(Contributed - by Mark Fisher)
Well, I swore I'd never buy one (as big a fan as I am of the Blackbird,
she's just been done to death), but a local hobby shop finally reach my level
of pain with a price of $99 for HobbyLab's ~36th semi-scale R/C now
distributed by Ace. It's
getting harder and harder to find (QuickTech still has some @ $119 with two E15-P
motors!), but the included goodies made the plane basically free. The
Hitec Focus II with
receiver and servos runs ~$70, more with the miniature servos in this bird, and
a ¼" launch pad is a minimum of $30 just about anyplace else. The
launch controller with
Aerotech-capable ignitor clips were also welcome.
Good thing all these are included, or I'd've felt cheated. This is the worst
built ARF I've ever seen. The launch lug had broken loose, as had the body
shell halves in a few places, there really isn't access to the servo bay as
advertised, and the finish on the parts is horrible. The only thing you to
assemble, the twin rudders, are crumby, too; they're made from the same
material as the body shell, folded over to give double thinkness, the tip and
trailing edges remaining unsealed for a poor edge. Attaching them with the
recommended Bob Smith UFO
CA seemed to work OK, though there is a lot of overspray on the
"through-the-shell" tab. I made up a spare set from 3/16"
SIG balsa (though 7/32" would've been a better
fit) with proper air foiling and will attach them with 30 minute epoxy if the
originals fall off. The battery bay door seems to be pretty fragile, too,
though it does fit well.
| Detachment One
|8 Mar 1968
||1st SR-71A #978 arrives
Pilot Buddy Brown, RSO David Jensen
|10 Mar 1968
||2nd SR-71A #976 deployed
Pilot Jerry O'Malley, RSO Edward Payne
|13 Mar 1968
||3rd SR-71A #974 arrives
Pilot Robert Spencer, RSO Ruel Branham
|15 Mar 1968
||All 3 SR-71s operational
|16 Mar 1968
||Fourth aircrew arrives by KC-135Q
|21 Mar 1968
||First SAC/9 SRW SR-71A #976
mission flown over Vietnam
|30 Sep 1969
||SAC SR-71s have flown over 100
"Hot missions" out of Kadena
|21 Apr 1989
||#974 lost in the South China Sea
Engine explodes, Pilot and RSO eject safely
|21 Jan 1990
||Last SR-71 #962 leaves Kadena
Tail reads "Det 1 RIP 1968-1990"
The finish on the foam shell is far from smooth, and decal application is a
nightmare. The decals themselves are of top quality and historically accurate.
Both the USAF (tail number
NASA (tail number 844) low visibility schemes (though why you'd want those on a
black semi-gloss bird at 600' is beyond me) as well as a scheme for the famous
Ban" (tail number
included. (Not included are decals for such details as the drag 'chute door and
multi-flow engine ports.) I made the red lines on the body with
red vinyl Color Stripe. I eventually gave up on the included water slides and
did a few of the larger symbols on my Alps printer and from some
Coverite number and letter
sets, but those of you that use the ones suppllied should apply a ton of
clear coat to seal them, or you'll be picking them up off the ground after
launch. HobbyLab knows all about this as on one of their provided photos there
was a chip in the starboard cockpit window decal.
The servo tray arrangement for the mixed elevons is clunky and poorly
ranged, sending the servos into overload at its limits. The servos and receiver
are mounted in the nose spine, making the push rods run almost the full length
of the model. Their attachment to the dense styrofoam control surfaces only has
one of freedom, and the clevises were deformed after my initial radio
checks. The hinges are one-piece nylon affairs without pins, though at least
these didn't fall victims to overspray. The antenna is fully enclosed in the
model, radio reversing switches were set properly, and the clevises were dailed
in for proper initial trim, though those were small consolations at this point.
Totally disapointing, though hardly a pain to build, I would rate this
bird a 2 on the Essence scale for assembly, needs improvement. I would,
but I won't; there's a lot more in this package that deserves mentioning (and a
lot more that doesn't), and I'm reserving my rating until I've covered those
The Launch Pad
|26 Aug 1997
||LASRE mated to NASA SR-71 #844
|31 Oct 1997
||First LASRE flight takes place
|12 Feb 1998
||Ground cold flow test
|4 Mar 1998
||First LASRE cold-flow flight
||Flight operations concluded
This, at least, is well designed and executed. The two-piece 48"
aluminum rod is machined beautifully. I like the offset blast deflector, though
I have no idea why it is painted black; a few shots with the recommended E15s
eroded that in a hurry. The legs are thick and have nice rubber plugs in
one end to keep you from taking part of the field home with you, a nice touch.
Also nice is the stand-off collar, though it would've been better made from
aluminum, too; since its made from steel and brass, you can't leave it screwed
down without setting up a battery and maring the finish on that pristine rod.
The pad is a snap to assemble, and is sturdy and stable.
The Launch Controller
Mine's black, not white as pictured, so it's probably not the same unit
HobbyLab originally packaged. Made in China, it does have everything you need;
a safety key, separate power and (labeled "Armed") lights
and leads (though they're not very long), but no other bells and whistles.
It'll get the job done, but don't loose that key, its unique to this system.
I'm a big fan of Hitec's stuff, I've two other examples of their Focus II, a
very depenable and flexible system. The switch is
Hitec's big unit, so its
easy to operate and spot, even on a black background. There is no charging
jack, as the battery bay only has room for four AAA batteries; there is no
option for installing a regular Ni-Cad flight pack.
Hitec receivers run very
well on alkaline batteries though, and I'm running my usual
Radio Shack Ni-Mh AAA
batteries anyway, so this really doesn't bother me, but Ni-Cad fans will find
the situation uncomfortable.
I'm really glad the bird didn't come with the Cox Cobra II as pictured
in the Kit Contents photo, that is one stinky unit. At one point, HobbyLab may
have packaged the Panda Elite G2A two channel single-stick radio with the ship,
but I have no experience with it. Also shown as included is a pair of the
recommended E15-Ps from
Aerotech . . . but they're not . . . included, that
is. The hobby shop had them on sale for $15 a pair, not a bad price (E15s with
delays and ejection charges run about $8 apiece), but they do not come
with the kit as advertised.
Geez, somebody hacked this together from other drawings and documents in
about a half hour. Initially it seems well done, but upon closer examination it
falls apart. Many of the illustrations are not referenced in the text, and the
text is so full of caveats and disclaimers that you have trouble finding
anything useful. Come on, guys, you really didn't think neophites were
gonna buy this thing, did you? We understand the risks, get on with it! The kit
also comes with the radio manual, additional launch and pad instructions on a
separate sheet, and a pre-launch checklist card.
The recommended rocket engine is
Aerotech's specially prepared single-use E15-P (which isn't
availabe anywhere), though an Estes D11-P should work as well, taking
the Blackbird to about 150 feet. (Estes recently anounced they were
discontinuing that motor.) staging with a D12-0 would work, as the engine
sticks out of the mount about ¼", but that would push the bird over
the one pound limit (16.2 oz.), and would not only require additional nose
weight, but notification to the FAA of a large model rocket launch. Also usable
would be U.S. Rocket's D24-P or E12-P, but at the moment, they're not a real
reliable engine source.
This left me wondering about the future of not only this bird, but any
other true model rocket glider, i.e., under one pound wet. I went looking for
other engines and after a little searching, I found the
Aerotech RMS-RC 24/20-40 motor on their web site that's
specifically for R/C rocket gliders. Initially, I wasn't able to find a dealer
who handled this motor (or, indeed, a distributor that even listed it), but the
company, in the person of Jenny, was happy to take my order over the phone and
a motor case and a three pack of E12-RCJ (blackJack) loads are in production
for me. $49.95 for the case, $10.95 for the reload three-pak, $15 haz-mat fee
and $8 shipping, for a total tab of $83.90. Ouch!
I've since found two on-line dealers that sell these cases and reloads;
Jims Hobbies On-Line, run by
the inimitable Jim Stuckman, who has them as a considerable discount (~20%),
designers of the famous 'Cuda and StingRay rocket gliders.
Still, this should let me fly just about every small model rocket glider
I'll ever own, including the old Estes "Crapo"-Blasters. The
assembled motor weighs in at 2.1 oz., just a tad more than an E15 (2.0 oz.) but
somewhat more than a D11-P (1.6 oz.), and the empty casing weights 1.1 oz.,
versus .75 for the E15 and .67 for the D11, so some small nose weight may be
necessary. D7, E6 and E7 reloads (all -RCT, Blue Thunder, all 3-paks) are also
available for the case, though I have no info on them. You can get more from
Aerotech's web site, they have a very complete (if crypticly
organized) library of PDF files for all the products they make. (Adobe Acrobat 4.x is REQUIRED to
read them, though, 3.x fails most miserably.) Those of you with large model
rocket gliders will want to check out the 32mm RMS-RC motor and its F13-RCT,
F16-RCJ, F23-RCW (White Lightning) and G12-RCT 2-pak reloads. Pricing is just a
bit higher than the 24 mm case loads.
This will be my first use of an RMS case and of the much ballyhooed
BlackJack propellant, I'll let you know how it goes.
HobbyLab also offers a glow
conversion kit, which, if the photo at left is accurate, is based on a Cox Babe
Bee with a Killer Bee spinner and back plate. She seems to be sporting a 6x3
prop, too, which would be a bit much for this engine. Additional nose weight is
required to run the glow option, which is supplied by a small, form-fitting
weight that slips onto the nose. The glow engine option replaces the rocket
engine pod, both housed in a 1.56" x 4.375" cylindrical bay in the
rear of the model.
There are some nice points to this kit, though its obviously targeting the
Sharper Image market, rather that real rocketeers. Essence doesn't have a
catagory that covers everything that comes in these starter kits, but I'm
including all these things in this rating; I give this one a 2½, needs
some improvement, especially with the bird and instructions.
My bird's first flight was on an Estes D11-P, and was smooth, but
a little heart-stopping. Her pilot had to hold full down in off the pad when
she pitched up (or is it down?) coming off the rod, probably due to wind. He
got it straight and nosed her level at apogee, which was indeed at about 150'.
He turned her though about 270 degrees with about a fifteen degree down
and lined her up for landing. She came in smooth, slow and perfect, a
three point landing (if she would've had points, that is).
Her next flight was on an E15-P, and while little or no control input
was necessary off the pad, she sure did a dance getting to altitude, jinking
and wiggling her way to about 450 to 500 feet (we didn't have this one tracked)
and about 200 feet downrange. The pilot got some S-curves out of her and
another beautiful approach, with this landing being mared only by one of the
engine cones catching a clump of grass right after touchdown and bringing her
The pilot thought she was a breeze to fly, very smooth and
controlable, responsive without being a bit twitchy. Holding orientation lock
on a black aircraft at altitude did prove somewhat difficult, and speed bleeds
off fairly quickly in level flight, but is easily restored with about 10 to 15
degree down pitch. characteristics are superb, with full up providing the
perfect descent rate and flair at touchdown.
The D engine plume did leave its mark on one of the control surfaces,
but its barely noticable. The E engine heat melted the glue on the rear engine
holder centering ring, but it'll be easily repaired. Overall, she was the hit
of the day, and a 4½ on the Essence ratings scale for flight, darn near
perfect, and much better than I'd expected.
While its nice to have a boost glider in my stable with such fine flight
characteristics, I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop. This kit's
slapped-together feel and the bird's poor construction worry me about her
durability. Still, she flies better that I thought she would, so I think an
overall Essence scale rating of 3½, a little above average, isn't out of
line. I just hope I haven't spent $200 for a handful of flights.