Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Bad Boy of Yesteryear

Now that the RX-7 and the Thunder Hawk are in primer, it is time to start another build. The choice was easy; Nate has purchased for his Liberty Middle TARC team a bunch of Estes Mean Machines for building and flying later this month. He also is working on one for himself, and I did not want to be left out of the crowd. So I started work on my Mean Machine clone today.

First appearance of the Mean Machine in the Estes 1978 catalog (click to
As you can tell from the above catalog page, the Mean Machine made its first appearance back in 1978. Back then, there were no 12 foot tall, 6 inch diameter high power rockets - the Mean Machine, 6 and a half feet in length, was Da Man, drawing ooohs and aaahs whenever it showed up at a launch. This rocket could soar to a respectable 400 feet on a D-12 motor, provided you remembered to weigh down your Porta Pad launch pad with bricks. I can recall quite a few Mean Machines toppling unceremoniously to the ground in the slightest breeze, crumpling the upper part of the body tube.

Note that the lettering and fin decals are white in the catalog; this held true until 1993, when the Mean Machine decals changed to a blue color, which lasted until 2005, when the kit was dropped from the Estes lineup. It reappeared in 2007, this time sporting yellow decals. The rocket has retained its black paint job ever since 1978, which I reckon is supposed to convey a sense of badness. Alas, the kit is not in this year's Estes catalog, indicating it is once again out of production. Fortunately there are enough around that you can still find them in hobby shops and online vendors.

Updated Estes Mean Machine
I have owned a couple of Mean Machines during the course of my rocketry career. All flew beautifully, with nary a crash (which is rare for my birds). They were done in by a simple design flaw - the Mean Machine consisted of 4 18" body tubes glued together using couplers, with the parachute ejecting up at the nose. This meant that you had to find a way to get this over 6 foot rocket into a car without crunching or bending it; not very easy, especially if you were a generally careless teenager. My Mean Machines met their fate in the mad rushes to load up rockets before the rain started or summer band practice; ignominious ends to fine missiles who should have died the fiery or ballistic deaths reserved for rockets. My clone will split in the middle to avoid the vehicle catastrophes of the past, and Estes fixed the problem as well - starting in 2007, the Mean Machine was provided with a coupler that enabled the rocket to be split in two for transport. It also got a longer motor mount to handle E motors, which my clone will also feature. My version will also have the white decals and an ejection baffle to eliminate the need for chute wadding.

Today I cut out and sanded the fins, built the motor mount and baffle, and filled the spirals in the lower body tube. A Big Bad is on its way to join my fleet!


  1. I've never built a Mean Machine, but I've bought several. One was converted into a Der Red Max and a couple of Mach 10 clones. The other two became Centuri Thunder Rocs.

  2. IIRC, I remember Mike Jerauld of "Blast From The Past Rocketry" telling me back in 2001 he split his Mean Machine with a balsa connector at the "halfway point" to make sure the laundry would deploy.

  3. The educator pack I bought for my team of 7 boys and 1 girl (7th and 8th graders) have unpainted body tubes. This will be the first time these students have painted a rocket. It will be interesting to see their color choices and how well these rockets fly. Because of its size, the Mean Machine has the wow factor for my students. I just hope mine performs as well as theirs!