Choosing Your First Rocket

Congratulations on participating in the 4-H Rocketry project. In this blog post I want to provide you with some tips on picking out a rocket for the county fair. These tips apply to most counties in Kansas but possibly not all.  These tips will also help you if you are eligible to take your rocket to the Kansas State Fair.

If the rules for rocketry seem really really long you are right they are.  The rocketry project is really complex. After all it is rocket  science. 🙂 Luckily in this post and the ones to follow I will try to break it down so you can get started building really cool rockets for the county fair.

The first thing we have to figure out is where should we go to purchase a rocket. There are several choices. I recommend you try one of of the following.

  1. A local hobby store or science center. These will have the best selection and will be the most knowledge about rocketry.
  2. A hobby chain store, like Hobby Lobby. These will have a good selection of rockets you can choose from. Big box stores don’t typically carry a good selection of rockets so you may want to skip them.
  3. Online. There are many hobby stores online that have rockets you can order. It can be hard to get a good idea of what the rocket looks like.

Now that you know where to buy your rocket lets think about what type of rocket you might want to build. You probably know there are all sorts of rockets to choose from, from rockets that are 6 feet tall to rockets that are shorter than 4 inches. Which is the best rocket for your first or second year at the fair?

First thing we want is a rocket that has cardboard or balsa wood fins. DO NOT get one that has plastic fins, even if they snap together. Most counties and the state fair do not allow plastic fins of any sort. The reason for this is the judges want to see your ability to construct a rocket not the company that makes it. That said there are a lot of good rockets to choose from that have balsa wood or cardboard fins.

It’s ok if you want to build one with plastic fins, just don’t bring it to the fair unless you know your county allows them.

Now that we have the fins taken care of what other things should you look for when choosing a rocket?

The next thing you want to check is if the rocket is a “scale model” or not. What’s a scale model? In simple terms its any full sized rocket you’ve seen before. For example the space shuttle, AMRAM missiles, Atlas missiles, the Star Trek Enterprise, etc. What the Enterprise isn’t a real rocket? Your right, but the TV series defined the dimensions of the full sized ship so it counts as a scale model. At this point you’re probably wondering if there is an easy way to figure out if a rocket is a scale model. In most cases there is. If you look at the package it will say something like “1:25 Scale” or “Replica” or “Scale Model.”

If its a scale model I recommend avoiding that model for your first year. The reason for this is judges are more picky on these rockets especially with how they are painted. There is a rule in most fair books that says “scale models” are to be painted like the real thing. That means if the rocket has red paint on the fins and the rest of the rocket is white the judges will expect it to have red fins and a white body.  So skip the “scale models” for your first year.

RocketLaunchIt’s my personal preference to get an Estes model rocket your first year. The reason for this is that most of the time their instructions are very complete and they are really good if something was damaged when you open up the model kit to start constructing it.

So which model to choose? Pick something fairly simple. 3 or 4 fins that’s about a foot long. I know you want something that has a lot of fins and looks really cool. The best way to impress the judges your first few years in the project is build a high quality simple model. To judges that is more cool than a complex rocket. As a rocketry judge I have seen simple rockets that have received a purple and an average looking complex rockets that got a Red.  It’s not about how cool a rocket looks, it’s about how well you construct it.

So go and pick a rocket with balsa wood or cardboard  fins that’s not a “scale model.” Then get ready to blast off!

In my next post I’ll cover picking up the supplies you will need to build your rocket.



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