By Jason Toft
A few years ago, when I was 11 or 12, I think, I had gotten tired of building
all these little rockets and flying them with my dad. Now don't get me wrong, I absolutely LOVED it! I had built a
Maniac (which I miss dearly, ever since it got caught in a powerline), a Estes Space shuttle (full stack, believe it or
not! Not bad for a 9 year old, eh? I SO want another one) and many other of those kits! I had gotten pretty good at it,
but IIRC, I wasn't really into the science part - I just liked building.
Well, as I continued to grow up, I got a little bored with what I had been doing
- it was getting quite repetitive. So, I slowed down and took a break from it, which meant that I didn't fly as often,
and rarely built anything new.
Well, one day my dad came home and told me that he had found out about a club
that was only about an hour from where we lived, and we were going to go and check it out! Well, I came along, and when
I got there, IT WAS AMAZING! I had NEVER heard a composite motor in my life, and now here they were launching them left
and right! Now there's an embarrassing story here, but I ain't gonna tell it. Any way, I was in love, and I HAD to get
some of it!
I went to my local hobby shop and found the most awesome rocket I had ever seen!
It was a NCR Phantom 4000 starter set. It came with a PVC pad, the rocket, which is 4" in diameter (HUGE in my
eyes then) and came with the Command Control controller. The only thing was, it was about 90 bucks! Just a tad on the
expensive side! I had never bought a rocket-related item that cost that much! After some negotiating with the owner,
who I think likes me, I walked out of the store with the biggest rocket I had ever bought for only $70 bucks...not bad
Any way, as soon as I got home I sliced open the shrink wrap and opened the box
and just about FELL OVER! This rocket is HUGE! I had never seen a tube that big! It was absolutely awesome! I just had
to put it together to see what it would look like. So, I took the three plywood fins, the NC, and the tube, slid them
all into place, and then I fell over! I was absolutely in love with this rocket! So, I somewhat carefully, somewhat
carelessly ran outside to show my best friend, Mike, the size of this rocket. Mike had been a good supporter of my
rockets for as long as I had known him, and he thought it was very, very cool!
So, after I got done with showing everybody how big this rocket was, I picked up
the instructions. As I read through them, the one thing that came to my mind was, "What the heck is EPOXY?!?"
Thankfully, my dad, who is a HVAC contractor and is very good with tools, knew what it was and bought me a pack of the
Walmart style epoxy, the stuff that comes in the syringe. After some coaching on how to use it, I started assembling
the kit. Being a first timer with building a 'BIG' rocket, and being used to using a minimal amount of yellow glue, I
assembled the rocket using a minimal amount of epoxy, no fillets on anything - I would have had them had I had a forum
like this to answer questions!
Any way, I built the rocket with the help of a family friend who worked with
space-age composites as an engineer, and used his tips along with my dad's advice. One of the cool things he suggested
was to a caulking compound to do the fillets. They cure out to a rubber like consistency, look good, but they don't add
any real strength. It's easy to apply it though! Just load it up in the caulking gun and let her rip! Smooth with a wet
finger, and wha-la, instant fillet! We painted the rocket using $4 cans of automotive spray paint from an automotive
shop. We used a metallic dark cherry red and flat white. We painted the fins with the white and the body with the red.
It turned out very good, and I couldn't wait to fly it!
Since it was close to my birthday, I had been doing research into clubs in
Florida. Well, I found a couple, and picked NEFAR as the one I wanted to go to since they seemed to have what I would
need to fly this rocket. Remember, I was clueless into what exactly I would be needing to fly this big ol' rocket at
the time. I did some more research into the motors I would need. Since I didn't know that Estes had stopped producing
the Darkstar motors, and those were the only two motors recommended for this rocket (the F62-4 and the G75-6), I did
some more research, and found that there was another company making F motors similar to the F62. This company's name
was Aerotech. I found a vendor that carried these motors, and then my neighbor and friend Kevin surprised me. He told
me that since it was so close to my birthday that he would order these motors for me! I was like, "WOW...".
Well, being as clueless as I was then, told him that I wanted the F50-4T for this
rocket's first flight. I told him I wasn't sure if this motor would be OK since the 'T' stood for a mini-motor.... He
ordered me three of these motors for me for my birthday. Oh, I forgot to mention that I had bought an AT HV Arcas off
eBay using my Christmas money for that year, and had built it and painted it - that was fun!
Any way, the motors came and my parents told me that we would go out to NEFAR for
my birthday. It's since then become a tradition that we would go to a club meet for my birthday. I wasn't sure what to
pack since I was so darned excited! So, I packed everything! I took my controller and pad thinking, "Well, maybe
they'll need another controller and pad." Come to realize, I wouldn't need any of this stuff, so I felt kinda
silly when I got there. I received the motors in the mail, and immediately I tried to put the motor in the MMT, just to
see how it would look! Uh oh! The motor doesn't fit! OH NO! I found out that the F50 was just a tad bigger than the
MMT! So, I started sanding...and sanding...and sanding some more...! It was insane, but I finally got it to fit in the
MMT. I told myself that I would only fly this rocket once because I wasn't sure if the F50 would lift it because it was
a "smaller" motor that the F62. See? I was totally clueless about MPR.
The day finally came to go out to NEFAR! I invited my friend Mike, and we all
piled into our little Dodge Caravan with all my stuff for the ride out to Bunnell (the town closest to NEFAR) at 5 am!!
We finally got out to the field at about 9 am and we started setting up shop. I then saw that NEFAR had every one of
the pads that I would possibly need, plus more, so I felt kinda silly. I decided that I would fly some of the LPR
rockets first. So I did. I flew my little Alpha and my Big Daddy, and they flew great! I then finally decided that I
would fly the Phantom, which by that time we had dubbed "Big Red," since it was big, and it was red! I
prepped the rocket using good ol' Estes wadding! It took almost a full pack of the stuff until I was happy with it. I
then inserted the motor and filled out the flight card.
I was getting nervous now! This was the biggest rocket I had ever flown. I took
it to the RSO, he approved it, signed the flight card, then went to the LSO to have a pad assigned to me. I got to the
pad, slid Big Red on the 1/4" rod, and hooked up the copperhead igniter using the clip that I had bought.
Satisfied, I went back to the LSO to wait for the flight! I made sure to tell him that it was my first ever MPR flight.
He then "closed the range" and launched all the LPR rockets, then moved out to the MPR rack. Now I was REALLY
nervous! He launched the other MPR rockets before me, then it was finally my turn! He picked up my flight card and
said, "Now we have Jason Toft's 'Big Red" out on pad 3. This rocket is flying on an F50-4 and is Jason's
first MPR flight! We're gonna fly this rocket in five, four, three, two, one!" He then pressed the launch button.
A quick pop from the copperhead, and the F50 ROARED to life! The entire flight was in slow motion for me. The rocket
boosted fast, but not too fast. She climbed nice and straight, and started to slow down. Right past apogee, right as
she started to arc over, with the nose slightly down, a "pop" and the nosecone and parachute came out cleanly
and she started to descend. Right about now I was ecstatic! I remember jumping around with my fist in the air, yelling
WOOHOO! You couldn't possibly wipe the smile off my face!
Big Red came down under the big 36" nylon chute and gently touched down, no
more than 150 feet from the pad! Then the LSO said these words that I will never ever forget: "And that was a
textbook flight, ladies and gentlemen!" He was right. The flight was perfect in every way, and the day still lives
in my memory as the day that I swore to myself I would never give up rocketry again!