What were your first rockets and launch equipment?

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Captain Low-N-Slow
Jan 26, 2010
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I'm a nostalgia buff, so sue me! LOL

I started launching rockets in 1972, when I was 12 years old. I can't for the life of me remember where I heard about them, though. Boys Life magazine or a comic book perhaps. I do remember where I bought them - Jacquie's Hobby Shop in the Southgate Shopping Center (an open mall).

My very first rocket was the venerable Estes Alpha III. I remember it was red and white (instead of the orange and black it is now), but I can't remember if it was pre-colored, or if I had to paint it. I loved that rocket, and launched it to death. My second rocket was the Big Bertha, and at the time I thought it was huge!

My first launch pad was homemade, a piece of 1x12 pine with an 1/8" uncoated welding rod stuck in it, and a tin can lid as the blast deflector. My first launch controller, also homemade, consisted of an old rectangular 12 volt dry cell lantern battery, that had screw terminals on it. Oh, and some speaker wire and alligator clips. I didn't know how to solder then, so I just twisted the stripped wire around the ends of the clips. No push button, no continuity light. Just attach one wire to the screw terminal and touch the other wire to the other terminal. Later, I made a technologically advanced controller with parts from Radio Shack. It had a light and push button!

We used the old coated nichrome wire igniters back then, that needed 12 volts. As that old dry cell battery started reaching the end of its life (it wasn't rechargeable), it would take longer and longer to heat up the nichrome. Sometimes 5 seconds or more. As I started building bigger and higher flying rockets, my dad would drive me to a huge open field, and I'd use his pickup truck battery as my source of power. Worked much better.

I'll never forget the excitement and wonder, as I watched that Alpha III fly into space for the first time, on an A8-3. I was hooked! I'm still hooked, but don't fly as often as I'd like. I've flown up to a G myself (can't afford any more than that), and I've watched thrilling ear shattering HPR rockets up to J's. But I don't think anything will ever surpass what I felt that day in 1972, as I watched a rocket I built, fly into the air, pop its 'chute, and return to Earth. I'm so glad I had that opportunity as a kid.

1965 - Centuri Javelin, LIA-50 box launch pad, Lectra-line ignition system, $6.95. When my Dad found out it took an expensive lantern battery he fumed "this rocket business will be ten dollars 'till you're done".

This link is from the 1968 catalog,the 1965 catalog shows the Micron rocket, but I bought this combo from Boys Life magazine in 1965
I barely remember the rockets that I had in the late 60's/early 70's, but I do remember that I had a Sky Hook. I am sure that I probably had an Alpha too. I used to get my rockets at a long-departed hobby store in Reno called A to Z Hobbies. My brother always had the coolest rockets though - Mars Lander, Big Bertha, Mars Snooper, etc.

I do remember igniting engines using a match with a piece of fuze shoved up in the nozzle and held in place with a little piece of wadding shoved up there.

I also remember the early ignitors and the big lantern batteries to light them. When Solar Ignitors finally came out I thought they were the greatest advancement in rocketry ever.

I had a similar launch pad to yours, and I remember trying to find rocks to place under one end of the board to tilt the rocket in a certain direction.
My first rocket was built from scratch and launched with a straightened coat hanger that was stuck in the ground. It looked kind of like a BT-20 sized Alpha. I lost it on its first flight.

Mid 60's, My brother was in a rocket club at school, and our local "membership" store, like a cross between Sam's and Sears, had some rockets. I got an MRI Wac Corporal, launcher was a block of wood with a split soup can on it for a deflector, wires, and a lantern battery. Built the model with testers wood glue, had a heck of a time keeping fins on it.:cyclops: It is the white, and red one in the middle.

The first rocket that I flew was the Cox Honest John. My first Launch pad was the red Centuri pad that came in a starter kit with the Astro 1. That was the first rocket that I built when the HoJo got hung up in a tree the 4th time I flew it.

The red Centuri pad was really different. It used 2 "photo flash" D batteries, so you could only use the Centuri "sure-shot" igniters. To keep the wires short it didn't run a wire to the launch button. It used an air hose attached to a hand plunger as a "launch" button which inflated a small balloon in the pad. The balloon pushed the launch switch against the continuity light, which was built into the launch key. A really cleaver design, but the batteries were hard to find, and were expensive direct from Centuri.

I had that for a year before I got some real money and bought an Estes starter kit with and Astron Alpha (balsa nose cone & fins) and the porta-pad and launch controller. I still have the pad and controller. I also had a Centuri Payloader II, and a Big Bertha.
first rocket an Estes Fat Boy painted bright orange so that we could find it if it landed in a tree. I was 9 or 10 and we were still launching at the local school.

One of the last launches I had with that rocket landed it on top of the school and had to wait for the janitors to get it down the following modnay :eyepop:
My first rocket was an old Estes Citation Red Max that my cousins gave to me after they crashed it. I repaired it and still have it. I bought the Challenger 1 Starter Set, so it was my first purchased/built rocket. I still have the Challenger 1 also, well over three decades later.

I also got a couple of Boy Scouts rockets made by Centuri (like the Estes Viking of today) along that time, but I don't remember when I got them.
The red Centuri pad was really different. It used 2 "photo flash" D batteries, so you could only use the Centuri "sure-shot" igniters. To keep the wires short it didn't run a wire to the launch button. It used an air hose attached to a hand plunger as a "launch" button which inflated a small balloon in the pad. The balloon pushed the launch switch against the continuity light, which was built into the launch key. A really cleaver design, but the batteries were hard to find, and were expensive direct from Centuri.

That was the Servo - launch a really cool little launcher!
My first rocket was an Estes Big Bertha. I had your basic estes pad, and launch equipment.:roll:

It was WAY back in 1999. :eek:

I guess i'm not seasoned enough to have one of those cool "lit motors with fuse" stories.:neener:
I guess i'm not seasoned enough to have one of those cool "lit motors with fuse" stories.:neener:

Yea, but there are some on here, who were around before fuses, they had to rub sticks together.:bangpan:
I bought my parts from Estes and made my first rocket from scratch. BNC 5 to a 6" BT 5 to a transition to a 8" BT 20. Painted it florescent Orange and used a streamer. Friction fit the A8-3 and used the block of wood with welding rod and launcher my brother had made for his launches. Lost it to a tree :p

I was in 7th grade, '68:)
Yea, but there are some on here, who were around before fuses, they had to rub sticks together.:bangpan:

Sticks? You were lucky.

We had to launch by propping the rocket up against a dead tree, sticking a wire in the air, and waiting for lightning to strike.
My first was a Centuri Quasar with a copper paintjob, launched from an LIA-77 pad with a Lectra-Line 1.

Just a couple of months ago, I cloned the Quasar, using the same paint scheme, and lanched it off the very same pad. (the launch controller is long gone)
Mid 80's, Estes Commanche. Flew that bad boy all the time in the different stages. Also the Estes Sizzler w/ rear parachute /motor ejection.
1975 Centuri Screaming Eagle launch kit.

I spent WAY too much on Ebay trying to get that memory back...but it was worth it to me.
That's funny, because in the past I've looked for the old Sizzler and haven't seen one listed on ebay.
My first logbook entry:
8/22/75 Estes Wolverine A3-4T

The launch equipment was an Estes Tilt-A-Pad and an Electron Beam launch controller. My second rocket was the EAC Viper, followed by the Apogee II and the Camroc Carrier. The Camroc Carrier made it all the way to 1995.
1972- Estes Alpha.
A class project at school,we used a homemade multi launcher, constructed a few years before.
After that myself and a few others were hooked and started an informal rocket club that launched regularly at the school yard over the next couple years or so.
being a relative new boy to rocketry - only ten years, mine first was a starter set of Estes army/nave missiles and a standard launch pad. not that exciting really. -still that was 130 rockets ago.
My first rocket was the Sky Hook and I believe that the pad was some version of the Port-a-pad (wood). That was back in 1963 :eyepop:
My dad bought me a Firing line starter set for my birthday in the mid 70's, probably '73 or '74. It featured the ready to fly Vampire and the unique looking, gray Firing Line launch pad. I still have the rocket and launch pad but I don't use them anymore.

Here's the link to the catalog page:


Other early rockets from the mid '70s I remember flying were:

Aero Hi
Star Snoop
Sky Shriek
Missile Toe
Saturn V semi scale

I remember getting the Goonies in a 3 for $5 sale out of the '75 Estes catalog:


I still have all of these and still fly them. I refinished my Sky Shriek last summer. The Star Snoop and Missile Toe have also been redone and are waiting for new decals. My finishing skills back then (I was about 11) left much to be desired. I had painted the Star Snoop with an assortment of odd colors I had sitting around because I didn't have the money for paint. There was some yellow spray paint, red and green dope and some hideous fluorescent orange paint. I sanded it all off last year and applied the correct colors to it. I also realized then that I must not have known about sand paper or filler back then because the fins were quite rough! Who the heck has time for the correct paint and sanding when you're 11! :)

I remember getting the Aero Hi in the mail and being very upset that the body tube had a big 3" gash down the side from a razor knife. But I was in too much of a hurry to get it built to bother getting a replacement. I just glued a piece of paper over it and continued on with the build. :)
1975, X-15 RTF starter kit. I was at the Kenedy Space Center to see Deke Slayton fly the last Apollo into space. That was the catalyst for me. Later that day we hit the gift shop and I got my X-15.
Astron Streak (Estes for the new guys) because it was only 50 cents. A mailing tube of the cheapest engines probably 1/2A.8-2.

Launcher was purchased from Estes and consisted of a two inch thick piece of wood drilled for a launch rod and bored sideways for 4 D batteries with springs and screws for contact. The controller had micro clips on bell wire and a piece of bakelite with screws in each end and a piece of spring steel for the launch button that spanned the two screw heads. Push down on one end of the steel to make contact.

Ignitors were plain nichrome wire with no enhancements held in place with a bit of wadding stuffed in with an ink pen. The wire from my mother's toaster worked better but that's another story.

The batteries were usually robbed from my parents flashlights and were less then new most of the time. It took several tries before the rocket actually launched. Never saw it again.......couldn't wait to get another one.
My first rockets were Estes Alpha and Micron. I don't remember which came first. I also had a Camroc camera but I don't remember having the rocket to launch it. I also had a Vashon rocket but I don't remember what model it was.

My launch pad was an Estes pad that was a square box with an asbestos pad glued to it and a hole in the center for the rod. The only way I ever got a rocket to launch was by having my dad put a jumper across his car battery to get 2 volts. This was in the late 60's.
My first rocket was a tumble recovery estes scout. The launch pad was a standard 1/8 steel rod stuck through a hole in a ~ 1 foot square piece of wood and into the ground. I don't remember what I used for a controller, but until I came back into the hobby in the 90s I always used bare nichrome held in by wadding. When I came back, I couldn't figure out why pyrogen was needed, since my fading memory doesn't remember lots of ignition failures, but haven't really tried bare nichrome again to see.

My first rocket was an Estes Big Bertha.

My first launch pad was something my Dad bought at a tag sale. It was a black wooden box about 3 feet long by a foot and a half wide, with 2 metal plates on top for blast deflectors. it doubled as a range box, with plenty of storage. It even had holes drilled into the sides to store the launch rods.

Wish I still had it.
My first rocket I built from a Radio Shack aviation lab kit, or something like that. My mother got it for me for Christmas when I was a kid and it taught you how to scratch build (kindof) a rocket, a controller, and a launch pad for one of the projects.

My second and last kit as a kid was an Estes Bullpup 12D. We had to drive 75 miles to get to the closest hobby shop around, which was in San Angelo Texas, and we just did not have the money to do that very often, so I only had the two rockets and the home made ground support items while I was a kid. I even used toilet paper for wadding becasuse the motors I got never had wadding with them.
First rocket was around '78, a Centuri Moonraker with break-apart tumble recovery. I maybe got 2 launches before losing that little thing. Second was a Centuri Payloader II. I've still got that one. Launch pad was a mix of blast deflector welded to a rod that my brother made for me in school shop and a clone of the Estes tilt-a-pad made out of plywood by my dad. Still have that pad! Controller started as bell wire, clips from radio shack, and the tractor parked nearby. Later I got the Solar Launch Controller (still have that and the old Ford tractor, too).