Sunday, September 7, 2014

A case of mistaken identity...

Estes, the largest model rocket manufacturer, has been producing kits for decades, all the way back to the first years of the 1960's. A lot of kits have been released over these many years, some of which have been assigned names belonging to previous releases no longer in production at the time of the kit design. As a result, we have a couple of Renegades (very sad; the current "Renegade" is a monstrosity compared to the sleek red and black beauty of the 70's), Yellow Jackets, X-rays, and quite a few Sizzilers, to name just a few. This state of affairs presents no problems to a rocket newbie, but can create cloning/parts issues to a rocket geezer like myself. It forces us to have to do some research when ordering parts like laser cut fins, or we can easily end up with a set or piece belonging to the other model(s). This has happened to me, and it is about to be set right.

Some time ago, I received from a friend a bunch of old rocket kits owned by an educator who was very much into rockets before he passed away. There were some real gems in this collection - an original Estes Trident in near mint condition, a couple of older Big Berthas, several Solar Launch Controllers, and a few other goodies. There were also some kits in very bad shape - crushed fins and body tubes. Among these were a couple of Estes Icarus and Stinger kits. Dating from the 1980's, they looked like they had been sat upon by the namesake of the Big Bertha; little else but the nose cones, centering rings, and engine hooks were salvageable. Not a problem - my favorite rocket company, Semroc, had the fins and body tubes in stock. I placed an order for the parts, and a short time later, an Icarus rose from the ashes.

Not true for the Stinger.

The Semroc fin set perplexed me, as it looked nothing like the fins of the rocket in the kit art or in the catalog. The Stinger in the 1983 catalog had traditional swept fins with pointy ends; the ones from Semroc had a steeper sweep, and the back tips were cut flat, like on the upper stage of the Estes Midget. Not like Carl at Semroc to make a mistake, so what was going on?

#1905 Stinger in Estes 1983 catalog (click to enlarge).
Turns out I should have done some Googling before making my order, as a quick search ended the confusion. There was a Stinger kit by Estes which went out of production a decade before the #1905 Stinger appeared in 1983. This Stinger, #K-53, was never featured in any Estes catalog and was given out to customers who made an order over $5.00 from 1970 to 1973. A freebie, to thank folks for their business. I did order some things by mail from Estes back then, but they were $1-2 affairs for things I could not find at A&M Toy Store or Eastgate Hobbies - both these places were well stocked with kits and a fair number of parts. That's why I was unaware of the K-53 Stinger. I took a look at the instructions for that kit online and the Semroc fins were a perfect match to the fin pattern.
Kit art for the Estes K-53 Stinger (click to enlarge).
Mystery solved. The fin set was stashed away for a future build. This was 2 years ago (I think).

This weekend, a post on Ye Olde Rocket Forum jogged my memory of this incident, and being in the mood for something simple to go along with the Rocketarium Viking 7 build, I pulled out the parts and started to build the forgotten ancestor of the #1905 Stinger. It's a skinny, ungainly looking rocket, but the fact that it was not in any catalog gives it an aura of uniqueness. 

I think I will also build the 1983 model. It will mean hand cutting the fins, but hey, I should be able to handle cutting a few straight lines by using my trusty metal ruler and hobby knife (adds bandaids to iPhone grocery list). The contrast between the two models will be interesting.


  1. I've done both of them, but I'm at a bit of a loss on the K-53 paint scheme. It was one of the birds in the box that my buddy William stampeded a while back, so I need to cut a new fin for it anyway.

    1. Kit art shows white with the black roll pattern - rather bland. Instructions on JimZ's site have a pic of someone's model with an orange nose.

      Beware of those rocket stampeders!

  2. My fault. I should have told him "NO RUNNING" from the get-go.