Like the Phoenix, Estes flying model rocketry is back, soaring into its 60th year

“The new phone book’s here!  The new phone book’s here!” 

The reaction of Navin R. Johnson (from The Jerk) to getting the new phone book was similar to kids of yesteryear getting their hands on the annual Christmas catalog, or for Estes Industries model rocketry enthusiasts–the release of the next Estes product catalog.  As we enter the dog days of summer, across the country when it’s not raining or storming it’s time to take the rockets to the empty field on the edge of town for some launches.  These aren’t the volatile Fourth of July variety of rockets where you’re likely to lose eyebrows or fingers.  These are the hobbyist rockets that families have enjoyed for decades.  Ready for summer fun, Estes Industries released its 60th anniversary catalog online this weekend, 88 pages and many more rockets and products than you remember from the pamphlet you once could roll-up and carry in your back pocket.

Since 1958 when Denver inventor Vern Estes first discovered a way to mass-produce solid propellant model rocket engines, kids and adults alike found a new way to do something more than just dream of soaring to the stars.  For three generations families have taken to the hobby that takes its fans from building and painting to launching and recovery of replica rockets using similar principles as NASA, over the years adding payloads and devices to record the voyages.  The smell of burned out engines, starter paper and recovery wadding is like the smell of Play-Doh and Crayola crayons for anyone who has flown an Estes rocket–pure nostalgia.

But Estes almost didn’t make it to this year.  Years after a merger with the similarly well-regarded radio-control hobby brand Cox, the company hit the wall, taking itself into a chapter 7 liquidation.  Out of the ashes the RC division splintered off, and the Estes brand and rocket division was only recently purchased by a new family of life-long Estes fans, with a few dozen of the staff members still around to continue designing and creating.  The new company released the latest catalog and is readying for next year, which should be a big year for the rocket hobby: It will be the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s moonshot.

The new catalog is full of some great modern rockets, launch pads, and other flying products.  Many are the classics, like the Mercury Redstone, the tiny one-launch-and-gone Mosquito, and everyone’s first model rocket, the Alpha III.  Some have single stages, others have multiple stages.  Many classic rockets seem to continue under different names, too.  The old Icarus is similar to the modern Air Walker, and the Nomad was an early mix of the Comanche 3 and Sky Cruiser.  Estes no longer features the faithful replica of the hefty Saturn V, or the classic Skill Level 4 replica of the Space Shuttle rocket complete with its boosters and attached shuttle, but they do have their own redesigned version, no doubt more aerodynamically stable than the original model.

This video is a bit dated but shows generally what you can expect with the model rocketry hobby:

Tall, small, fat or sleek, easy or difficult, reality based or fantasy machine, more than 140 rockets are available, and affordable.  Check out the entire catalog online here.  The best way to get into the hobby is talk to your nearest local small business hobby shop.  They can get you up to speed, show you what you need, and refer you to local flight areas where flights are allowed.  You can also order directly from Estes here, or find them here at Amazon.

C.J. Bunce

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