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Hints and Tips

Building and launching a model rocket is not difficult.   However, it is different than most any other class activity you have ever offered.   If you and your students have never built a model rocket it can seem daunting, even with detailed instructions.  After years of experience teaching model rocketry to kids, certain areas have highlighted themselves as areas of concern or areas that need a bit more guidance.

This section hopes to provide that guidance and to help you in presenting model rocketry to your class.  Broken into distinctive sections, it is strongly recommended that you read all of these items before beginning your class.   The menu bar above will bring you to hints and tips that are specific to each of our Skill Level 1 kits.  Below are some hints and tips that are general in nature and apply to most model rocket kits.

First is a summary list of common "got'cha's" that you should be aware of and help guide your students to success.  Some of these are generic and apply to any model, others are more specific, but you will know when they apply based on the kit you are building.

Summary assembly concerns:

  • Razor knife safety - If your particular build requires the use of a razor knife, it is important that you spend a portion of your class describing knife safety with an emphasis on the penalties of careless use of the knife.   We suggest that  you make a point in pointing out how sharp they are, how easily they can cut and that any horse-play will be dealt with promptly (I usually take the knife from the guilty party for the remainder of the session)
  • Launch lugs missing. This can be attributed to the idea that it is such a small part, how can it be that important.  It is important, in fact critical.  Be sure that it is installed, straight and then not clogged with paint or glue
  • Engine mounts assembled backwards.  Make sure that the engine block is at one end and that the engine HOOK sticks out beyond the OTHER end.
  • Engine mounts glued IN backwards.  Make sure that the end with the engine hook is coming out the bottom of the rocket or, in the case of mounts without hooks, that the engine BLOCK if facing forwards (top).
  • Engine mounts not glued in. Or glued in with an inadequate amount of glue.  I have had students and teachers alike install the engine mount without glue because the fit seemed "tight enough" to not need glue.  Wrong.  Without adequate glue and filets, your rocket will sit on the pad as the motor (mount and all) come shooting up out of the top of the rocket as can be seen in this photo.

Summary launch concerns:

  • Motor doesn't ignite: Usually the result of one of three problems:
    1. Shorted igniter: If the wires of the igniter or the micro clips touch each other the igniter will fail.  The tricky part is that the wires may short out under the plug inside the engine nozzle and be hard to see until after you remove the igniter.
    2. Broken connection: If the fine wire tip of the igniter is broken inside or if the micro clips are not connected or are very dirty, this will cause an open circuit and cause a failed ignition.  NOTE The Continuity Lamp on your launch control is designed to check for JUST this condition.  If you engage the continuity lamp but it does not light, then you have a "Broken connection" someplace along the line and your rocket will not launch.
    3. Inadequate power supply: If you are using dry cells and/or less than 12 Volts you may start to experience problems with it taking longer and longer for the rocket to ignite.  The solution is fresh batteries or to switch to a different power source.  We recommend the use of your car battery.
  • Parachute or streamer burns up on deployment: You either didn't use recovery wadding, or not enough of it.  Also, it is important that the wadding be packed loosely and not squeezed into a tight ball.
  • Fin broke on landing: This is a common problem that, in some cases, is unavoidable.  The good news is that you BUILT the rocket, it should be an easy matter to REPAIR the rocket.  Several things that you can do to mitigate this problem is to launch in areas with softer surfaces (grass), pack your parachute CAREFULLY so that it fully deploys, apply STRONG glue filets to all fins to help hold them on.

The following sections cover these items, AND MORE, in greater detail.

Detailed Construction/Assembly hints and tips:

  • First, if at all possible, it is recommended that you construct a model yourself before presenting to a class.  This will go a long way towards giving you the confidence you need while teaching.  If you can not do this, at least consider building one at the same time as your students.
  • Second, make sure you are prepared for construction by having all of the tools and materials ready for each student so that you don't have to stop in the middle of your lesson to get something.  You can review REQUIREMENTS for more information on this.
  • The rest of this list covers basic construction tips.  If you look  just below the navigation buttons at the top of this page, you will see buttons for each of our Skill Level 1 model rocket kits.  Clicking on these buttons will provide you with additional tips about that specific model kit.
  • Basic Construction:
    • Test fitting: In every case where you have to apply glue to a hidden area (like inside a body tube) and slide something into the glue, it is STRONGLY recommended that you test fit the part and PRACTICE the step before you apply glue.  Such testing and practice can make the difference between success and failure.
    • Use adequate glue.  Too much or too little is not a good thing.  When the instruction calls for a "bead of glue", you should apply a line of glue that is about 1/8" wide in the area indicated.  If it calls for a "film of glue", the entire area indicated should be coated in a thin layer of glue.  In either case, you should be able to clearly SEE glue in the area indicated.
    • Don't force parts. Sometimes there is difficulty in getting a centering ring in place.  Working carefully with the part will yield a good fit.  Forcing the part may cause damage.
    • When gluing on centering rings, fins and some other items, the instructions will ask you to apply a "glue filet".  This is a critical step and must be performed.  To apply a glue filet, run a bead of glue at the joint that is called out (for example, the joint where a centering ring touches a tube) then use your finger tip to smooth this glue out.  NOTE: It is important that glue filets be applied to BOTH sides of the item when possible.
    • When gluing the Engine Mount into the body tube (not applicable on some rockets) it is imperative that you:
      • Wait until the Engine Mount assembly is completely dry
      • Test fit the engine mount before applying glue
      • Apply a LIBERAL bead of glue inside the tube, as instructed
      • Push the engine mount into place swiftly to prevent it getting glued in the wrong place
      • Apply a glue filet to the lower engine mount ring where it touches the inside of the body tube.
      • These steps are very important to make sure that the engine mount is securely attached to the body tube and can take the stress of launch.
    • Gluing fins - Gluing fins with white or yellow glue can be very frustrating.  More than anything else, allow ample time to allow one fin to dry before apply another.  This can be the most time consuming part of model rocket construction.  Here is a neat trick: Apply a bead of glue to the root edge of the fin (identified in the instructions), and press this to the body tube where indicated, then remove the fin.  Allow the glue on the fin and on the body tube to dry partially (it will start to become clear and have a "skin" on it.   Before this dries completely, apply a thin FILM of glue on top of the glue on the root of the fin and re-apply to the body tube.  You will find that the glue will GRAB very quickly and hold your fin on much better while handling.
    • Straight fins - The straighter the fin, the better the flight.  The easiest way to judge how straight your fins are is to look down the length of the rocket body, from the back end, using the fin as you would the sight on a rifle.  If the fin is straight, you will be looking right down the center of the body tube.  Crooked fins are fairly easy to see this way and can be adjusted before the glue dries.
    • Launch Lugs - The launch lug is a critical part of the assembly.  Without the lug, the model rocket can not be placed on the launch pad and can not be launched.  You can verify that your launch lug is straight the same way as you did for the fins.
    • Shock Cord Mounts - Your shock cord mount connects the body tube to the nose cone, holding them together while the parachute returns your rocket after a flight.  It is important that this be installed properly and securely.  When installing the shock cord and it's mount in the body tube, it is important that the shock cord is trapped inside the mount as shown in the instructions, then that this mount be glued into the body tube firmly, such that it lays as flat as possible inside the body.  Mounts that stick up will interfere with the deployment of your parachute and may result in a weak connection.  The other end of your shock cord needs to be securely tied to the screw eye on the nose cone.
    • Parachute - First, the string supplied for your parachute (not applicable on kits that use a streamer) is 96" long.  This needs to be cut into 3 equal pieces of 32" each.  From there, the best way to assemble the parachute is to place the provided tape disk onto the parachute, in the 6 corners as indicated, then to punch a hole in the center of each tape disk with a hole punch.  You then tie one end of one string through this hole and the other end of this same string through the next hole in the parachute.  repeat with the remaining two strings.  You then pinch the center of the parachute and gently tug at the lines, forming the parachute into a spike.  The lines should form 3 even loops.  These are gathered up and tied to the screw eye on the nose cone, with the shock cord.

Finishing your model:

  • Be sure your work area is clean and protected from paint spills
  • If using aerosol paints or plastic model paints, be sure to have adequate ventilation
  • Have all clean up materials readily available
  • Wear old clothes in case of accidental spills
  • When applying spray (aerosol) paints, several very thin (light) coats is much better than one thick (heavy) coat.  Allow each coat to dry 20-40 minutes before applying a new coat.  If masking to paint other colors, let the first color dry completely (3-6 days) before applying masking tape.
  • Make sure that you do not accidentally *glue* your nose cone to the body tube with the paint.  It is recommended that you remove the nose cone and paint it separately.  Be sure to protect the nose cone shoulder before applying paint.
  • Make sure that you do not accidentally plug up your launch lug with paint.  Clean the lug out completely if paint does get inside of it.
  • Be sure to clean up your work area, tools and yourself when complete.

Preparation for flight:

  • It is recommended, as a part of the kit assembly, that you explain to the students how to prepare their model for flight.  When this is repeated at the launch, it will serve as a refresher and will make more sense to your students.
  • As with construction, make sure that you have everything that you need so that you don't have to interrupt your class while looking for materials.
  • Provide each student with their motor and igniter and plug, instruct them how to install the igniter and plug then how to install the motor into their model, then have them do the same.
  • Provide each student with enough recovery wadding to fill the body of their rocket about 2 times more than the width of the model (e.g.: the Rhino is 1.637" in diameter, so you want enough wadding to fill the body tube about 3" - 3.5".  NOTE: Do NOT use tissue paper as this is a fire hazard.  Use only model rocket recovery wadding (available from your hobby shop) or cellulose insulation (available from your local home improvement store)
  • Have you students remove their nose cone and recovery device.   LOOSELY pack the recovery wadding into the body tube. 
    • Parachutes - Have them pack their parachute by pinching it in the center, and gently pulling on the lines to form the parachute into a spike.  They would then fold the parachute into a thinner spike, then fold it in the other direction to make a package small enough to fit LOOSELY into the rocket.  If the parachute is not loose, they need to refold it.
    • Streamers - Fold the streamer in half, then again and again, until it is about 4" long.  Then firmly roll the streamer up and loosely wrap the single shroud line around it.  The streamer should fit loosely in the body tube.
  • Placing the rocket on the pad - Remove the safety key from your launch controller or disconnect the battery.  Have your student slide the launch rod through the launch lug, and slide the model all the way down to the bottom of the rod.   NOTE: If there is glue or paint in the launch lug, you will need to clean this out first!  Once seated on the pad, spread the leads of the igniter and hook up the two micro clips.  NOTE: Be sure that the micro clips are not touching each other or the blast deflector.  Shorting of the clips will result in a misfire.
  • Angle the pad, as appropriate, based on field size and wind conditions.  NEVER tilt the pad more than 30 degrees from vertical.
  • Have everyone clear the launch area, hook up your battery and/or install the safety key, give off a good loud count down and push the launch button!   I find it much more fun to get the entire class hollering out the count down!
  • It is also recommended that the students recover their own models so that they do not cause damage to someone else's model.

At this time we encourage you to review additional kit specific hints and tips if you have selected one of our skill level 1 kits for your class:

If you have any additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact us directly.  Our goal is to help you be successful and to have fun with your group!  You can send inquires to:

FlisKits, Inc.
Education Dept
6 Jennifer Drive
Merrimack, NH 03054

or send us an email at:

sales@fliskits.com

 

rockets! ROCKETS! lookit all the rockets!
"FlisKits make the best kits!"
TM

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