Rocket Powered RC Airplanes — Good Fun or Big Problem?

May 26, 2012 27 Comments by

Since the early 1990s there have been many RC hobbists enjoying themselves trying to combine the thrill of model rocketry with the control and larger size of RC airplanes. The most popular was the old Aerotech Phoenix RC rocket glider, and the internet is full of projects being worked on even today.

When it comes to RC Scale, the Messerschmitt Me-163 Komet has been a favorite of warbird lovers with a rocket assisted takeoff that is exciting to say the least.

Also, Mac Hodges of aerobatic B-29 bomber and Bell X-1 Drop fame, has thrilled crowds for years with his reenactment of Chuck Yeager’s rocket plane braking the sound barrier!

Now with the Burt Rutan SpaceShip1 and SpaceShip2 aircraft, rocket powered RC planes are back in the limelight!

What do you think? Great RC Fun? Or a bad idea??? We want to know what you think.

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About the author

Senior Technical Editor About Me: I have a lifelong passion for all things scale, and I love to design, build and fly scale RC airplanes. With 20 plus years as part of the Air Age family of magazines, I love producing Model Airplane News and Electric Flight.

27 Responses to “Rocket Powered RC Airplanes — Good Fun or Big Problem?”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I like it! The fun of a model rocket launch combined with the ability to return the model to its point of launch insteadof watching and hoping that the model will land wheere you can get to it not in a tree or a thousand yards away in a farmers field of corn. Just try finding your model in a field of five foot tall corn!!!

  2. Gerry Yarrish says:

    I am considering a Komet for a build, but trying to figure out how to compensate for the spent rocket engine weight after the boost to altitude…

  3. Nitrocharged says:

    Looks like great fun to me! :-) )

  4. FHH says:

    If done in keeping with AMA guidelines a rocket powered plane is an entertaining and crowd pleasing model.

    One way to launch is to air drop the rocket powered model, similar to the X-1 through X-15 program. Ignition is simple… use an old 7 amp or higher brushed type ESC and a small 2S LiPo. The ESC’s BEC can provide the RX power.

    ***********

    RE compensating for the spent rocket fuel… you balance the model in worst case CG condition which would be with full propellant load for the Me-163 Komet. (fuel ahead of CG, balance empty, fuel behind CG balance full)
    The same issue comes up with many pusher designs.
    With fuel behind CG the balance shifts forward slightly as fuel is used up. The aircraft becomes more stable.

    Also the fuel load is close enough to CG and small enough that the CG shift is almost negligible.

    Use a XX-P (plugged… no ejection charge) model rocket engine cartridge or you will need to provide for the ejection charge to vent. AMA rules for rocket powered airplanes you are not supposed to eject the spent motor casing. (fire prevention)

    • Joe Bar says:

      Another way is to use the ejection charge to shift the engine casing rearward, re-establishing balance. I remember this being done on boost gliders in the 70′s. Use a metal clip to catch the rocket casing, and prevent it from leaving the aircraft.

  5. matt says:

    Gerry, maybe you could elaborate, based on your title and closing statement. What do you think could be considered a problem by using a rocket powered rc airplane?

  6. Gerry Yarrish says:

    matt. what’s to elaborate on? I asked a question to get comments from our readers and get a dialogue going… I happen to like the idea of a rocket assisted takeoff for an ME-163 KOmet. what’s your confusion?

    • David Riedel says:

      Gerry, Are there any incidents that cause you to have the title ” Big Problem”? Have there been recent crashes that have caused people to rethink this combining of hobbies that warrant this? Why even start with this – sensationalism? Reminds me of the irresponsible cover of a Warbirds magazine with the title “Should all Warbirds be grounded?” with a picture of a crashed Mustang. And yes, I do have a stake in this kind of rhetoric – David @randrmodelaircraft.com as we produce such models that combine the hobbies.

      • Gerry Yarrish says:

        Hi David. I find it interesting that with the vast majority of our posts and comments here being positive, that you worry about attention grabbing titles. Numbers are what count here on the webpage and for manufacturers like you. and getting conversations started and bringing the subject up for comment should be viewed by everyone as a good thing. After all, this subject has been around for many years. We have asked in the past, when they were new, “are lipos good or bad?” and there were many who said they were too dangerous in the beginning. Did it slow the development? no. Since you say you do have a dog in the fight, why not add your comments that support the positive “make the customer happy” products you offer. The only bad press is no press, so step up and take advantage of your opportunity here.
        GY

  7. Vinnie says:

    Love to see a camera mounted on one of these showing it leaving the ground and then traversing it to normal flight.
    Think that would be interesting

  8. Proptorudder says:

    Wow Gotta love the rockets and by the way I would rather look for that model in five foot corn than eight to nine foot corn here in Iowa!

  9. Larry B says:

    I built a delta rocket powered plane that took 2, “D” motors 6 years ago. The rush you get the first time you light it off is addicting. I just finished a Cuda rocket power that will use the reloadable Aerotech “E” motors.
    To me it is just another way to fly a plane, gas, glow, electric, wind or rocket motor. It’s all fun

  10. vito says:

    The sky’s the limit. Go for it!

  11. stroup says:

    I think if the rocket planes could also be FPV.. it would be REALLY Awesome!!

  12. Bob Parks says:

    There have been some good Me-163′s done in the past. Earl Aune (spelling?) did one about 20 years ago based on the rather large Bob Holman plans (.60 size), using I class rocket motors (I think). The CG issue is pretty major, since a flying wing has a very narrow CG range to start with, and you certainly dont want to be tail heavy and unstable at liftoff! The solution is to put a water tank in the nose, and dump the water during the boost. It works great.. when it works. Earl had one flight where the water did not dump and the result was a very very fast landing… and then you find out that the 163 was kinda hard to land on that skid! ;-) But Earl did some really impressive rocket powered takeoffs from the scale dolly (which ran along a wire on the ground for guidance).

    FWIW, I have not done FPV, but I have flown video cameras on my AeroTech Phoenix, see http://www.youtube.com/user/parkysjc/videos

    I have a somewhat strengthened Phoenix that I fly with F50 motors.. works great, its a wild ride, but DON’T BLINK!

    Bob Parks (Designer of the AeroTech Phoenix)

  13. Gordon Niessen says:

    I see most of these are done very safely. I applaud their efforts. I have seen more crazy and dangerous flying with glow engines.

  14. Richard says:

    …don’t want one crash landing on my roof!

  15. Dave says:

    Not a problem in my books if guys/gals follow the rules and do it safely. Its just a quicker option of getting the model airborne.

    I’ve got ducted fan nitro planes with tuned pipes that are just as dangerous. My ME 163 Komet does 178.8 MPH

    Guys fly turbines even faster, whats the difference!

    It boils down to the end user and his respect for the safety of others around him/her and himself/herself.

  16. Ernest Morris says:

    This is something else to tip the scales on the feds side.Its bad enough with the pirates flying above the clouds on FPV. I’m also a full scale pilot I don’t like it

  17. Alan W. Parshall says:

    The early Zagis worked well for this with launch guides as
    pictured here. I think it was a plugged “D” sice motor that
    would get you up high enough to glide around a bit.

  18. James Manley says:

    I like it different strokes for different folks. If we all did the same thing in this hobby how many of us would still be active in it? As long as your not hurting any one or yourself why not?

  19. Tony O says:

    Rocket power is litteraly a blast. I’ve had two of those Phoenix, and currently have a smaller and slower Estes Sweet Vee. The wing from my first Phoenix was stolen from my car, so I got a second kit and built the wing from that. So I still have a complete set of fuse parts and a reloadable motor casing with some F and G loads.

  20. Dave says:

    How long ago was it that we were flying free flight planes with a Jetex power system.
    That was a not much different from a low powered rocket engine. The big difference is that it was free flight. Just like a standard model rocket, it was a case of fly and chase.

  21. Larry says:

    It’s great that our hobby has so many facets to enjoy. Saw a fellow flying one years ago and forgot about them until I saw your article. Who manufactures them, as I’d like to try it.

  22. Dan Arnold says:

    I have a Klingberg Rocket Wing kit that I will probably never get around to building. Does anyone have any experience with one of these? Do you think it would be worth the effort to build it given the price of rocket motors? Anyone want to buy it? I’m considering putting it on eBay once I’m well enough to get up my attic stairs.

  23. Billy (nitro) Spann says:

    I took a cheap WAL* MART foam chucker and glued two A size motors undr the wings. right at CG. Wired them in paralle. simply layed it in my hand, wings level and pushed ignition button. this thing did three very quick loops them glided in for landing.rocket discharge set the plane on fire, and blistered my hand. but hea it was very cool looking, and i healed in a few days. rockets and planes have been round and together since WW1. why stop now?
    .

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