Blast from the Past: the Astron Space Plane Story


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May 25, 2002
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In my research into model rocketry history, in 2005 I spoke with John
F. Schutz who designed the first boost glider. Mr. Schutz
is still alive and kickin' and doing pretty good for a 82 yr old man.

When I asked him what what his impetus for designing the worlds first BG his answer was pretty simple: "because G.Harry Stine said it couldn't be done." Now of course thats a simplistic paraphrase, actually what happened as relayed to me by Mr. Schutz was the following story:

In mid-1961, John who had worked previously with Vern Estes at the Estes fireworks company, had become the VP of the new Estes Industries, Inc., where he was responsible for just about anything and everything including becoming the 3rd person in the world to operate the original "MABEL" engine making machine (behind Vern and Gleda Estes). Originally located in a backyard shed/workshop of Vern Estes' house in Denver, Colorado, the decision was made to move to Penrose,Colorado, where Vern Estes had purchased a farm for his new enterprise. It was in this shed/workshop that Vern Estes perfected the first MABEL motor making machine between July 1958 and Jan 16,1959
when MABEL spiy out its first commercial motor for Model MIssiles,Inc.

During this move, one night at home, John was reading an old American Modeler magazine and he came upon the following prophetic words by G.Harry Stine:

"A lot of guys have the desire to make a rocket-powered airplane with lifting surfaces. We had it, too, and we learned the hard way. The amount of goose that you get from a model rocket engine designed to power model guided missiles of the fin-stabilized type is just too much for winged stuff. The acceleration is very high, and the speeds that can be reached are something that you can't easily stress to take care of.

One of the boys here built a Matador; it disintegrated in the air
under boost, just came completely apart as a result of high air
loads. We've tried other winged beasts with little luck. You've got
to have your wings and control surfaces aligned to a gnat's eyebrow, or she'll loop or roll on you like crazy! And the stability
conditions for winged flight are quite a bit differeet from those of
model rockets using fin stabilization...the two aren't compatible at
all! SO better junk that "for real" rocket-powered Bomarc model. I
wouldn't take bets on it!"

When John read the above, it made his blood boil and a lightbulb
went off in his head at the same time! and John excitely yelled out
with a roar to his wife, " Kill the Thrust with Lift!" In other
words, balance the thrust and lift forces and the rocket plane/glider will go more or less vertical!

John immediately went to his workshop and hastily put together 5 sample gliders; 2 of which worked perfectly by promptly thermaling away, It was at NARAM-3 in July 1961 that these first BG models were flown for the world to be seen for the first time, much to the chagrin of G. Harry Stine. Hence was born the world's first rear-engined boost glider. After their flight demonstration,
John Schutz gave the remaining 3 models to G.Harry Stine , 1 of which is currently in the care of the Smithsonian AIr and Space Museum.

John later passed this model design idea along to Vern who then
simplified the design somewhat by adding the nylon trim
screws/elastic thread ( which replaced the original "mousetrap" wire elevons) and added the spin trim tabs to help with its vertical
boost. This "2nd" iteration later became the Estes Astron Space Plane, in the 2nd Estes catalog of 1961.


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Jan 17, 2009
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Vern and Gleda were telling me that Gleda held the glider duration record for 40 years with her Astron Space Plane.

This isn't's mine.:cool: