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(Contributed - by Chan Stevens [Who's Who Page] - 06/09/07) FlisKits Borealis

Another absolutely wild futuristic design by the mad scientist/evil genius Jim Flis [Who's Who Page], featuring primarily ring fin stability and ducted ejection plus a nose cone sure to draw a strong like/hate opinion...

While you might be a little scared off by the $28.95 retail price on this, when you open up the kit and start to look over the amount and quality of parts, you'll find it's really a decent value, especially factoring in the eye appeal of the finished kit. The parts list includes:

  • 3 BT-101 ring fins
  • BT-55 upper body tube
  • BT-60 lower body ring/support
  • 2 BT-20 lower body tubes, one of which serves as motor mount
  • BT-5 body tube, serves as central support to BT-101
  • BT-2 transition body tubes (3)
  • Balsa nose cone
  • Laser cut fiber fins, jigs
  • 16" plastic chute kit
  • Kevlar/elastic shock cord
  • Decorative toothpicks
  • Peel and stick vinyl decals

The instructions are very good, clearly illustrated, and span 35 basic steps over 6 pages. It's rated a skill level 3.5 on a 5 scale, though that strikes me as slightly high. While it certainly looks like a complex build, I found it much easier than expected, and the design and fit on this is outstanding. I'd expect 5-8 hours of construction time plus some potentially time consuming finishing.

There are a couple of "gotchas" and tips I'll get out up front on this. Early releases of the kit had an incorrect laser cut fiber fin sheet. I think this has generally been handled via replacements being made available almost immediately after the kit's release at NARCON in March 2007, but if you pick one up from a retailer, you might want to email the folks at FlisKits to confirm you have a good set of fins. I got a hold of an early one (#55) at NARCON, and the corrected fins made it to my home practically before I made it back.

The other warning is to really think through how you want to paint this before you go too deep in the construction. If you want to use sharply contrasting colors, you'll find it easier to paint parts before bonding (masking off bond lines). This thing would be a real menace to try to mask once built, forcing you to hand paint many details.

Construction begins with the funky motor mount. You start off with a standard 2.75 inch BT-20 tube, but the forward end is a 20/5 centering ring with a BT-5 stuck to the end of it. On the other end of the BT-5 is another centering ring holding another BT-20. This gives you a pair of BT-20s connected with 1.125" of exposed BT-5. That gap is critical, as the instruction note that the BT-101s go there and can be used to test the fit/alignment.

Next, you get to work on the BT-101 rings. Because the tubes are only 1.125" tall, they are pretty pliable and don't retain their circular shape very well. This makes marking them tricky. Each tube gets a set of fiber fin braces tacked to it at 12, 3 and 9 o'clock position with one of the braces trailing down below the tube at the 6 o'clock position. This trailing end eventually attaches to the lower BT-20 for support.

The transition from the lower BT-20 to the upper BT-55 is accomplished via a trio of BT-2 tubes. The alignment of these is somewhat challenging. At the forward end, they are spaced via two laser-cut/drilled fiber centering disks spaced about an inch apart, which also serves as the Kevlar shock cord anchor point. At the aft end, there's another pair of centering disks with tighter spacing basically forcing the tubes together. The aft disks slide into the upper BT-20, and the forward disks slide into the BT-55. To make sure you get everything perfectly aligned, there's even a little jig made from various laser cut fiber pieces and a template printed on the back of the header card. You'll want to make sure you get good solid glue joints around the disks, as they take a lot of ejection gas force.

With the basic frame of the BT-20s, trio of BT-2s, and upper BT-55 in place, you can now bond the BT-101 rings on place. As previously noted, these slip perfectly in the 1.125" gap between the BT-20s, resting flush against the BT-5. The trailing fiber rib/fin/supports are bonded to the lower BT-20, and a little BT-60 ring slides over them to secure them in place. If you've got everything right, you'll wind up with BT-101s touching each other on tangents and touching the BT-5 on a tangent as well. Again, it sounds and looks complex but is remarkably easy and hard to goof with the instructions and supporting jigs/alignment techniques.

At this point, construction is basically done save for some decorative touches (toothpicks stuck in various nooks and crannies) and attaching the launch lugs (one piece flush to the BT-60, another to the BT-20 with a standoff). I cheated a little bit by trimming down the launch lug to match the width of the BT-60, avoiding an ugly hanging tube.

OK, if you really want a beautiful finish on this, be prepared for some serious work/effort. If you want to fly it within a day or two of construction, you can certainly whip through the finish and hand paint a few pieces, and it will look fine.

First off, I wound up filling tube spirals before construction, knowing there was no way I'd be able to sand this with any force once built. Note that this includes the BT-2s and the insides of the BT-101s, which I forgot to do, and the BT-60 ring, which have some downright nasty grooves in them.

I wound up painting my Borealis in modules. The lower BT-20s (masked off the BT-5 for a naked bonding surface) got primer followed by three coats of Rustoleum blue metallic. The BT-2 trio got the same treatment but with silver metallic, as did the upper BT-55 and nose cone. The BT-101 rings got gold metallic before bonding the fiber fins. The fiber fins got gloss black, and I followed up by hand painting the edges a bright red. The lower BT-60 got silver metallic, again before bonding. I hand painted the assorted toothpick details red before bonding and tacked in place using a tiny dot of CA to avoid paint runs.

I've got to toss in a comment or two about the decals on this. In general, FlisKits's kits rarely use decals and when they do they're either excellent quality waterslides (ex. U.S.S. Grissom) or the peel and sticks that so many of us absolutely hate (ex. Cheetah, Flea). Recognizing that many a FlisKits's kit would be greatly improved with decorative decals, Jim's been doing a lot of R & D in this area. The resulting process was introduced shortly before NARCON 2007 in the form of range box stickers printed on vinyl stock. The quality of the artwork and reproduction is superb, the decals are fairly thin/flexible, and therefore are easy to work with. The adhesive is also top quality (once cured out, you'll never get 'em off).

I'm generally anti-stickers, but think these vinyl decals are a great addition to a sport design (too thick for scale). Even better--these are also pre-cut, so you don't need to waste time trimming to the edge lines with scissors. I just wish I'd paid attention to that little note in the instructions, as I wound up cutting mine first and then wondering why little wispy edges were peeling off...

Construction Rating: 5 out of 5

For the maiden flight, I hooked up with Jim Flis at the National Sport Launch 2007 in Muncie, Indiana. Holding the Borealis in my hands, it felt incredibly fragile, so I figured what better place to destroy it than in front of the designer, where I might score a free replacement. Jim commented that he'd flown a number of prototypes without problem, but mine would be the first he'd ever seen of someone else flying one.

I went aggressive for the first flight, choosing a C6-3. I figured with the big rings and long body, it would be high drag, but it tore off the pad and climbed at a fast clip. Apogee was nose up, though very slowly climbing at that point. With all the doodads and trimmings on this, like the Night Whisperer, you definitely want an early deployment rather than a nose-down deployment or you will break off trimmings, so stick with the B6-2 or C6-3.

The 16" chute brought it safely back to earth. Despite a number of unfortunate flights and damage on just about everything that hit the dry/hard ground that weekend, the Borealis suffered no damage whatsoever and wound up spending the rest of the weekend on display at the FlisKits booth. It was a wonderful flight, and I look forward to another shot at flying it.

Flight Rating: 5 out of 5

This is a great rocket with nothing but pros--cool design, not too tough to build, flies beautifully, and really nice decals.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

(Contributed - by Ted Jones - 03/02/09) FlisKits Borealis

The Borealis is not only a unique looking rocket, it also provides a unique construction challenge. A quick look at the rocket suggests fragility, but don't be fooled. If properly assembled (the instructions provided are excellent), this is in fact an extremely durable kit. Appearances are also deceiving in terms of flight characteristics. This rocket gets off the pad quickly, flies great, and does well with both recommended engine types, making it a crowd pleaser on both large and small fields.

The parts list:

  • 3 Cardboard ring fins
  • 1 Cardboard upper body tube
  • 1 Cardboard lower body ring
  • 2 Cardboard lower body tubes
  • 1 Cardboard connecting tube (connects lower body tubes/mount location for ring fins)
  • 3 Fiber ejection baffles/body tubes
  • 1 Balsa nose cone
  • 6 Fiber support jigs(provides additional support for ring fins)
  • 1 Customizable parachute (Flis recommends cutting to 16" diameter)
  • 1 Kevlar/elastic shock cord combo
  • 4 Decorative toothpicks
  • 4 Fiber Structural Rings (used to connect body tubes)
  • 2 Cardboard motor mount rings
  • 1 Fiber launch lug platform
  • 2 Launch lugs
  • 1 Decal sheet
  • 3 Fiber body tube alignment supports (used for construction purposes only)

Building the Borealis is not exceptionally difficult, in my opinion somewhat easier than the 3.5 difficulty rating suggests. The key to success is careful attention to the excellent FlisKits assembly documentation, proper use of the provided tube alignment supports, and the patience to allow glue to dry completely where recommended by the instructions.

You will want to fill tube grooves before assembly. Doing so after construction will be far more difficult. Even if you don't normally worry about tube grooves (guilty!), you will want to fill the grooves on the inside of the ring fins--they are wide and deep. Priming/painting will not minimize them.

Before beginning the build, you should give careful consideration to the idea of painting the lower body tubes, ring fins, support jigs, and lower body ring prior to assembly (being careful not to paint bonding points). If you don't do this, be prepared for a fairly lengthy and painstaking finishing process, including a significant amount of hand painting. Because I like to build solid rockets, with generous glue fillets, I chose not to paint in advance--instead, I hand painted the entire rocket after construction was complete. It was not easy, but like the build, a willingness not to rush the painting process (painting the rocket in stages, allowing the paint to dry after painting each section) was the key to success.

Highlights of the construction process (35 well-documented steps in the instructions provided):

  • Steps 1-4 / Assembly and marking of lower body tubes: Straightforward assembly process, but make sure you get the recommended gap between the two lower body tubes correct, as the ring fins will be mounted in this gap.
  • Steps 5-6 / Marking ring fins: The ring fins won't be perfectly round out of the package. It is important to shape the rings to fit perfectly on the Tube Marking Guide before marking bonding lines.
  • Steps 7-9 / Support jig assembly: Straightforward process, but you will want to make sure that you are careful with the application of glue. Too little glue will compromise strength, too much will make the finishing process more difficult.
  • Steps 10-17 / Mid-ship assembly (ejection baffles/body tubes/support rings): Make sure to read all of the instructions for these steps prior to beginning. Take your time, utilize the alignment support provided, and allow the glue to dry completely where recommended by the instructions. The key in the construction process is to ensure that the three ejection baffles/body tubes are in perfect alignment.
  • Steps 18-22 / Attach upper body tube to mid ship assembly: Again, patience is very important here. For the Borealis to fly properly, you must align the upper body tube to the mid-ship assembly perfectly. This is easily done by properly utilizing the provided alignment support, and allowing the glue to dry completely once the parts are glued together.
  • Steps 23-27 / Attach ring tube/jig assemblies to lower body tubes: This is an easy sequence provided you have properly marked the ring tubes and lower body tubes in prior steps. Use a liberal amount of glue when connecting the ring tubes to the lower body tubes and be prepared to press each part together for several minutes after gluing to ensure the strength of each bond.
  • Steps 28-29 / Launch lugs: This step, very simple with most rockets, is more difficult with the Borealis. You will want to cut the first launch lug to the same length as the launch lug platform before gluing them together (unlike the illustration in the instructions, the launch lug is longer than the platform). The second launch lug is then glued directly onto the rocket (to the lower body ring and support jig--not to the lower body tube). Then you must attach the launch lug platform you prepared earlier to the lower body tube. Care must be taken here, as it is a bit tricky to properly line up the two launch lugs.
  • Steps 30-35 / Attach decorative toothpicks, shock cord, and parachute: These final steps are easy and straightforward.

This is a beautiful, unique rocket. It deserves no less than your best painting effort! I sprayed the entire model with white primer and decided on a 5 color painting scheme (all gloss): Gold for the ring fins and nose cone, black for the ejection baffles and support jigs, white for the upper body tube, blue for the lower body tubes, and red for the toothpicks and lower body ring. As mentioned earlier, painting the Borealis will be much easier if you paint the lower 1/3 of the rocket prior to assembly. Otherwise, be prepared for a test of your painting prowess! There are only a few decals, but they add a lot to the finished product. Make sure to paint the upper body tube a light color, ensuring the decals will stand out.

Flight and Recovery:
I launched the Borealis for the first time on a fairly windy day (gusts to 20 mph). Despite the length of the ejection baffles, I followed the advice of EMRR members and used 2-3 sheets of recovery wadding to avoid parachute damage (FlisKits claims no wadding is needed). I used a B6-2 on the first flight. Despite the wind, the rocket got off the launch pad in a hurry and had a beautiful straight flight with a perfect recovery. For the second flight, I used a C6-3. The Borealis really performed well with this engine. Out of 13 rockets launched in gusty conditions, this was the best flight of the day. The 16" parachute brought it down softly with no damage on either flight.

I love the Borealis! It is fun to build, cool looking, performs well in windy conditions, and is not prone to damage despite its fragile appearance. If there is a con, it is that extra care must be taken not to damage the ring fins when transporting to the field.

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