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REV 2.4 - Wed Aug 18 08:38:09 2010

Semroc
Little Joe II
Box 1271
Knightdale, NC 27545
(919) 266-1977
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SPECS: 14.6" x 2.217" - 1.9 oz
ROCKSIM FILE: Right Click to Download
SpaceCAD FILE: MISSING - please submit here
REC'D MOTORS: A8-3, B6-4, C6-5

Rating
(Contributed - by Chan Stevens [Who's Who Page] - 01/01/07)

Brief:
This is another excellent addition to Semroc's "Retro-Repro" line of reintroduced classics from the early years of model rocketry. The LJ-II was issued in 1968 as a companion to the 1/70 Saturn 1B, making it almost as old as I am. As with the original Estes kit, this one shares the same command module, which is also available as a very nice separate kit. At $21, it's a bit pricier than the original K-30 at $2.75, but for the detail included in this kit, it does represent pretty good value today.

Semroc Little Joe II

Construction:
It's typical Semroc excellent quality parts throughout, including some of the finest balsa parts I've ever seen. When you open the baggie, you'll find:

  • BT-70 body tube
  • 18mm motor tube/block/metal hook
  • 18/70 centering rings
  • Laser cut balsa fin braces (see construction notes)
  • Cardstock fin skins
  • Embossed/glossy wraps (2)
  • 1/8" launch lug
  • Kevlar/elastic shock cord
  • 12" plastic chute
  • Waterslide decals

You'll also receive an Apollo capsule kit (available separately for $10) which includes:

  • 2 Balsa nose cones
  • Balsa tail cone
  • BT-3 body tube
  • Cardstock shroud pattern and construction/alignment guide
  • Cardboard jig for building tower
  • Wood dowels
  • TC-70 coupler
  • 24/70 centering rings (which is actually tapered for the shroud)
  • 12" plastic chute pack

On the surface, this hardly looks like it deserves the skill level 5 assessment on the package, but as you get into the tower, you'll find that's a very accurate rating. The rocket itself is not overly challenging (maybe a skill level 3), but the capsule is best left to experienced modelers with keen eyesight, attention to detail, and plenty of patience.

The instructions are well written and illustrated with nice check boxes along the way so you can make sure you haven't overlooked a step as you stop/start work on this.

Construction begins with the motor tube assembly, which is fairly straightforward. It consists of a motor tube, coupler used as a block, a metal hook held in place with masking tape, and a pair of centering rings. Additionally, you need to anchor the Kevlar line to the motor hook. This is a very much appreciated improvement over the original tri-fold paper and rubber cord system used back in the day.

Next up is applying the wraps. If you're into craftsmanship and intend to fill the tube spirals, it would be a good idea to do that first. For one thing, it's a pain to fill and sand up to a tube/wrap seam. For another, the sanding down of the glossy surface of the tube makes for an excellent bonding surface for the wraps. Apply an extremely thin layer of white glue (do NOT use yellow glue or CA) to the edges of the wraps then press carefully in place around the tube. I found the lower wrap fit perfectly without any trimming, and the upper was long by about 1/32", which I shaved slightly. The wraps have a glossy surface to them, which offers one other nice feature--if you get any splotches of glue on your fingers and then on the wraps, it wipes away very quickly and easily with a damp cloth, leaving a pristine finish.

Semroc Little Joe II For the fins, this kit uses what is called the "built up method". What this means is that you cut out and bond tiny balsa frame pieces to the inside of a skin pattern. You then fold the skin pattern over and bond to the other side of the braces. The result is a very cool tapered fin, very much like a scale rendering. This process is a little tricky as you need sharp fold lines and there will be tiny gaps where braces join together, but it's worth the trouble. The completed fins are then attached to the body tube, and CA will work just fine here.

Note to Carl at Semroc: you might want to consider a slight improvement to the wraps, pre-printing fin locations to make the alignment go a little more smoothly. Alignment of tapered fins can be a little nuisance.

Stick a launch lug on the body tube and you're ready for the real construction adventure...

The Apollo capsule starts of simply enough. You assemble a tube, nose cone, and tail cone. These parts are fairly small and filling the grain on the tail cone was quite challenging. Next, cut out the shroud pattern and form it. The shroud is pre-printed with nice graphics on one side and plain on the other (per scale), so you have your choice on appearance. The shroud then slides over the lower nose cone and is reinforced on the aft end by a centering ring.

The tower assembly is the major pain and biggest challenge. You start with 4 plain wood dowels, and need to sand them down to 0.058 and 0.041 in diameter. The good news is that a gauge is supplied so you can tell when you're to spec, but sanding down these dowels is very time consuming. I have to admit, after building two of these (the other went to my Saturn 1B), I very much prefer the quick/simple plastic capsule of the Apogee kits and would have gladly paid a little extra for this kit if the dowels had been to size or at least closer.

Once you've sanded down the dowels, you need to start cutting out tiny little braces and tacking them together. There are 40 total pieces, all having some degree of angled cuts. There's a little bit of extra dowel, but not much so cut carefully. In fact, I found that after sanding down 2 dowels to 0.041 and 2 to 0.058 per the instructions, I had to later sand down my leftover 0.058 material to 0.041 in order to have enough to cover the smaller braces.

Alignment and construction of the tower is greatly aided by templates/patterns on a cardstock sheet plus a fiberboard jig. This same jig can also be used to poke holes in the lower balsa nose cone to serve as a base.

The finishing touches on the tower assembly come in the form of the four RCS nozzles, which are formed out of very small paper shroud wraps--so small that forming around a pencil tip is barely sufficient.

Overall, I think I spent somewhere around 2 hours on the model and 15 hours on the tower, but the finished product is worth it. I just wish I hadn't had to spend so much time sanding down dowels...

Finishing:
Finishing is very simple on this kit. The body tube/wraps/fins are all silver (I used automotive aluminum, which looks less shiny than most silvers), and the tower is solid white. There's a single waterslide decal for the block pattern.

Construction Rating: 4 out of 5

Flight:
For the first flight, I decided to jump all the way up to a C6-5 since the winds were practically non-existent. I must have canted my fins slightly, as it spun a bit on the way up but was otherwise straight. Deployment was perfectly timed, right at apogee.

Recovery:
With a second chute in the capsule kit, you have options with regards to deployment. Since my finished model weighed in at 1.9 ounces, I figured a single 12" chute would suffice. Unfortunately, it came down a bit rough, landing on the access road in an otherwise grassy square mile park and broke one of the fins off on impact.

I'd recommend going with two chutes and separate recovery of the tower and lower tube. In particular wrap a yok around the tower so it does not come down tip first.

Flight Rating: 4 ½ out of 5

Summary:
PROs: Excellent kit, a challenge to build, great scale features.

CON: Tower is much more difficult construction than necessary

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

[Submit your Opinion]

GUEST's OPINION:
09/08 - "Chan has done another excellent review (where does this guy get the time to build and review rockets like he does!) so I will just follow up a bit. I built one of these back in about 10/11th grade or so. It is good they cost only $2.75 since I probably bought it with lawn mowing money. And this is actually the fourth Apollo capsule tower I have built. Chan is correct in talking about the tower, it is definitely a craftsman's dream (or nightmare). It is much easier nowadays though with CA glues then when I built my other three way back when with Elmer's glue. Once I had the tower built I used medium CA to fill any voids in the dowel rod joints and did a bit of clean up on the joints with my Dremel grinding tip. The rest of the rocket is fairly simple although the fins, being built up, will take more effort than a simple sheet balsa fin. They are worth the effort as well. Overall it is a great kit to put on the shelf and to fly. I have always really liked the way this early version of the LJ2 was, simple and basic to test the Apollo escape system. My first flight was perfect on a B6-4. It is great that Semroc is reintroducing these kits from my early days in the hobby." (R.J.K.)

[Enter Rocket Specific Tip]

SPECIFIC ROCKET TIP:
01/07 - "When I built a clone version of this rocket I used 1/16 and 1/32 diameter evergreen (plastic) rod, this not only made the tower assembly much easier to build as it saved time and came out quite strong." (A.H. )

[Enter Flight Log]
Date Name Motor Ejection/
Altitude
Wind Notes
07-08-2007 Edward Chess Est SU A8-3 Apogee - NC Down 10+ mph winds Event: FVR-Jul-07
- First flight, small engine for wind conditions. Nice flight, no damage.
08-10-2008 Edward Chess Est SU B6-4 Apogee - Perfect 0-5 mph winds Event: FVR-August 2008
- Good motor and delay for this rocket. No damage on landing.
07-11-2009 Edward Chess Est SU C6-5 Apogee - Perfect 5-10 mph winds Event: Kishwaukee Park
- Parachute did not fully open, so sustained some fin and escape tower damage, but easily repaired.
09-21-2008 Robert Koenn Est SU B6-4 Apogee - Perfect Calm Flight Picture - The first flight on this just completed kit. Perfect flight and perfect landing.
11-08-2008 Robert Koenn Est SU C6-5 Apogee - Perfect 0-5 mph winds Event: Bunnel Blast 2008
- My second flight on this bird. A perfectly straight high flight on the C6 and a perfect recovery.
01-02-2009 Robert Koenn Qst SU B6-4 Apogee - Perfect 0-5 mph winds Flight Picture - Another good flight to start off the year on this nice model.
11-08-2008 David Montgomery Est SU B6-4 Apogee - Perfect
(350 ft)
Calm Flight PictureEvent: Challenger Club Launch @ Needville
- First flight for this model; excellent from liftoff to recovery. Returned with two 12 chutes, with the Apollo/LES attached to the shockcord so everything came down in one piece.
12-02-2006 Chan Stevens Est SU C6-5 Apogee - NC Up 0-5 mph winds -
03-25-2007 Chan Stevens Est SU C6-5 Just Past (1-2sec) 5-10 mph winds -
04-22-2007 Chan Stevens Est SU A8-3 Apogee - Perfect 5-10 mph winds -
   

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