Sunday, July 13, 2008

3-Stage Ferry Rocket

Here's an in-process view of the 3-Stage Ferry Rocket. Not much to look at, is it? This is just the first stage, where block-sanding revealed deep and rather objectionable sink marks just above each of the assembly joints. I depleted my aged tube of auto body spot putty filling these low spots and tonight (theoretically) I'll block-sand everything again to see if I got everything.
My betters tell me that superglue and accelerator are the hot setup for this sort of work, and maybe they are, but I like the body putty method. It's slower and messier and smellier, but on the whole it just doesn't seem as ticklish. I've never glued my eye shut with body putty, but I have with superglue. 'Nuff said.
I was going to present a picture of the base, but I changed my mind. I painted it using the Whudigot Method. This is where you stand in front of your shelf of spray paint and mumble "Whudigot that's even close to the right color?" Tamiya Aircraft Grey stands in for concrete grey, and Marigold stands in for OSHA safety yellow. It's close enough.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Glencoe 3-Stage Rocket

A big part of RMS modeling is what is called "factual-futuristic" stuff from the 1960s and 1970s. This category of stuff amounts to boosters or spacecraft that could have been built with existing technology and lacked only the political will. A major purveyor of this sort of stuff, largely in defense of his own career, was Wernher von Braun, who transmitted no end of interesting factual-futuristic designs to the public through such outlets as Collier's magazine and the Walt Disney company.

This is a classic von Braun factual-futuristic design, the soberly-named "three-stage ferry rocket". It's a big, chunky rocket that in some ways seems like the prototype of the equally chunky Soviet N1, and one wonders if it would have been any more successful than the N1 - the engineer in me looks at that rat's nest of engines, turbopumps, fuel lines and whatnot in the base of the first stage and cringes. Gimme five F-1s instead, thank you very much.

But what a shape! Dig those wings, which were supposed to facilitate lifting re-entry but really serve as visual flying butresses on this Space-Age Cathedral. And those fairings at mid-span on the middle wings, oh, Wernher, what's up with those? They give me chills!

Here's what we, the modeling public, ended up with. It's still Wernher von Braun's rocket, named with due sachlichkeit the "3-stage ferry rocket". But he's been poking and pulling at the design. Where are those graceful, unbelievable middle wings with their fairings? The booster itself has been shortened, giving it a "even more like an N1 than an N1" look, and the swept wings on the shuttlecraft itself have been replaced by delta wings. One presumes that between the first and second designs things like the XF-92 had started flying and delta wings were the rage. But ye gods that's a lot of wing - I can't imagine how many tons of downforce the elevons must exert to keep the nose up during flare, or how much energy such a vast delta wing must dissipate through sheer drag.
The kit is pretty basic. Mine came in a groovy black cardboard box with the parts (except for the tower) sealed in a plastic bag. There must have been some kind of flutzpah at the Glencoe works, for almost none of the parts were still attached to the runners. It's the kind of kit that benefits from a certain amount of attention. I'm sure with a mold this ancient, we should be thankful that the Glencoe people are able to produce any kits at all and we shouldn't snivel about flash or rather unfortunate pin marks here and there. So spend some time with sanding sticks and a knife and fiddle with the fit, and before long you, like I, will have assembled 80% of the model without really meaning to.
But in tinkering with the kit thus, I made up my mind to make several changes.
1. The surface of the kit is unnaturally smooth. Designers don't like to hang needless protuberances on boosters as their passage through Qmax can be problematic, but show me a booster that got all the way through design without a few external conduits, blisters and blivets. Look at a Saturn V; they're a cornucopia of protuberances! I think the Ferry Rocket needs some external detail - external coupler hatches, drain holes, conduits, access panels and the like. So mine's going to have some "stuff" glued on. Mind you, in 1/288th scale it's easy to overdo these things and make a spring-loaded umbilical hatch look like a bank vault door, but it's worth a try.
2. The delta wing bothers me. There are several options, such as cutting it off altogether and grafting on sheet styrene swept wings, or a cranked short-span delta like the shuttle, or - my choice - trim the delta wing back to a radical sweep angle, truncate the wingtips, and put on end caps. If you've ever seen drawings of the proposed X-15A5, you know what I'm talking about.
Critics (of which I abound) complain that doing this sort of work ruins the "collector nature" of the kit. And for all I know that may be true, but you know what? The "collector nature" of old models doesn't matter to me in the slightest.