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REV 2.4 - Sun Nov 7 00:09:57 2010

Little Lunar Express
6030 Paver Lane
Jeddo, MI 48032
(810) 327-1710
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SPECS: 34.25" x 4" - 72 oz
ROCKSIM FILE: MISSING - please submit here
SpaceCAD FILE: MISSING - please submit here
REC'D MOTORS: 38mm, 29mm (w/ADPTR-38/29); (PML website has specifics)

(Contributed - by Gary Sinclair)

PML's Little Lunar Express is a well known HPR kit which has a 50's SciFi look. Recovery is via parachute which is ejected from the airframe using a PML piston.

This kit comes with the following components:

  • (1) 4" OD Ogive nosecone (a good one too) which has NO bottom (i.e. the bottom of the shoulder is missing allowing access to the inside of the nosecone).
  • (1) 4" OD , 5.5" long section of PML Quantum airframe tubing.
  • (1) 4" OD plastic tailcone which has been pre-slotted for through the wall fin attachment.
  • (2) large G10 fins
  • (2) small G10 fins
  • (4) urethane fin-pods which attach to the tip of each fin.
  • (1) elastic shockcord
  • (1) PML Piston with piston strap and D-ring assembly
  • (1) PML parachute
  • (1) 17" long 3"OD Quantum Tube used as the 'recovery tube' -- piston goes inside of this.
  • (1) 1 centering ring to fit over 'recovery tube'
  • (1) 1 centering ring to fit over motor mount.
  • (1) 10" long 38mm motor mount.
  • (1) internal nosecone bulkhead with hardware.
  • (1) set of sticky-back decals

Rocket PicPros: ----- The instructions were extensive and easy to follow. The order of assembly was logical but you should read the entire instruction set first at least two times to get the flow of how it all goes together. Since this is a 4 fin (though of different sizes) design the alignment of the fins is no problem. I use West Systems epoxy for my rockets and a Dremel to cut and sand when necessary. In this case (and usually for PML kits) there is no need to cut or sand anything (except the piston prior to launching). I really liked the way the recovery tube connected to the airframe and motor mount assembly. This was well thought out and I have subsequently used ideas from this in a design for modification of my KingBlobbo (when I submit my MOD of this I will detail the design then). Lots of decals were included to give it the advertised finish but I decided to finish my differently (see below).

Cons: ----- The G10 fins are really striking but I found that mine had a slight wobble in them once they were attached to the tailcone. The urethane pods are a nice touch but I wasn't holding out any hopes that they would stay on after a landing. I hate painting plastic and this rocket was a nightmare to paint (I will discuss more below). I can't blame PML for this since the basic design can only be realized using plastic or fiberglass.

The decals supplied are meant to give the LLE an 'Earth to Moon' spaceship look. There is sufficient instruction supplied to achieve this look with ease. I however decided to model mine on the Tintin story 'Destination Moon' where Tintin and his trusted companions travel in their red and white checked spaceship to the moon. The two spaceships where similar enough that I felt confident of a successful outcome. So with the picture taken from the book cover in mind I set about finishing the LLE as the 'Tintin Express'.

To start with I rough sanded both the nosecone and tailcone. I then applied then sanded filler-primer several times to give a smooth transition between sections (I had to fill in the seem between the airframe and the tailcone with resin first). I first painted the whole rocket RED several coats until it gleamed.

Next came the task of masking out a surface which was reducing in size (i.e. the nosecone and tailcone) into four regions round (i.e. there are four 'checked' areas in the circumference of the rocket at any point along the airframe) and four regions long (the actual Tintin rocket has five checked sections but four seemed to work better on mine). This is the point where things started to get complicated. I had no problem in masking off the proper areas (even taking into account the changing geometry of the nose and tailcones) and painting the white gloss. It was the pulling off of the mask (I used clear 'scotch' tape) where things went wrong. Well needless to say the paint just pulled off 'here and there' leaving patches of bare nosecone and tailcone. Alas it took me several attempts to get it even close to looking acceptable.

In the end it turned out OK but has really turned me off of painting plastic. My final touch was to have some decals made up which mark the ship as the 'Tintin Express'. I even change the PML LLE ship ID to a PML TTE ID.

Construction Rating: 4 ½ out of 5

LaunchingIn the AirFlight:
(Please note the launch photos are by Bob Arnott ( who takes wonderful pictures.)

I decided to use an I161W-10 on its maiden voyage with the usual prep routine of talc'ing my parachute and testing the piston (it was a bit cool so I wanted to check for shrinkage of the recovery tube) which was fine (slid right out when I turned the rocket up side down). Well the time for the countdown came and when I pressed the button it took no time to blast (and I mean blast) off the pad. It seemed to scream off the pad and then coast forever before the ejection charge deployed the chute perfectly.

I had put in a smaller chute to avoid the long walk the wind was going to provide. I was also rather cynical about the prospects of this rocket landing without mishap. So I figured if its going to break it might as well do it near the pad. It landed about 1/4 mile down range and upon inspection had chipped one fin-pod, loosened another and completely dislodged one of the big fins from its mooring (no damage, just pulled the fin and its fillets from the tail cone --- more plastic...). Well, it wasn't too bad and I can fix almost everything (I can get a replacement pod) so it will fly again. Next time I am putting in an I211W.

Flight Rating: 4 out of 5

I can't give it a 5 for flight as the fins and fin pods are too susceptible to landing damage. PROS: Despite its faults I really like this rocket. Its design and flight characteristics are great. CONS: The large fins don't give you that solid feeling when mounted to the airframe. Painting plastic... well you know what I mean.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

(Contributed- by Robert A. Morstadt)

[Rocket Pic]Brief
The Lunar Express Jr. is a model based on the 1950's Sci-Fi concept of a single stage rocket that could go to the moon and back. The model is capable of taking a 38mm motor, but has an adapter to accommodate a 29mm motor.

The kit has high quality like all the PML kits and the completed rocket is capable of taking a beating without damage. There are some tricky steps in the directions, where epoxy must be poured into the model between some small gaps. Be sure to follow the directions carefully. The model has no motor retention system, so be aware of this short-coming at the beginning of the construction.

I used the 29mm adapter kit and made a retro-fit for the motor retention system. I drilled a 3/32 inch hole through the body and the adaptor tube 1/2 inch from the end of the rocket with the adapter tube in place. I then made a bracket 2-3/8 inch long from 1/16" x 1/4" brass stock that I bought from a local hobby shop. A 3/32 inch metal drill bit was used to drill a hole through the brass stock about 7/16" from the forward end. I bent the strip at about 2" to form a retraining hook for the motor. A 3/32" x 1/2" threaded bolt completes the retention system. [Motor Retention]

As usual one should use disposable rubber gloves to build the fillets on the fins. The short main body tube required sanding in order to have a good match with the nose cone and the boat-tail part. I did not use the kit decals. I wanted a 1950's Sci-Fi look, so I painted the model with Dutch Boy Instant Chrome (chrome aluminum 4101) paint. This gave the desired look, but the finish was susceptible to finger-prints no matter how long the the paint dried. Currently, I am thinking of trying clear coat on top of the chrome, but this will require some experimentation to be sure that it will work.

Construction Rating: 3 out of 5

The rocket flies straight with 6 oz. of weight added to the nose.

My retention system worked well on the maiden flight. I used an H180-M for the maiden flight, but this time delay is too long. An H180-S should work better. As a result the elastic came undone from the nose cone "Kwik-Link". The nose cone buried itself in dirt, but did survive the fall. Obviously, this is something that should not be repeated.

The piston ejection system works great. Be sure to choose a time delay that is not too long. Otherwise, too much stress may cause the nose cone to separate. A separate parachute for the nose cone and body might be a good idea.

Flight Rating: 3 out of 5

The design of the rocket is a real eye-catcher and will appeal to the nostalgic Sci-Fi and fun days of the 1950's. A retention system is needed and separate parachutes for the nose cone and body might be a good idea.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

[Submit your Opinion]

08/05 - "After many flights and many repairs. I have settled on the following. I am using an AT 29 mm H180-s. The short delay (6 sec.) is a little too long, so I drill into the delay charge to make it about 4 sec. I decided I needed more room for the straps and a bigger chute, so I shortened the 3" dia. piston tube to be about even with the 4" dia. airframe tube. I removed the piston and replaced it with a 8"x8" flame shield. I removed about a foot or more of the shock cord and replaced the chute with a 45" dia. chute. I have thickened the fin fillets by making epoxy dams when casting." (R.A.M.)

10/03 - "I used a Pro38 H153 for a successful Level 1 Certification. Retainer: This is really where your creative juices are required! I used masking tape(!)on an upper a lower section of the aluminum motor tube; setting the lower one just above the screw through a blind nut (my Prefecture was amazed!) drilled about 2" above the tail end. The screw held the engine in firmly. When I inspected the engine after the (successful) launch, the tape had pulled back along with the engine about 3/8"; not really a problem. For future launches, I plan to carefully cut 3/8" of the plastic tail boat to the 38mm center tube, then JB Weld on an Aeropack 38mm retainer. AEROPACK: The ONLY way to fly!! Comment on your wing flutter & breakoff: Before building this try encapsulating the wings in PML cannot believe how this "ties everything together". My wings are "Rock Steady"." (G.A.F.)

07/01 - "You used clear scotch tape to mask the paint? No wonder you had problems. I recommend 3M's long-lasting masking tape (the blue stuff). It works excellently." (R.V.)

[Enter Rocket Specific Tip]

07/05 - "After reading the EMRR reviews on this rocket, I decided to beef up the construction of this rocket. I added a spiral wound fiberglass motor mount tube to strengthen the fin attachment points. I used West Epoxy throughout, used PML's expanding foam in the fin can to lock in the fins. I also used thickened West Epoxy to attach the landing pods to each fin. With all of this extra weight in the fin can, I had to add 23 ounces of weight to the nose cone to balance the rocket. With a finished weight of 5 pounds, to ensure a soft landing, I upgraded the chute to a 60 inch Spherachute. The model which was finished more like the Luna of _Destination Moon_ flew on 7/30/2005 at Brothers, Oregon on a Cesaroni Pro 38 I 212 Smokey Sam motor. The rocket flew like a shot up to an altitude of 2262 feet, arced over slightly, and ejected its chute near apogee. The Luna floated gently to earth and landed without a scratch and with ALL of the fins and pods safely and firmly in place. As a side note, with the extra weight and security of the fin can, I would not fly this rocket on anything less than a small I motor." (J.C. )

10/03 - "Well, this tip is actually a post mortem discovery. I used a Cesaroni I350-SS motor in the rocket and it ripped apart at Max-Q. The G-10 did not get a good bond to the plastic boattail. The epoxy just sat on the surface. If I was to build again, I would do a few things differently. I would drill little holes along side the fin slots in the boattail to make "epoxy rivets". I would consider wrapping the fins tip to tip in glass or carbon fiber. I have a 54mm Lunar Express and intend to wrap the entire bottom in carbon fiber including the pods." (L.B. )

[Enter Flight Log]
Date Name Motor Ejection/
Wind Notes
09-20-2003 Len Bryan Ces RLD I350-15 None - Unknown Light winds RIP - Rocket absolutely shredded at Max-Q. Complete destruction of rocket. Quite spectacular actually. Post mortem indcated that the large fins likely fluttered way too much and ripped them off the airframe. Status: Not Repairable
07-30-2005 Jack Caynon Ces RLD I212-9 Apogee - Perfect
(2262 ft)
0-5 mph winds Destination Moon Luna - See note in Tips for this rocket. Also has Aeropack 38mm retainer. Absolutely beautiful flight and real crowd pleaser with its _Destination Moon_ markings. Gentle landing on 60 inch chute.
06-17-2006 Michael Mangieri AT RMS I161-10 Apogee - Perfect 10+ mph winds - Maiden flight of the Lil Lunar Express. Nice liftoff on the I161. Drifted about 0.35 mile and landed just short of a road. Small stress fracture at the root edge of one of the larger fins.
07-01-2006 Michael Mangieri AT RMS I161-10 Just Past (1-2sec) 10+ mph winds Event: SCIPower, SC
- Really cool flight. Recovery harness ripped off one of the larger fins at ejection, but it was recovered and the rocket was easily repaired.
06-03-2001 Gary Sinclair AT RMS I161-10 Apogee - Perfect 10+ mph winds - Very fast boost with perfect piston ejection at apogee. Hard landing loosened a fin and a couple of fin-pods. Next flight I211W.
11-04-2001 Gary Sinclair AT RMS I211-10 Very Early 0-5 mph winds - Great boost but the 10second delay was more like 4. The nosecone separated from the shock cord bulkhead and went in ballistically. However, no permenant damage was sustained and it will fly again.
10-06-2002 Gary Sinclair Ces RLD I170-10 Apogee - Perfect 0-5 mph winds Tintin Express - Part of a two LLE drag race off the same controller. The two rockets crossed paths and nearly collided. Ejection was good and landing close by using a SkyAngle 36 chute with lines gathered 1/2 up.
11-03-2002 Gary Sinclair Ces RLD I170-10 Apogee - Perfect 5-10 mph winds Tintin Express - A drag race of identical rockets off the same controller. The photo of the take off showed Pete Davy's LLE ahead. Nice boost but a bit too much weathercocking. No damage on landing on a nice 36 inch SkyAngle chute.
07-11-2009 Peter Stanley I-318 Research motor DPS SRB propellant Late (2-3sec) 0-5 mph winds Flight Picture Little Lunar Espresso - Great flight up, but parachute got stuck in the nose cone. It hit the ground hard, but had minimal damage.

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