Naked Model Rockets

Geek Culture

What’s the fun of spending hours in painting your model rocket only to have the wind sweep it away into the next county? Maybe there is a way to make a quick and dirty model rocket, one that you don’t mind losing. What’s the simpliest model rocket we could make? So my son and I began a series of experiments to see how simple and fast we could make a model rocket using the standard Estes engines. The immediate solutionis to try one using the engine and as little else as possible.So one Saturday morning we took a roll of duct tape and some cardboard. We used a scissors to cut fins, which we taped on both sides. I was concerned whether the force would rip the tape off, but it seemed as secure as the glue normally used to attach fins. We cut a soda straw for the guide and taped that as well. Then we formed some duct tape into a nose. We were done in about 10 minutes so we made a second one.


We decided to launch in our backyard which borders a wilderness area. It had just rained for weeks during the wet season so the possiblity of a fire was extremely low. We don’t normally launch there because we can’t retreive it, but now we didn’t care. We set the ignition button much further away than usual because there was a strong likelihood this thing would not go verticle. Did I mention we were using a C engine, the most powerful of the small diameter ones? It was probably dangerous. It might even be stupid dangerous. We were excited. We set it off. It went totally crazy, zipping around, richocheting around and bouncing off the roof a couple of times. It was a lot more fun than the usual launch. But also a pretty miserable faillure. We tightened up the fins of the second rocket, but this 10-minute rocket also veered way off vertical. Strike two.

What we learned: the tape was strong enough to withstand the launch force but symmetry was more critical than we thought. The rocket remained intact, but it needed more stabilization and more attention to balance.

For round two the next day, we decided to put the fins way behind it, more like a bottle rocket, or an arrow. So I found some bamboo skewers in the kitchen. We taped these and than added a fin of tape (tape it to itself) with no cardboad at all. This time we didn’t even bother with a nose cone, figuring none was better than an out-of-balance one. It took all of five minutes to make and looked like this:


The result? It wobbled a bit but flew might high. We rated it as a success. Next step is make one more carefully, maybe add some kind of nose, and then measure how high it goes.

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1 thought on “Naked Model Rockets

  1. In 8th grade we made them out of a paper towel tube, a smaller tube (to hold the engine), used the straw for the guide, and a piece of cork for the nose. I dont’ remember what we used for the fins though.. I’d still glue it.

    Also, it sounds like you didn’t do the part where you find the center of gravity and spin it over your head.. I don’t remember what that accomplished, but you probably would have seen the wonky aerodynamics and known that it would have gone… well everywhere.

    I remember growing up, launching a rocket with my dad. I put a GI Joe guy inside with a parachute, and an extra booster engine thinking it would be EPIC! It went straight up to just over tree-height, turned a 90 degree angle and went over interstate 295. I was disappointed.. Couldn’t find the rocket again…. or the GI Joe. =-(

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