U.S. Rockets Banshee

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Jan 21, 2009
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After the threads on TRF in the Vendors section about U.S. Rockets, I thought I'd take Jerry Irvine up on his offer for a discount on the Banshee kit. Here are my impressions so far. As I continue the build I will post my comments here.

The (USR) Banshee is a MPR 4FNC kit that can be flown on 29mm motors (or 24mm with the included adapter) & has streamer recovery.

Ordering process:
Sent order via email to Jerry Irvine at USR for one Banshee kit. At the time, he was offering a discount plus free shipping for the Banshee. Received a confirmation of my order within 30 minutes of sending my email. Then I received an email within 48 hours that my kit had been shipped. My order arrived via USPS Priority mail, boxed & in good shape.

Initial impression:
Kit was packaged in a plastic bag with hang tag. I could clearly see the instruction manual, main airframe tubes & nose cone. To save on space, all small parts (coupler, bulkhead, motor mount tube, centering rings, launch lugs, & recovery hardware) were inside the tubes. Nose cone is made of medium-hard balsa & has a strong resemblance to the Fliskits' Richter Recker nose cone (same diameter & shape but the Banshee's is .25" longer--4.5" vs 4.25"). Balsa nose cones are unusual for an MPR kit but (if you don't mind the comparison) Fliskits' Richter Recker is proof that balsa can safely survive the increased thrust.

Tubes are white & covered with glassine. Seams are almost nonexistant. The Banshee tubes are a fair balance between the LPR tubes of Fliskits & the HPR paper tubes from BSD Rocketry. The instructions claim that the Banshee is capable of flying on anything from D12 to H motors. The tubes are thick enough for the task without any special reinforcement or fiberglassing. Other than the nose cone, all wood pieces surprised me with how thin they are.

The 4 fins, 2 centering rings, bulkhead plate, & support disc (more on that later) were cut from 3/32" plywood. I know that some of the reviewers of USR kits on EMRR express that they didn't care for the splintered cut of their bulkhead & centering rings. I don't see what the big deal is, even though my parts needed sanding because I have to admit I don't believe I have ever found wood centering rings and/or bulkheads in any manufacturer's kit that did NOT need to be sanded--no matter how they were cut. The fins had some flex but they are mounted on the rocket through the wall to the MMT tube & have a short span sticking out of the airframe, so I expected them to be more rigid once attached. However, I found it mildly odd that 2 of the 4 fins had knots in the wood. It would take some extra attention during the preparation for finishing process to make those flaws disappear.

The launch lugs are exactly like what you would find in an Estes kit, only in a 1/4" diameter. That might be surprising for some but I remember that my Fliskits' RR came with 3/16" lugs made of the same material--and both rockets are about the same weight (within 1oz.) empty! Besides, just like my RR, I planned to use rail buttons instead of the included lugs.

The recovery system was very simple: a 7' piece of 1/4" high polyester elastic, a slightly larger & heavier cardstock version of the Estes tri-fold paper mount, & a 60" x 3" red plastic streamer. After last weekend's very windy launch, I was actually pleased to see the streamer.

I also though it was cool that a 29-24mm motor adapter, consisting of 2 smaller tubes, were included to fly the Banshee on small fields with lower impulse 24mm motors.
The instruction manual contained lots of useful information (like CP, Cd, & motor recommendations) along with diagrams to accompany many of the steps. There are a couple of minor glitches in the instruction manual, like steps are labelled 8 & 9 twice, and the step of attaching the bulkhead to the coupler is repeated. Also the step for building the 29-24mm motor adapter was not included at all. (I resolved the last issue by emailing Jerry, who responded with the requested information.) These editorial issues did not detract from the straightahead build.

A document entitled Advanced Information Report (AIR) #1 -- Motor Installation was included & I found to be useful as it explains how rockets & motors work when there is no thrust ring in the rocket, which is a sometimes confusing subject for someone building & flying a rocket like this for the first time. It also explains how to do motor retention with masking tape, as the Banshee does not include any mechanical retention device.

I was a bit nervous about beginning the build. The robust tubes impressed while the thin wood components seemed flimsy. Taking a step back though, I realized that this kit was designed for one purpose: minimal weight + stable design = maximum performance. With that in mind, I began...
The build:
Actually before the build, I asked Jerry some questions in a USR thread on what adhesive(s) he recommended for on USR kits. He strongly recommended aliphatic resin (yellow wood glue). He pointed me to real world testing at https://www.rocketmaterials.org/ to provide support for his recommendation.

I found everything to be straight ahead & well documented in the instructions. Sand the fins, glue the centering rings to the motor mount tube, glue the motor mount into the airframe, and attach the bulkhead in the coupler. Something a bit uncommon for MPR kits but found in the Banshee is that a self-tapping screw eye is used in place of one that uses a nut on the backside to prevent it from coming out. Although that potential problem is addressed by the inclusion of a 1" disc of 3/32" ply. It is glued to the bulkhead & then the screw eye threads through both pieces of wood. A drop of CA provides extra insurance from the screw eye accidentally coming out.

The fins are what makes this build a great introduction to MPR for anyone who's never built anything but Estes kits: you have to mark & slot your own tube for the fins. I've done it a few times now & don't mind the labor. There's really just a couple simple rules to follow: 1) Measure twice; cut once. 2) Use a sharp blade & take your time. If you do that, no problems. Again, I used Elmer's Carpenter's Wood Glue to attach the fins to the motor mount & then fin fillets. Once the glue was dry, the fins were considerably more rigid. Any timidness or uncertainty I had about the robustness of the Banshee disappeared for good.

In fact, I'll say this about aliphatic resin: it has all the benefits of white glue (easy to apply & clean up, inexpensive, odorless, non-toxic) yet rival the strength of epoxy on wood-wood & wood-paper joints. I'm sold on it! The only drawback is that if you use too much, it can take a loooong time to dry. I learned this the hard way when gluing the MMT into the airframe. I had to let it dry overnight before I could begin to slot the fins. When used in small [read: normal] amounts, it dries in a time on par with white glue.

Coming down the home stretch, I glued the coupler onto the payload tube (while leaving the nose cone to be friction fit into place), assembled the motor adapter, drilled holes for the rail buttons along with 1/16" vent holes in both airframe tubes to prevent premature separation...seeing how an AT F20 in the Banshee sims out at just over 2000'! (BTW, drilling the vent holes was not mentioned in the instructions & was purely my own doing.)

In just a few short hours, it was definitely looking like a rocket.
Lance, great review so far. It's well written and enjoyable to read.

Some people might argue that these kits were state of the art at the time they were initially released. I suppose the advancements in MPR/HPR construction components and techniques have come along way. I could definitely see agreeing with anyone that could recommend a better component-X or recovery-Y to replace in the original kit. Based on Lance's review, these kits have a sort of "nostalgic" construction feel much like a SEMROC or FlisKits would offer. So long as the kit's design and components can withstand the flights with the manufacturer's recommended motors, I definitely think the kits are worthy.

I'm looking forward to seeing your build pics and follow on flights. I'm certainly on the fence for a USR 2-stage rocket. (I have a new MT3G mini-Timer that I'd like to try out!)
Originally posted by eugenefl
Lance, great review so far. It's well written and enjoyable to read.

Thanks ;) Compliments are always welcome. Just don't tell any of my english teachers from high school! hehe

Originally posted by eugenefl
Some people might argue that these kits were state of the art at the time they were initially released. I suppose the advancements in MPR/HPR construction components and techniques have come along way. I could definitely see agreeing with anyone that could recommend a better component-X or recovery-Y to replace in the original kit. Based on Lance's review, these kits have a sort of "nostalgic" construction feel much like a SEMROC or FlisKits would offer. So long as the kit's design and components can withstand the flights with the manufacturer's recommended motors, I definitely think the kits are worthy.

I think the biggest lesson that I'm learning from building the Banshee is that, collectively, we often overbuild our rockets. I know we are trying to prevent/minimize potential for damage yet it's not as obvious that we might in fact be increasing the chances by the added stress (read: extra mass, more complicated features, etc.) with these modifications.

And I think there's a lot that can be learned from "kickin' it old skool". At the very least anyway, USR seems IMHO to subscribe to the thought process of "if it ain't broke, why fix it?" Balsa nose cones are all the rage in LPR right now (like you mentioned, see Fliskits & Semroc), so what's wrong with using them in MPR? Plastic nose cones all look......the same :rolleyes: I felt it was fair to make the comparison of the Banshee to the Richter Recker for many reason, but particularly because it requires a minimum of 3 D12s--that's 60N of total thrust! (And I've flown my RR on E9s...) It doesn't matter if that thrust is coming from one motor or multiple motors, right? Yet I cannot recall anyone (myself included) ever having anything negative to say about the RR's body tubes or nosecone (& the fins are balsa & surface mount for goodness sake!), much less accuse Fliskits of being substandard :eek: (Blasphemy!) My previous posts illustrate the other reasons why the Banshee is a well designed kit. Equal or better performance with a lesser thrust motor in a lighter rocket...I don't have a problem with that! And I bet I'm not alone ;)

Originally posted by eugenefl
I'm looking forward to seeing your build pics and follow on flights. I'm certainly on the fence for a USR 2-stage rocket. (I have a new MT3G mini-Timer that I'd like to try out!)

Yeah, I wish I'd taken more pictures throughout the build (but I say that about ALL my projects! haha) I promise to post completed pictures, which'll probably be sometime this weekend. Won't have a chance to launch it until a month from now though :(

I also have to give props to USR/Jerry for the excellent communication before, during, & after the ordering process... (Goodness knows I've pestered him enough with questions about other USR kits!) And I'm still blown away by the whole "order now, pay later" policy...that's awesome!

BTW, these aren't posts, they're NOVELS!! haha :D
First off, let me say that I won't be posting any pictures till tomorrow only because I'm done with all the painting but I want everything to set untouched for another 24 hours before I handle it. :rolleyes:

On with the review...

Finishing was reasonably straight ahead. I really took my time though & didn't rush anything. When I get around to posting pictures, I think everyone will agree it was worth the wait ;)

The fins & nosecone were smeared with diluted Elmer's Fill 'n' Finish, making it easier to spread & soak into the grain (not to mention leave me less to sand!) Sanded everything with 220 grit sandpaper & laid down a couple coats of Krylon white primer. Sanded again but with 320 grit paper. Went back over the nosecone with F'n'F (diluted of course) before more sanding. Another round of primer.

Finally, it was time for some color! Krylon orange for the entire rocket. Let it cure for 24 hours & then another coat of orange. Cure again for 24 hours before masking it off for stripes of Krylon cherry red.

I also want to mention that I did something a bit unconventional (for me anyway) & that was I painted the coupler. Unifinished, the coupler had a waaay too loose fit. Some primer & paint shimmed that up nicely--in fact, I had to wet sand the coupler so that it would have a smoother movement sliding in/out of the booster tube...

The nosecone came out *amazing*. I know I'll cry like a baby (I'll try to hold it inside & not let it show at the field! haha) if it ever gets dented because until you pull it from the payload tube, you cannot tell what it is made of :) It's flawlessly smooth with no hint of wood grain!

The only things left are to polish everything up a little bit with 3M rubbing compound with an old, soft t-shirt to give it that extra shine (to soften the paint dam ridges of red & remove any signs of paint blush), glue the shock cord mount into the booster tube, screw in the railbuttons, & put on the decals (not sure if I want to do that though). Speaking of the decals, they are very simple--they look like they were printed on a laser printer & just say "US ROCKETS Banshee", which I don't mind but it's that the clear backing material has a matte finish. I generally don't believe in cleat coating my rockets & think the contrasting surface might look funny on the rocket. Looks like I'll wait till tomorrow when I handle the rocket before I decide to use them or not.

(On a side note, I prefer to wait as long as possible to attach any shock cord device to my rockets so that I don't have to deal with and/or worry about them falling out & getting in the way of the finishing process... Is that weird or am I overreacting???) Recovery device is a 5' x 3" plastic streamer. Seeing how I'm planning to fly it on an AT SU F20-7W, it's going to get some serious altitude & we have had some unbelievable winds the past couple of months at our field. This is a light rocket (I'm guessing it's under 10oz), so it's quite likely to drift even with a small chute.

Ultimately, it came out so doggone sweet that it has "rocket god sacrifice" written all over it. I did buy a Radio Shack personal alarm recently so I do need to work on an attachment method for aiding me in getting this rocket (& others) back safely.

Only bad part now is that I have to wait 4 weeks till the next launch... :( It would be tempting to go to a local school yard & use the 24mm motor adapter to send it up on a D12-3 'cept I only installed rail buttons. <sigh> Guess not. :rolleyes:

Well, be on the lookout for pictures tomorrow!
Here's what I've been wanting to show you.

BTW, I'm going to find a way to get it on a scale to see what it weighs in at here in the next couple of days.
Wow - check out that nosecone! Might as well drop it on the edge of your desk and get it over with. :p Well done on the paint job. I bet it's gonna scream on any composite motor!
Flight and Recovery:
Whew! I *finally* got a chance to fly my Banshee today... I'd been hoping to (again, finally) spring for an AT 29/40-120 RMS system & power it with an F40 or F52. I got the 29/40-120 but had to settle on a single use F50-9T & got a couple G64s for other rockets. (No way was I gonna use a G64 in this thing!)

Prep was a piece of cake. The motor fit surprisingly snug with no masking tape other than as a thrust ring. I dumped in a handful of dog barf & slid her up on the rail.

Also, the stock streamer was a 3" x 60" piece of thin plastic. According to EMRR's streamer calculator, I was going to need something wider/longer. Using a disposable plastic tablecloth (perfectly matching the stock material I might add), I had trimmed a 5"x96" piece & attached it to the shock cord on a swivel.

Once it was on the rail & all other rockets at the time had been launched, I ran back out & hooked up my rocket beeper (a Radio Shack personal alarm). My only concern with using the beeper was that with the rocket's light mass (under 10oz without motor) & only a streamer, there wasn't going to be enough force from ejection to pull the pin on the beeper. That meant pulling the pin on the pad & quickly tucking the beeper into the rocket.

After a (at the time seemingly endless) string of continuity issues (darn copperheads!)...not to mention being annoyed by the beeper squealing...ignition. The Banshee s-c-r-e-a-m-e-d off the pad. :cool: I think RockSim put it up around 2400ft & with the calm winds today I feel confident that it came within a couple percent of that estimate. In fact, I was able to see the Banshee before I could hear the beeper. The plastic streamer brought it almost straight down with very little drift. All in all, it landed within a hundred yards of the pad. Not bad considering the altitude it'd just gone! The field was soggy but the Banshee managed to find a small dry-ish patch. I found everything intact--there wasn't even a scratch or ding in the balsa nose cone!!! :D Only problem was it took me forever to fish the beeper pin out of my pocket to shut the darn thing off! :eek:

At my usual field I don't think I'd ever be brave enough to launch it again on anything more than an F but there's no doubt in my mind that the Banshee can take it--you just have to be brave enough to put a big motor in there! ;)

I definitely enjoyed building & flying this rocket & would recommend it to anyone wanting a reasonably priced MPR. (I think I mentioned this in one of my earlier posts but) don't feel like you have to modify this kit and/or overbuild it. Even though it may not have all the so-called "modern niceties" that we're generally accustomed to (like mechanical motor retention, Kevlar shock cord, heavy wood components)...but guess what? The USR Banshee doesn't need it!

If anyone has any questions about my experience with the Banshee, feel free to PM or email me.

Hope you enjoyed reading this! Thank you :D
So where's the liftoff pic? :D

Awesome review. I think you hit the nail on the head regarding the overbuilding a lot of us do. Glad to hear it flew and recovered safely.
Originally posted by eugenefl
So where's the liftoff pic? :D

Sorry, it took me a while to get the pics off my camera. Here's the liftoff pic.

What? You say that you don't see it??? Aw, you must've blinked :rolleyes: I told you it screamed off the pad! :p
I apologize for the "flight pic"...

Here is a pic of my Banshee recovering under streamer though.