Level 1 Estes Alpha Kit Questions

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DNoal

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Here are a few questions I thought of while beginning construction of my first level 1 kit.

I really don't want this to drift away. (At least until I get a few more kits built.)

The parachute that came with the kit is the same as the one I flew on the RTF Tidal Wave and that much heavier rocket drifted FAR.
Can the chute be replaced with a streamer in the Alpha? If so what material should I use, how much, and where should it be attached? (The instructions for this kit have the chute attached to a loop in the nose cone.)

Aside from standard wadding and dog barf what other materials have you successfully used for this purpose?

What is the ideal length for a shock cord? The kit came with one that is 1.5 times the length of the rocket. Is this too short?

If I build this kit as per the instrucitons will I need to check balance/add weight ? If I make any of the above changes will I have to? (ie: Will replacing the included shock cord with a heavier elastic cord mess up the center of gravity?)
 

powderburner

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Yes, of course you can replace the 'chute. A streamer of just about any size will work, even down to a 12-18 inch length.
Actually, you don't have to have a streamer or parachute at all.

There is a little-used, seldom-mentioned style of rocket recovery called breakup recovery. In the original editions of Harry Stine's Handbook of Model Rocketry, he called it nose-blow recovery (now there's a truly gross image). The purpose is simply to separate the front end and rear end by a short tether, maybe 2-3 feet long, and let the whole mess freefall. Tumbling will orient the falling pieces so that they generate sufficient drag, and usually this causes no more landing damage than streamers or parachutes. It also gets a rocket down quickly from high altitudes and greatly reduces drift, but it is LIMITED to SMALL, LIGHT rockets.

The shock cord is so easy and cheap to replace that it's just not worth worrying about, just go ahead and do it. Two or three feet should be PLENTY for a rocket that size (it may not all fit into the nose!) You can get a very long (5 feet?) piece of elastic at W-mart for 99 cents (and have some fun shopping in the fabric department, when the little old ladies ask if they can help you, you say "I'm looking for some missile components"). Go for it.
 

powderburner

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Gotta make one more post real quick.
Don't like that number.
 

DNoal

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Gotta make one more post real quick.
Dont worry, theres plenty of room here.

So you're saying I could simply leave out any recovery for this small of a rocket? It would safely land with little to no damage?
 

Weekends

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You could also cut a spill hole in the 'chute. The biggest I normally go is the size of the ESTES logo in the center of the 'chute.

As for wadding, some guys have ejection baffles. I've never made one for a low powered kit tho.

Streamers are great. As for materials, you can get that stuff either locally (hobby shop with rocket stuff) or online:

https://www.fliskits.com/

Oh, and on a side note, I also attached a snap swivel (found at any fishing supply place) to the parachute. It helps with tangling and makes it WAY easier to change 'chutes.

Hope it helps
Weekends
 

astronboy

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I really love the Alpha. I have a 24mm engined version a 13mm version, a 2stage version, as well as several different unbuilt vintage kits. I also just LOVE sad little 'kid built' Alphas that I have picked up over the years.

My latest ALPHA uses a 2ft long piece of shock chord to prevent 'ESTES Dent' (where the nosecone snaps back into the BT.) I have flown with ESTES wadding, Quest wadding, and dog barf.

The chute is a 12 incher with a spill hole. This combo brings the model down pretty quickly without damage. (Just cut out the ESTES logo circle from the center of the chute)
Here is a pic in classic early 1970's colors:
 

powderburner

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Well, I don’t really want to recommend that you start kit-bashing on your second model rocket. If you want to build the Alpha more-or-less to plan, you can attach a parachute on the days you want to fly that way, or use a streamer, or use nothing (and try the ‘break-up’ style of recovery). That having been said, the Alpha III is an excellent kit to buy in bulk (watch on ebay and RocketryOnline) to build more Alphas, or to have on hand for a ready supply of parts for new projects.

When you build the Alpha check the instructions to see if it says to add nose ballast. While a little extra stability is always nice to have, this design has been around since dirt was invented, has already been flown once or twice, and has proven its stability and performance. I would be surprised if you really needed to add ballast.

If you want to use a streamer you can make one from just about anything. You can use the cheapo party streamer colored tissue (at your local party store, or party supplies section of W-mart), but this stuff tears easily and will probably have to be replaced after a few flights (and if it gets wet, you have a BIG mess, stains on your hands, pulped/disintegrating tissue, etc). You can use a strip of plain paper (like copy machine paper); this form of paper will hold folds so you can fold up the strip accordion-like to increase the drag, but this paper will also tear easily and need replacement often. You can get an aluminized mylar space blanket (at your local outdoors store) and cut it into strips; this stuff is highly visible at altitude and is quite durable. I think you can also purchase mylar streamer material by the roll from Totally Tubular as well as other model rocketry vendors.

If you want to add some extra shock cord, or add a length of high-quality string (like kite string) between the existing shock cord and the nose cone, yes you will make a small change in the c.g. (Are you by any chance an engineer?) But the difference will be negligible; again I would not expect that ballast would be needed.

Break-up recovery works fine in small rockets, and was my favorite system for altitude competition. If you make the body tube break just in front of the motor mount, then most of the BT can be permanently glued to the NC. This allows you to seal, fill, and polish that joint until it disappears (here I am assuming that the NC itself has a polished-smooth finish) so that airflow remains smooth, laminar, and low-drag way past the NC and most of the way down the length of the BT. For sport flying, break-up recovery is just another way to go. The Alpha is easily adapted to break-up recovery because you can simply glue the NC into the front of the BT, and NOT glue the BT to the joint on the front of the plastic motor mount. At ejection, the rocket comes apart very easily at that joint (in fact, when building this rocket with kids in beginning rocketry classes, I have seen lots of ‘em come apart at this joint even when they have been glued there to stay together). The only thing you have to worry about is finding a good spot inside the front of the motor mount/fin unit to make a solid shock cord attachment (a bent paper clip epoxied to the inside makes a good strong wire loop to tie onto).

Several examples of break-up recovery can be found on JimZ’s website:
https://www.dars.org/jimz/rp00.htm
after you get to this site, scroll to the bottom and click ‘DOM’ at the bottom left (Design Of the Month)
Check out the files for Sky Bird II (#2 on list) and Mitosis (#40). Both of these are great examples of break-up. (If you ever crash your Alpha and have a left-over NC, I think that is the same NC shape called for to build the Mitosis.)

Another recovery setup that is very similar is tumble recovery. The motor shifts position when the ejection charge goes off, moving the weight of the dead motor aft (but being retained) and causing the rocket to be unstable. It tumbles down, returning much more quickly than parachutes or streamers would. Go back to JimZ, scroll down to the oval-shaped Estes emblem, and look on the list of old kits for the Scout (K-1). That is a classic early Estes design, and easy to make a kit-bash or upscale. Other examples of tumble recovery include the Sprite (K-15), and the Orange Bullet (#3 over on the D.O.M. list).
 

eugenefl

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DNoal, a HUGE welcome to The Rocketry Forum! Great to see you are involved in the hobby!

In regards to your concerns about losing your Alpha, *if* you are recovering in a fairly grassy field, I would suggest the streamer recovery method for 2 reasons - 1, less drag and hangtime than that parachute, and 2, Visibility! Break-apart recovery will work fine with the Alpha although I would strongly recommend a streamer to aid in recovering the rocket.

Best of luck to you!
 

DNoal

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make a small change in the c.g. (Are you by any chance an engineer?)
No. :) But I don't want my new rocket to crash, either. I wasn't certain if additional shock cord would change the cg enough to worry about, since the overall weight of the rocket is so low.

The Alpha is easily adapted to break-up recovery because you can simply glue the NC into the front of the BT, and NOT glue the BT to the joint on the front of the plastic motor mount.
The only plastic part on my Alpha is the nose cone. So I cannot use this method.

I will however try replacing the parachute with a (mylar) streamer.

I am not afraid to make changes to it, I bought it instead of another RTF so I could more easily change it. If all I want to do is launch a rocket I have the Tidal Wave.

Aside from that I don't get home from work until way after dark in the winter, so my lauches are restricted to Saturday and Sunday. This gives me something else to do during the week.

I am figuring that the Alpha will go much much higher than the Tidal Wave and I am interested in making it easier to recover. That is the basis for my above asked questions.
 

astrowolf67

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The Alpha WILL go much higher than the Tidal Wave. I'd suggest launching it on an A motor first, so you can get an idea of this little rockets altitude potential.

For streamers, on my smaller birds, I bought a roll of plastic 1" wide orange construction streamer from Lowe's. At the launch site, just pull off how much you want, tear it off, and tie it onto the shock cord.
 

Darian Rachal

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You might try a 12" or so X-form chute or maybe a 9" round. Either one should work with an Alpha. My thought regarding recovery is that the chute should slow the rocket enough to prevent a fin from breaking. More than that is too much parachute.
 

powderburner

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from DNoal:
The only plastic part on my Alpha is the nose cone.
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No plastic fins? Now you have me wondering what version of the Alpha you have there.

The first Alpha appeared in the 1967 Estes catalog (for a $1.50), and lasted through the 1996 catalog. It began with a balsa wood nose cone and fin sheet. The body tube was BT-50 for the full length of the airframe. You had to trace the fin pattern, cut out the fins, and glue them to the cardboard BT. The BT-20 motor tube was centered inside the BT-50 with two of those old Estes paper centering rings. This rocket weighed 0.76 ounces without motor.

Somewhere along the line Estes switched to a plastic NC. Later, Estes also switched the motor mount to use a one inch length of solid spiral-wound cardboard centering material.

In 1971 Estes introduced the Alpha III, which also lasted through the 1996 catalog. It had a plastic nose cone and a molded-in-one-piece fin set/aft body tube. The BT part of this fin unit was about 2 ½ inches long, and the cardboard forward airframe tube was shortened correspondingly. This version weighed 1.2 ounces without motor, and most of that weight increase has got to be located in the plastic fin unit.

The external geometry was the same for both the Alpha and Alpha III, the only exception being that the plastic fins were thinner. All versions came with a small parachute, and all versions used that dopey Estes shock cord anchor (the one where you glue a big wad of stuff inside the BT that gets in the way of ejecting the ‘chute). I don’t remember if the kit always came with a motor retaining hook, or if that was added somewhere along the way.

The only Estes Alpha Starter Kits that I have seen had plastic fins, so I just assumed they all did. I suppose it really doesn’t matter. I have NEVER seen an Alpha make a bad flight. It doesn’t weathercock, it doesn’t dawdle on the pad, it just flies great. The thing is just a sweet little design that puts out high performance, even with an A motor. You seriously risk losing it with C power. Be sure to put your name and phone number on it somewhere.
 

DNoal

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The kit is the Estes Alpha, Beta Series, Flying Model Rocket Kit #1225. I couldn't find a date on the packaging but it looks pretty new.

I can take a photo if youd like to see it.
 

Stymye

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Dnoal is right

the beta version alphas are still quite plentifull..I have a couple....somewhere

the alpha III is the plastic version

and the super alpha (or whatever it's called) has plastic fins also
 

astronboy

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Powderburner:

I have a pile of Starter kits with regular old balsa finned Alpha kits in them. This kit started with a Balsa NC, and in the 1980s it was changed to a PNC. Internally at ESTES (and on some harder to find packaging, this PNC version is referred to as the Alpha II). The Alpha III (plastic fin unit) is far more common nowadays in starter kits, and does date from 1971.

It is tough to destroy an Alpha III. That fin can is pretty tough!! I have completely rebuilt more than one Alpha III that used the 'impact recovery system" and crushed the body tube. :eek:


DNoal:

Although stability is an important consideration when making anymodifications, the ALPHA is very stable. Substituting a streamer will not adversely affect the stability of this old bird.

This rocket will go very high, so I would agree that an A nmotor is your best bet if you are worried about getting it back. They are easy to lose on a C motor.

Although, a member of my local club did successfully recover an ALPHA after launching it with an Aerotech 18mm D21 a few weeks ago!!!

:)
 

DNoal

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Powderburner:

The shop where I purchased it had a few more, i think. I paid $9.99 for it, if you want one I could probably mail it to you.
 

powderburner

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DNoal offered:
The shop where I purchased it had a few more, i think. I paid $9.99 for it, if you want one I could probably mail it to you.
------------------------------------------


That is a very kind offer, but I will decline. I already have two or three extra starter specials laying around here somewhere.

I will bring up these ideas: these kits are not likely to remain available for too long, especially at those prices, and especially with Christmas shopping coming up. You may want an extra for yourself (that's an awfully cheap way to get an extra pad for when yours gets stepped on, or an extra ignition system for when yours starts acting up). You may want one or two to give away at Christmas (infect some more of your family & friends?). You may want one to give to your kid's science teacher (give it through the PTA and it's a tax write-off too!).
 

DNoal

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Actually, this is just the rocket itself, there is not a starter kit with it. And at $9.99 I thought that was a bit expensive. But after visiting 2 local hobby shops that was the most popular level 1 kit I could find.


The kit came with BT, NC, engine mount, decals, chute and other nessecary parts.

Since I paid $29 for my RTF starter kit I agree this would be a great price if it included the pad and everything else.

I had a neighbor give us a pad, controller, and about 20 c motors last night that were taking up his closet space. So now I have the spares covered. :)
 

powderburner

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Don't know why I just thought of this, but as long as we are talking about getting started---
When using an Estes-style (ground level) launcher, I keep an old tennis ball or styrofoam ball on hand to cap the top end of the launch rod, both to see it and to avoid sticking it into my face when I bend over the pad. This is the first thing I do after a launch, when I walk up to the pad; I find the end of the rod and cap it. The ball stays on the entire time we are working at the pad, cleaning the rod, cleaning the clips, checking whatever, except for the 2 seconds that we are slipping the next bird onto the launch rod. Otherwise it's just too easy to forget it, lose track of it, and get poked in the face when you bend down to your pad. This is triply important when I have younger kids bouncing around during a launch. It is less important (or unnecessary) when you upgrade to a tripod launch stand.
 

jflis

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powderburner, that's another use for a spent motor casing. take a spent motor casing, leaving the nozzle in tact, and put it on the launch rod upside down.

cheap and I always have one on hand
 

astronboy

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I have used a spent motor casing for this as well.... but you can go one step further:

Spray paint the casing flourescent orange for visibility and run a string through the casing and tie your launch safety key on the string. That way the key is on the launcher, and not in the controller when you are hooking up rockets. This is a BIG plus when launching with kids who are VERY anxious to launch their rockets, and who can often drop the small key in the grass!!

I spent almost 20 min searching for that darned key once when one of the kids dropped it in the post launch excitement.
 

powderburner

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I sure wish you guys wouldn't use such words when addressing one of the older members of TRF.

We always seem to have lots of tennis balls laying around the house, so it's easy to grab one for a rod tip.

DNoal, $10 for an Alpha is indeed a bit high. You can often find part or all of a bulk pack on one of the auctions, and getting them that way prices out to $3-4-5 apiece.

And there is yet one more way to kit-bash one of these birds to recover quickly. Leave the metal motor clip out of the assembly so the motor is free to slip out the rear. Go ahead and attach one end of the shock cord/tether to the base of the NC, but glue/seal the NC into the front of the BT. Find a strong safety pin in a large size, about 1 1/2 to 2 inches long; clip off the head end and bend outward about 1/8 inch of each end. Tie your tether to the loop in the safety pin and clip it inside the front of the motor. Fly as usual and at ejection the motor will pop out but remain tethered to the rocket, the whole thing tumbles back down.

Are you tired of all this advice yet?
 

DNoal

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That is a pretty interesting idea.

Mind if I ask *exactly* how that is better than leaving the engine in the rocket for the entire flight?

I already have the kit built and coated with paint, so I couldn't use it this time, but maybe on the next....
 

powderburner

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It is just another option.

When the motor casing ejects, the weight and shape of the two pieces tumbles around kind of like the break-up recovery system. But for this system, you need the tether, or else your empty rocket will streamline back down and could be damaged at landing.
 

DNoal

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Here is a photo of the completed rocket.

Minor mods include: I used a larger and longer than standard shock cord. I attached the chute using a swivel.

I decided to get ready for a launch (later today) so I installed the supplied chute instead of a streamer. I will see how this works launching with A and B motors depending on the wind.
 

rbeckey

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Nice Alpha. Have you found Blast Off Packs at Toy R Us yet? I believe there is one in Monroeville. Approx. $28.00 for 25 motors + wadding and ignitors. Any luck on a bigger field yet?
 

DNoal

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We had 2 successful flights with the Alpha today. We launched once each with B and C motors. Attached is a photo of the rocket on the Pad.

Since the wind was 10 or so mph we used the Tidal Wave on Bs and Cs to determine the best spot from which to launch, and nearly lost it in the woods. After about 40 minutes of wandering around I saw it hanging 8 feet above the ground in a tree.

Once we moved we had no further trouble with rockets in the woods.

All in all, we had a great day! Six launches and six recoveries.
 

astronboy

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Excellent!! The rocket looks really good, and it sounds like you had fun.... which is what it is all about!!
 
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