Scratch Build: SSS Naught or Nice

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Jan 18, 2009
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My club had a Christmas rocket contest, so this was my entry. It’s a “scale model” of the “Santa’s Surveillance Ship Naughty or Nice.” This ship is one of the fleet operated by the Elfin Surveillance Corps to detect which children are naughty and which are nice. :)

This is my first build thread, so let know if you have any suggestions.

It is a scratch build put together with found parts and scraps mostly from an Estes Designer Special box.

So, to start, the parts list (see attached photo):

1) The rocket will have an "engine pod" made out of a “Christmas Ornament” Coke bottle I found at Wal-Mart. The lady who walked up next to me said she thought they’d make cute stocking stuffers. I thought one would make a “cute” rocket…

2) I also used another bottle for the nose cone/crew module. It is a medicine bottle that the Target pharmacies here use. It will be the top half of the nose cone. The lower half of the nose cone is the bottom part of a two-piece Estes BT-50 nose cone I had laying around. I noticed it was the same size as the bottle neck, creating a nice custom nose cone.

3) The body tube is a BT-50 tube, 9 in long.

4) The engine mount is a standard 18mm Estes motor mount.

5) I used 1/8 inch plywood for the fins. I thought balsa or basswood would break too easily for what I have in mind.

The first step was the engine mount, which was assembled as usual, so I won’t belabor it here. The only problem I had is one of the centering rings was too small on the inside diameter, so I had to peel a bit of paper off the inside to get it to fit.

I created a fin template freehand by tracing the diameter of the bottle onto graph paper, then using a compass to draw the fin outline. I cut three blanks from the plywood, taped them together with double sided tape, and stuck the template on to the top one with spray-on glue.

The fins are through-the-wall designs, in that they will go through the wall of the bottle to the body tube itself. I cut the root section a little long, planning to trim it up after the dry fit.

The next step was to cut the taped up stack of fin stock all at once on the band saw, staying just off the line. I then sanded the stack to the line on a belt sander. Pulling them apart, I had three nicely shaped fins.


I next turned to the bottles, cleaning them and scuffing them with sand paper to allow paint and epoxy to stick better. I cut off the neck of the medicine bottle, making sure the hole would fit the nose cone base.

The holes in the Coke bottle were more difficult. The bottle neck wasn’t quite the right size and I needed a hole in the bottom also. I finally put my drill press on low with a spade bit, punched a pilot hole and drilled it out very carefully with a wood clamp around the bottle. This actually melted through the plastic more than cut it. However, this turned out to be good, as it left a nice shoulder stretched out about 1/8 inch long around the inside of the hole. This was a nice snug fit over the body tube and should make a strong glue joint.

One of the longest steps was trying to figure out how to mark the bottle to cut fin slits. There was a seam I could use to mark one. For the rest I tried various methods of flexible tape and paper as guides, none of which worked well. Finally, I just did the best I could and used a Dremel tool and a lot of test fitting to cut the slots.


I also used the Dremel to cut holes at the top and bottom of the bottle for a launch lug to fit flush to the body tube. Then I noticed the rod wouldn’t get around the nose cone, so I had to use the Dremel a little more and put the lug on a stand off. I used epoxy to glue the bottle to the tube, then the fins through the bottle to the tube.

I attached the shock cord using the standard Estes folded paper method. If I were to do this again, I'd use a longer body tube. The space for recovery and wadding is going to be tight.

For finishing, I primed it, sanded, and sprayed on a couple of coats of “Santa Stealth Red.” This is supposed to render the elf-inhabited ships invisible to all those who still deserve Santa’s attention. I don’t think the stealth works though, as I have no problem seeing it. ;)

I used some gold and black paint brushed on for highlights on the fin edges and other details. Black was used for the “view port.”

Not having time to get good decals, I tried printing on some clear mailing labels. This worked well for the body tube, but the “clear label” was all too visible on the fins. I then finished it with a clear coat.

Now, I just need a weekend free when it is not snowing around here to launch it.


I like it.

I'll have to use your back story to imress my overy earnest step daughter next year.

Flight pix would be nice when you get a chance.