Thursday, February 22, 2007

Rocket Manual for Amateurs


Back in 1960, U.S. Army Captain Bertrand Brinley published the Rocket Manual for Amateurs, one of the greatest DIY books ever written. Its cover price reads 75 cents. Buying a copy today in a used bookstore will set you back about $200. But it’s that good. (I know, I have it.)

There is a considerable amount of information on rocket motor making in RMFA. Now, back in the 50s and 60s, making rocket motors was a fashionable pastime, and there were lots of clubs and societies that would goof around making rocket engines.

But like any high energy hobby, things could and would go wrong and people got hurt. Rocket engines had a nasty habit of blowing up in the maker's face and causing injury. There is a part of the process where the propellant is rammed into a tube and that's pretty dangerous. (I personally know of a couple people who hurt themselves this way.)

So, the activity changed, led by Estes rocket company, people were encouraged to buy commercial rocket motors instead of rolling their own.

That is indeed much safer. But i think you lose something when you give up the core part of the activity. The Rocket Manual for Amateurs has the info needed to make several different types of rockets and rocket engines. I'm thinking about making some. I'll let you know.

6 comments:

Michael said...

Hi Bill. Your latest post on DIY rocket engines caught my eye. I'm not sure if I have steady enough nerves to do it myself, but speaking of Estes, I DO have a bunch of their engines, that fit right into the butt of a Skyaak shaft. Think I'll try a few rocket launches this spring to test the ring-wing for high-speed stability. I'll let you know how I make out. CU, Michael.

Anonymous said...

Good luck making the engines, at least if you can still get the chemicals:

http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.06/chemistry.html

Anonymous said...

I think its worth noting that this is the same Bertrand Brinley that wrote the Mad Scientists Club stories.

http://www.purplehousepress.com/msc.htm

Anonymous said...

Another good book is The Rocket Handbook for Amateurs Lt.Col. Charles M.Parkin, Jr. 1959. It has a tremendous amount of information on liquid propellant rockets as well as solid propellants. The solid propellant of choice in this book is melted and cast sugar/oxidizer. That sounds more dangerous to me than the zinc sulfur propellant in Brinley's book. I have ignited zinc and sulfur mxtures in a pile (not easy to do). They do go pretty well, liberating a large amount of ZnS "smoke". PLEASE BE CAREFUL. I am an actual chemist and try to be careful, but I have had my nerves rattled a few times when something unexpected has happened.

mike weber/fairportfan said...

"Caramel candy" cast sugar/saltpeter fuels melt at 450 F but don't ignte until 600 F.

When i was messing around with the combination in the early/mid 60s (in mixed powder form, as an amusing pyrotechnic rather than rocket fuel, not cast), it would not easily ignite directly with a match, requiring some form of booster - i think we used matchheads inserted in the pile...

Daniel McClellan said...

Wow, this book is worth that much? I have a copy of it (in terrible condition) and it is the best how-to rocket manual I have ever seen (though some parts are pretty out-dated, like the Communications section of the chapter on getting a range started). My dad apparently checked it out from the local library and fogot to return it, so now I have it.