunately for me, the 4.1MB PDF fact sheet
wouldn't open once I downloaded it. My PC OS is too old.
So far, all I've found are illustrations, and not photographs,
thus the "Almost" in the title. But good illustrations they are,
with versions for both Block I and Block II LAS's

Motive power is going to come from surplus Peacekeeper ICBM
1st stage motors. Given the current lack of fins, no doubt the ATB
will use the stock Peacekeeper thrust vector system. The flight
control system will probably be based on the same modular system
that Orbital Sciences developed for their other programs. Orbital's
new Minotaur IV & V already uses Peacekeeper motors, so that
should be a slam-dunk.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Ares Launch Abort Systems Block I & II

The above NASA document shows the difference
between the Block I, called PA-1 here [Pad Abort],
and the Block II design with the curvy bullet shaped

The Mercury capsule flew with the abort tower
attached directly to the capsule. With Apollo, the
designers added the BPS, Boost Protective Shroud.
I've seen it called BPC, Boost Protective Cover too.
This was a large metal conical cover over the capsule.
The BPSserved double duty; as extra protection for
the capsuleduring an emergency seperation [possibly
allowing a reduction in capsule weight], and the BPS
acts as a stabilizer when the tower motors are fired.

When NASA designed the Launch Abort System for
the Orion capsule, they logically started with the
Apollo system, with a few changes to make it more
compact. Compact usually translates to weight savings.
The obvious change was the deletion of the open struts
that seperate the abort motor nozzles from the BPS.  
In the Orion system this space is taken up by the
seperation motor itself, which is mounted upside down.  
More about that little kluge at a later date.

This all sounds fine and dandy so far.
The other pic is a wind tunnel model of the Ares 1
with visible shock waves. This is a common wind tunnel
technique for researching different designs. As you
can plainly see the biggest shock wave is generated by
the Orion BPC. NASA says they have no problem with
controlling the Ares 1, but any hobby rocketeer can
tell that aint very stable. Not stable at all.
Saturn Apollo didn't have this problem. The Apollo
capsule and BPS were much smaller than Orion and, as
I recall, the biggest shock wave producer on the Saturn
was the reducer, between the 2nd and 3rd stage, which
is further back on the airframe. OTOH; the 1st stage of
the Ares 1 is smaller in diameter than the 2nd stage and
capsule, making the situation even worse.  Natural
stability is no big requirement for modern rocket systems
with computer guidance systems and gimballing nozzles,
but the Big Stick is pushing the envelope here.

Enter the Block II BPS.
The modern BPS's are made of composites instead of
metal, which is sensible, but the Block II will  certainly
weigh a fair bit more than the Block I.  With it's bullet
shape, the Block II drag reduction will be huge and
therefore controllability margins will be enhanced.

Ares 1X, the 1st test flight of the Ares 1 stack will
use a Block 1 BPS. Hopefully later tests will include
Block II or even MLAS.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The search for Little Joe III goes on.

Dick Stafford of Dick's Rocket Dungeon linked me to
this illustration he posted a couple years ago.
Is this the shape of Little Joe III?  
The search goes on.
It's certainly conjecture in the illustration since it shows
3 possible versions, and it shows a generic Apollo style
escape tower on the cone.
I would discount the 2 segment SRB version outright.
Even if ATK had already developed it, it would be
expensive, and offer only one performance  profile.
Version 2 with the 2 surplus Minuteman 1st stages
would be neat, and answers the above problems a
bit better.  Now version 3 with the GEM-60's, that's
the ticket!  Load'er up with however many strap-on's
needed for a particular test, and let'er rip!
Quantity discounts when ordering by the truckload.

BTW: Dick ran a stability sim on a 3"dia modroc of
the MLAS in my previous post.
Check it at:

Sunday, June 28, 2009

And I thought Little Joe's were cute!

The Mercury program had Little Joe.
Apollo had Little Joe II.
They were built for inflight testing of the escape towers
under multiple flight conditions, in order to man-rate
them as crew launch abort systems in the event of post
launch emergency. Ares-IX is currently configured with
a LAS tower with a conical capsule shroud. NASA is
working on a block II version with a bulkier but
aerodynamically much better ogive shroud.
I spent over a day searching and reading what I could
find, but I couldn't find much of anything on the Ares I
LAS tower testing. Some pics of motor ground testing,
and a couple vague references to pad abort testing, but
no Little Joe III so far.

Now enter the MLAS, The Max Launch Abort System.
BTW; Max doesn't stand for maximum but for Maxime
Faget, a Mercury program engineer and patent holder
on the Mercury escape tower.
With the improved aerodynamics and the rocket motors
imbedded in the shroud itself, this is touted as being
much lighter, and I daresay, simpler too.
Call it an Ares I LAS Block III I guess.

And the MLAS test vehicle?
Wahoo!  I want to build one!
The MLAS test vehicle is currently awaiting it's 1st
flight on a pad at Wallops Island VA having sat through
several weather delays throughout June.
The C of O chart above illustrates the first flight profile,
just high enough [1 mile] to test launch, stability,
separation, the recovery system and Dataq..
Later tests would use live abort motors at various
speeds and altitudes, both higher and lower.

If Plan B shuttle, in the post below, ever gets flown
with an Orion capsule on board, this'll be the LAS
needed for the job.

I wonder if the Soviets ever had any LAS test vehicles?

Friday, June 26, 2009

NASA's Grand Plan B

NASA's future manned spaceflight programs are under review by the Catherine Commision.  There are development issues with the current Ares1/Ares5 systems.  Perhaps, the most important of which is the large time gap between retirement of the shuttle and scheduled
1st flight of the Ares 1 to the space station.  Of course this time gap could easily grow larger.

So NOW NASA unveils a stopgap measure based on shuttle hardware.  It looks a lot like the Shuttle-C which gets mentioned.  I consider the timing just a bit creepy, since I've heard nothing of Shuttle-C in the last 10 years, except my own post, a week before this hit the news.

I'm not going to go over the whole system, since this article link is fresh.  Just a few interesting points. Unlike Shuttle-C, NASA is proposing this as a manned system as well, with the new Orion capsule riding inside the fairing, which consequently would look a
bit different from the picture above.  The comment about cost savings from reusable main motors being a myth is quite interesting.  I'll need to digest that one further before emitting a response.  Of course, this system fits my vision of modularity that I expounded
upon in my previous post.  Finally, as I said then, this sort of thing could've been flying years ago, saving the orbiters for the missions that really needed them.  I don't mean to sound bitchy, I like it better than the Ares 1 system.

6/28/09--Update;  After a lot of googling, I found multiple references to Shuttle-C and Plan B, mostly dating from around 2005.  That's still damn recent in shuttle years, but near the infancy of the Constellation program.

BTW; Dog years are 7:1, Shuttle years are about 5:1, therefore the shuttles are not dogs.