The discussion about MPC rocketry products in the thread about the collection at the Museum of Flight has caused me to dig up an old article I wrote for my NAR Section newsletter in 1990.
Additional information has come to light since then concerning MPC rocketry but I thought I would run this old article as a brief history of the company.
I welcome additional discussion/information concerning MPC rocketry history and products.
(Note: This article was originally printed in the NAR Section 317 DART newsletter Warp 9, Vol. 3, #2, March/April 1990. It is dated but provides a basic introduction to MPC rocket products )
The last year has seen a tremendous growth in the number of new companies producing products for model rocketry enthusiasts. It was also a year when past model rocket companies made news. One of these was Model Products Corporation (MPC). Unexpectedly, beginning in the Spring of 1989, nearly two decade old MPC kits began to appear on shelves of many hobby shops. There has been much speculation about the reappearance of these old kits and a new interest in the history of MPC model rockets.
MPC, part of the General Mills Food Group, entered the hobby market in the late 1960’s. General Mills bought a fledgling model rocket company known as Model Rocket Industries (MRI) in 1968 and established their own model rocket company, MPC. MPC retained MRI’s founder, Mike Bergenske, to design and develop products for MPC. Additional model rocket brain-power was provided by G. Harry Stine who was hired on as a consultant.
MPC tested the acceptance of its new model rocket line at the 1969 Hobby Industry of America (HIA) trade show. At this show MPC took an order from the K-Mart chain for over a half-million dollars (in 1969, yet!). MPC went into high gear and shipped out the K-Mart order. To match the way K-Mart displayed plastic model kits, MPC packaged its rockets in shrink-wrapped boxes.
Thanks to this initial large order, MPC was able to fund the development of many new kits and other rocketry products, establishing the company as a major player in the model rocket industry. MPC lead the industry in the introduction of plastic parts and assemblies – plastic fins, transitions and nose cones became common in MPC kits. While other companies incorporated wood in their launch pads, MPC produced and all plastic one. The final expression of this ‘plastic is best’ philosophy was the introduction of two, all plastic, scale kits – a Titan IIIC and a Vostok RD-107, both in 1/100th scale. These two kits could be built as display models or the optional flight parts could be incorporated to make a flying model.
Not long after this initial excitement the situation began to sour for MPC. Twenty years ago many states regulated model rocketry by their own laws, unlike today when most states observe some form of the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) code for unmanned rockets. This usually meant laws designed for regulating fireworks were applied to model rockets. As a result MPC, with their rockets being displayed in a major chain store, ran into a great deal of difficulty due to various state and local laws.
Not willing to put up with such difficulties, K-Mart returned their remaining stocks to MPC. After refunding K-Mart for returned kits and motors, MPC found itself in financial difficulty. AS MPC management struggled to come up with a solution to this problem, Bergenske was left in charge of the model rocket division and continued to develop new products. This second wave of new products saw the introduction of the 13mm diameter 1/4A to B mini-motors. These motors were very popular for NAR competition events and a special line of kits (‘Minirocs’) were created for these motors.
Eventually, MPC management decided to sell off their model rocketry assets. A ‘deal’ was worked out and Mike Bergenske ended up with all of MPCs molds, motor making machines and other related items.
Bergenske set up a new company called Aerospace Vehicles, Inc. (AVI) to sell the former MPC products plus new items. AVI folded in the late 1970s and the MPC tooling disappeared, although it was rumored to be in storage somewhere in Wisconsin along with many cases of unsold MPC kits.
It now appears that someone managed to find these missing stocks of kits and motors and sold them to a hobby distributor and from there they were distributed to various hobby shops. The motor making machines were also located and are now the property of Flight Systems, Inc. The machines consist of three for making 18mm motors and two for making 13mm ‘mini-motors’. It is understood that the condition of these machines is poor as they had not been properly stored. The exact location of the kit molds is not known, but rumor has it that they are in excellent shape and could be used to make more parts.
The final chapter concerning the MPC model rockets has yet to be written. It is well known that many of the MPC kits, especially the Vostok and Titan IIIC, are sought after collector’s items. We may yet see these kits again!
I knew more about what happened with the MPC molds and some other items but was asked not to discuss it.
For the moment let me just say I was privy to information which would lead to the announcement of Quest Aerospace.
I would like to get a copy of all DART newsletters from 1990. One has an article of our release of reloadables (first in the nation January 1990).
Great information Bob, thanks for the post!
I sold a lot of my rocketry memorabilia when I was in grad school, for pizza money.
I have a file box full left, and I bet I still have some interesting stuff from the MRI / MPC / AVI era.
I'm building a Nike-Patriot right now. I'm really impressed by the body tubes. They were really thick, and also made of a really tough paper. It was fully wound, it that makes sense. No gaps or weak points. The slightly wrinkly outer shell sands beautifully, and you can hit it with sanding sealer to make it even smoother.
I wonder what it would take to recreate these tubes?
Very interesting article. In high school, a friend built the MPC Vostok. I loved that model, but never found one. In the early 90s I bought one from Countdown Hobbies. I paid a lot of money for that kit, around $75 as I recall. (Did I mention I loved that kit as a kid? :) )
Last year I decided to start building it. I have not completed it yet, but I will finish it. After reading about poor flight performance, I decided I'd fly it using the 18/20 RMS hardware using either D13 or D24 reloads.
While I was doing research on color schemes, I found out the kit had been re-issued, minus the cardboard body tube and other parts like parachute, necessary for flight. I bought another last year for around $30 from an online hobby store.
Here are a couple pictures. In one, you see the original kit, and the newer kit next to it.
I send people free Fedex Ground labels and shipping lablels to preserve collections for free. I don't ask that many questions about what is in the boxes.
Not having an example of the MPC fiber body tubes in front of me at the moment (I presume AVI and AVI Astroport used the same tubes, since they got MPC's inventory), but recalling their appearance and how they dented, creased, or buckled (which required a lot of force!), my impression was that they may have been impregnated with some kind of resin (not necessarily something like an epoxy, polyester, or polyurethane resin, but maybe something that is appropriate for paper), and:
I once dented the end of a small scrap piece of the MPC fiber tubing with my thumb, and it made a faint "ch-ch-ch" sound as the creases at the edges of the dent formed. It sounded like how a thin (or wide and un-braced) piece of fiberglass (such as the floor of a cheap fiberglass shower stall, when one moves around while standing on it) sounds when it flexes or breaks. Not only that "acoustic similarity," but also a "cultural one," makes me inclined to think that the MPC fiber body tubes may have been resin-impregnated:
Back in the days when MPC was producing their model rocket kits, "fiber" things were considered modern, more efficient, cool, and futuristic (just as "digital" things were in later years). In issues of magazines such as "Mechanix Illustrated," "Popular Mechanics," and "Popular Science" in those years (and before), fiberglass was considered a 'wonder material,' and countless project articles in those publications (and in others) covered how to mold parts and items with complex curvatures, laminate boats and other wooden things, and patch damage to car bodies using fiberglass. In that "nomenclatural atmosphere," fiber body tubes (and for other model rocket companies, fiber [fibre] fins) would have sounded advanced and futuristic (and to me, they still do--the only difference is that today, the "buzz-word" for resin-impregnated fiber items is "composites"). In addition:
If a model rocket company re-created the MPC fiber body tubes (even in other sizes, although I'm perfectly pleased with the MPC/AVI/AVI Astroport/Quest Aerospace "5 mm increment" metric body tube sizes), I would pay extra (within reason) for kits that utilized them, because they're so much stronger, stiffer, and more durable than even brown virgin (having long fibers) kraft paper tubes (which are quite tough themselves--they're my close second-favorite body tubes!), BUT:
"Trailing the pack along the outside rail, in a distant last place," is my absolutely *least-favorite* body tube type--the white, recycled kraft paper tubes, which are made with short, chopped paper fibers that make them soft, weak, and easily damageable. If they could be made as strong and stiff as brown virgin kraft paper tubes by impregnating them with some type of resin, I would consider them good, but my preference would be for the even tougher MPC-type fiber body tubes, which were, I'm pretty sure, made using virgin kraft paper, whose long paper fibers (along with whatever was impregnated into the paper) made them the strongest of all.
The instructions for the Nike-Patriot I'm building refer, in the step where the plastic launch lug is glued on, to the tube covering as "plastic."
I think the tube core is just really high quality paper. Dense, completely wrapped. No gaps.
Least-favorite tube has a brown inner layer that isn't complete; held together by the outer layer.
I wonder if Myke Bergenske would remember these details, or if Bill Stine could help.
* * *
Other oddments for this thread:
* AVI produced its own motors for a short time. Same as the MPC motors, but with funky 1970s labeling.
* At least one MPC kit had, on the instruction sheet's suggested motor list, what appear to be FSI motors! D4, D6, etc. Were these really FSI motors, or vaporware MPC motors?
* Who designed and build the MRI / MPC / AVI motor making machine?
* What became of the 13 mm motor making machine? Or was were those motors made on the bigger machine with some kind of alternate tooling set?
So which low and mid power body tubes have the smallest spirals to fill in?
Probably the old CMR (Competition Model Rockets) body tubes. All you needed for a smooth finish was some sandpaper and little elbow grease to deal with the spiral. Some of the BTCs may know which company produced those body tubes.
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