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Cloning Classic Model Rockets

Article by Paul Nortness

Model Rocket designs come and go. New rockets get released every year. Some are successful and some fail to grab the public's attention. But some rockets become classics, icons of model rocketry. These rockets are instantly recognized by rocket enthusiasts all over. Sometimes, these rockets get re-released for new generations to enjoy. But some of these classic rockets remain out of production. Luckily, the internet has saved us from the duldrums and has given us the ability to resurrect some of these classics. In the model rocketry hobby, this process is called "cloning".

In today's tutorial, I will show you how to clone Estes Cherokee D. The original Cherokee D was designed in 1969 by Estes illustrator/rocket designer Gene Street. The rocket was designed as a "launch pad" (pardon the pun) for Estes new "D" power. The original Cherokee D sold for a bank breaker $2.75! I wish I could get a gallon of gas for that these days!

Before I get started, I need to do some research. A few sites on the internet have PDFs of classic rocket instructions. I am lucky and find a good example of the Cherokee D instructions on my first hit. JimZ Rocket Plans is a great resource for instructions. Upon review of the file, I can determine the parts I need to recreate the Cherokee D. Semroc is an excellent site for ordering parts. They have kept the same part naming conventions so it is very easy if you are looking for a specific replacement part. Bear in mind, they only have balsa nose cones. So if you are replacing a plastic nose cone it will use a balsa nose cone part code. For example, a plastic cone with part number PNC-60B will be balsa cone BNC-60B. Going through the Semroc site, I find that they have most of the parts I need to recreate my rocket. They even have a set of laser cut fins for the Cherokee D! That's handy! I just need to make a short trip to my local hobby shop and pick up an Estes 18 inch parachute as Semroc only carried 12 inch chutes.

cloning model rockets

If you aren't as lucky as I was to find fins on Semroc, don't worry. The instructions have a fin pattern to print out and trace onto balsa.

cloning model rockets 1

Now that I have my parts, I am ready to begin. The first thing we are going to do is prep the body tube by applying CA glue to the inside ends of the tube and then fill the seams with putty. If you are unsure how to do this, you should check out my tutorial on building your first rocket. Now I will set the body tube aside to dry and work on the motor mount. Here is a new trick. Once you make your slit for the engine hook, slide a piece of tubing or coupler (you can even use a piece of scratch paper enforced with CA glue) over the motor tube and glue it into place right before the slit. With the thrust block installed, it will sandwich the hook tab so it cannot slide. This will prevent the hook from sliding backwards when the ejection charge fires. This type of damage typically spells retirement for a rocket as it is usually very hard to remove the motor mount.

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Here is another cool trick. Sometimes, you don't have a big enough field to launch D power. So let's make a converter! This is a simple process that just needs for parts. We need a 2.75 inch length of BT-20 tubing, two AR2050 Adapter Rings and a thrust block for a BT-20. Glue the thrust block into one end of the tube. Then glue one of the AR2050 rings onto the end of the thrust block. This ring should be flush with the end of the tube. Now, glue the other AR2050 about 1/4 inch up from the other end. Now, when you want to launch your D powered rocket on a smaller field, just insert the converter and slide a standard 18mm engine in and suddenly the Cherokee D becomes a Cherokee C!

cloning model rockets 3

Now that the motor mount is complete, the putty on the body tube should be dried so I will give that a good sanding.

cloning model rockets 4

Once the body tube is complete, I want to prepare the fins. After rounding the edges of the fins, I will add filler to the surfaces (Again, refer to the previously mentioned tutorial). I apply filler to the nose cone as well. Now how am I supposed to mark the fin lines on the body tube without the guide from the instructions? Simple. Payload Bay has marking guides you can download and print.

cloning model rockets 5

It's time for another fun trick! In my last article, I taught you how to make fillets with glue. While glue fillets work great on smaller rockets, I prefer something a little beefier on my "D" powered rockets. So I use Epoxy glue. This is a very cool and easy trick you can do to make your fillets out of epoxy. First, take a straw or dowel and draw on the end with a sharpie. Now, drag the straw across the root of the fin.

cloning model rockets 6

You should get lines like in the picture above. Now, mask those lines with tape. Once everything is masked, we are ready to apply epoxy. I recommend 15 minute epoxy for this job. It sets fast, but still gives you enough time to do what you need to do. Squirt a healthy amount of epoxy onto the fin roots, making sure you get both sides. Now, take the same straw you used to make the lines and run it along the root one more time. This will push away the excess epoxy and give you a fillet with the shape of the straw. Now, just pull up the tape and smooth down the lines from the tape by dipping a latex glove covered finger into some Rubbing Alcohol. The alcohol breaks down the epoxy.

cloning model rockets 7

Now we are ready for the paint bay! The original Cherokee D had a white body and fins and a red nose cone. Since the goal is to clone that rocket, I will replicate that paint scheme.

cloning model rockets 8

There you have it. One brand new Cherokee D, just like the original! You can even order decals for your clones. Excelsior Rocketry is a great site that prints decals for out of production kits and does custom work as well.

Now you know how to clone a rocket and bring the classics back to life!

Have fun and happy flying!

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