R10 Solar Warrior

After a tremendously long hiatus, I finished production and released my latest micro-rocket kit: The R10 MX Solar Warrior.

R10 Solar Warrior

This is a 38% downscale of an Estes kit from the early to mid ’90s that I loved the look of but never actually owned.

R10 kit contents.

A considerable part of the delay was simply settling on a paint scheme I really liked. Eventually it hit me that it should be a tribute to Ukraine and my Ukrainian friends & colleagues. There’s some literary connection there in that Ukraine is the world’s largest exporter of sunflowers and sunflower products. From there it took a while for inspiration to hit and the scheme you see here to develop. As a bonus, the R10 works well visually with the American-themed R5 MX Hawkeye.

BFFs Solar Warrior and Hawkeye.

Given the tiny size, the only realistic way to enable most people to replicate that fin pattern was to do a print sticker. That’s as opposed to a spray mask or layers of vinyl. That in turn meant though that I had to either significantly increase the precision of my kiss cutting or have people do so themselves. The latter would be reasonable for these shapes, sizes, and quantities, but I went for the first one. That in turn introduced more delay and demotivation as I had to swap out cutting equipment, develop new templates, establish new parameters, and so on toward overhauling the workflow. The end result was worth it though.

The original prototype from early 2022.


This past Memorial Day weekend Alice & I took some tiny rockets to one of the East Coast’s largest amateur launch ranges, the National Warplane Museum in Geneseo, NY (very near Rochester), for the annual NYPOWER event hosted by the Monroe Astronautical Rocket Society (MARS) and the Syracuse Rocket Club (SRC).

This was my first trip to a MARS launch at Geneseo and it did not disappoint. That’s an amazing site to launch rockets, and a really nice group of people. Alice and I managed to spend some time here and there hanging out with the organizers and she got more out of it than just Memorial Day cupcakes—though those were indeed a true highlight for her! We showed up late, but she really enjoyed the Sunday night campfire. I was particularly moved by how excited and engaged she was when everyone spent a few minutes pointing out and watching the ISS traverse the night sky overhead.

The ceiling for the event was 8000ft, and you had to go through extra review if you expected to go over 6k. The clubs running these high power launches get waivers from the FAA for given altitudes and time periods, and sometimes have to call in particular launches. The recovery area at this launch site is absurdly generous, like a square mile of primary and then a lot of surrounding open space as well.

A standout for the weekend, in multiple ways, was the giant rocket above from the Spring Grove High School club. Unfortunately its motor fractured and the 17ft long, 12in diameter, ~76lb aircraft broke up wildly not far above the launch pad, burning out of both ends and spinning around with parts ripping off. Alice’s chosen metaphor that she told everyone excitedly was that it “SNAPPED LIKE A FLYING GRAHAM CRACKER!!”

The huge silver retro-scifi moon lander below was beautiful though, at rest and in the air. Big enough for Alice to walk under the legs without ducking, it flew just high enough to be well up there but totally visible, and then floated back down on multiple parachutes for a very stately, graceful flight. For both its launches I saw this weekend it nearly landed on its legs, juuust tipping over at the last second. At one point it was set up on display with an American flag waving in the background and even 7 year old Alice realized and remarked on how evocative it was of scenes from the moon landings.

The vendor row for the event was packed: Us (low power kits, parts, motors); Ken / Performance Hobbies (high power kits, parts, motors); Ray / FlisKits (lots of unique kits, we stock a bunch); Rick / Wildman CT (high power motors). As always I had a fun and informative time hanging out with Ken, interesting discussions with Rick, and it was nice to meet Ray in person. Alice thought Ken in particular was a hoot. From a retail perspective the crowd here had the most interest I’ve seen so far in basic parts, including one youngish guy who over the course of the weekend bought & assembled all the parts and supplies for a new ad hoc scratchbuilt BT60 mid-power rocket!

We stayed in a tiny cabin in one of Lechtworth State Park’s campground areas. This worked well, and it seems like a great park. At about a month out though I had reserved one of the last remaining spots for Memorial Day weekend without realizing it was on the southern end of the park, about twice as far away from Geneseo as the northern camp loop I had been researching! Fortunately it was a really pleasant and still very reasonable ~25 minute drive to & from the airfield. In any event, Alice sternly refused to even consider taking a shower despite the facilities being available…

In an effort to keep Alice—just short of 8 years old—engaged with rocketry overall and to sell her on this trip specifically, I had planted the idea of hosting an activity table for kids. She immediately latched onto this and began making lists & plans of what we could do and what we’d need. In the end we brought some kits for kids to assemble, complementing the fly-it/take-it tent run by SRC, and a lot of stuff with which to decorate rockets: Stickers, markers, and lots of tapes—color masking tape, washi tape, and variously colored flagging tape for streamers. Also on hand were space and rocket themed coloring books, reading books, and a couple games. Put it all under a shade tent with a couple kid-sized folding tables and chairs, and you’ve got a party!

There weren’t a ton of kids around for the launch, and it can be hard to get little kids to socialize outside of well understood scenarios like playgrounds. But we had a lot of fun, built a handful of rockets, and decorated a bunch more with a small but steady succession of new friends. Notably, Alice enjoys being at launches, but she’s usually pretty blasé about actually launching rockets herself. She likes running around outside, being goofy with the people we know, going on expeditions to recover wayward rockets, etc.. But here she was motivated and eager to launch a bunch, especially late one day as the pads emptied out to do a 3-way launch of her rockets… and then spend a long time walking patterns looking for the third one (somebody else eventually found it nestled in the grass right next to a mid power pad). It’s been said often, but moral of the story is once again that the best way to engage kids is to engage kids, plural.

Although facilitating easy on-site construction has been a big focus of mine, increasingly I also wouldn’t worry about kids building their own rockets. I believe the Syracuse club also hold to that philosophy in their frequent kids events—they’re quite specifically fly-it/take-its, not make-it/take-its. If the kids are into building that’s great, but otherwise they’ll come to it if you get them hooked. Put a rocket in their hands, let ’em fly it, and they’ll adopt it and love it just as much as if they built it. Enable them to decorate it and they’re making their own thing and being creative and you’ve got an easy stepping stone toward building. Again, not a new insight. Lots of clubs have “rocket buckets” and so on for kids, and the hobby thrives on devotees giving rockets to newcomers to go launch. But for me personally it’s somewhat of a shift I’m making.

Lastly, get a cheap pair of walkie-talkies. Those are always fun no matter what, but also give cautious kids a way to wander a bit on their own without getting too nervous about being away from you, e.g., to go watch launches, look for kids, or wait in line at the food truck and then call over dad & his wallet to order…

Highlights in Alice’s reports to everybody at home:

  • Saturday’s night launch, which was short but sweet and involved being out launching rockets until way past bedtime;
  • The cupcake flag at the organizers’ cookout Sunday night, with inch thick icing;
  • The giant rocket that BLEW UP just off the pad (the ~16ft brown one in photos here disassembled itself maybe 75ft in the air);
  • That Erik Hansen from PARA gave her glowsticks after his dad Jim said Erik is too old for them, which she found to be riotous.

Long story short, NYPOWER was a great weekend for us as a holiday trip as well as a fun launch. Alice has been talking about rockets unprompted all week since. Pretty good return for a small investment in a box or two of stickers, tape, and markers.

That’s Jimmy, who Alice found on the prize table at her school’s spring fair a couple weeks ago. We are currently in the requirements gathering phase of building a rocket for Jimmy. The list so far: #1 is that Jimmy be totally isolated from the ejection charge. #2 is that we must get Jimmy back!!!

MDRA Red Glare 2023

I survived vending at MDRA’s annual Red Glare launch event. JUST BARELY.

Friday was so windy as to be very marginal for flying and not that pleasant to hang out in. Expecting the weekend to be even worse, people did manage to get in flights, but many rockets were lost in distant trees. Saturday was canceled as heavy rain started overnight and continued well into the afternoon. Once the rain let up the weather did get beautiful for a couple hours… until the tornado warnings started coming in. Apparently one was seen right nearby, and Brian from CENJARS reported that one touched down at the end of his street back home in North Jersey. Sunday started off much like Friday but then the skies showed us what wind really means. Mid-morning the wind shifted and picked up enough to bend my tent, which was staked down, weighted down, and tied to my car, which was also serving a windbreak. Fortunately Jim from PARA and somebody else happened to be on-hand right then to keep the side bars from breaking until I could reposition the tie-down lines to my car. Hardly anybody flew anything until sometime in the afternoon, when the wind finally died down substantially and there was a sustained push to get all the rockets into the air.

Apparently attendance on Friday was the highest it’s been in some number of years. But between the Saturday cancellation and marginal conditions Sunday, weekend attendance was much much smaller than last year. Various clubs in the region scrambling to hold last minute TARC qualifying launches for their local high school teams before a deadline Monday didn’t help either. So business was quieter than expected. But as per usual for an MDRA launch I learned a lot hanging out with Ken from Performance Hobbies, saw a number of folks I know, put faces to names for a bunch of others, and met some new people.

Staying in a micro cabin within Maryland’s Tuckahoe State Park nearby was also very convenient and nice. They’re basically 10x10x10 wood cubes with a double bed, two narrow bunk beds, a very small shelf-slash-desk on the wall between the beds, and pretty much nothing else. They do have electricity though, which was a requirement so I could recharge my credit card terminal & phone. Mine at least got just enough daylight & airflow to not feel claustrophobic or dark and the campground loop I was in has good visual separation between everybody. So Saturday’s cancellation was a bummer, but ignoring that context I had a perfectly good day holed up in the micro cabin reading novels and listening to the storm.

Beyond all that, the trip was made worth it quickly after arriving Friday when somebody came running up because they were about to leave, were worried I wasn’t coming, and really wanted to buy some of my MicroMaxx kits for their daughter. Another highlight was chatting with a pair of pre-schoolers I know from CENJARS who were expounding at length on the virtues of various rockets. Well, the slightly older one was expounding. The toddler mostly chewed on an old rocket clutched in their fist, though very politely they did offer me a taste several times…

Let it also be known that even without a fully functional roof rack, though admittedly having added a hitch cargo shelf, I smashed previous personal bests by cramming a truly ridiculous array of stuff into and onto the Subaru. Sadly though it was way too windy to setup my grid wall panels and so on. I wound up very artfully propping things up as low to the ground as possible so they didn’t blow around excessively.

In any event, onward and upward! We’re finalizing plans for Alice and I to go to the MARS club’s NY Power launch at the end of May for our next national level event.