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Old 02-26-2011, 10:05 PM
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Default Estes Pro Series History

There have been serveral threads lately which have mentioned the Estes Pro Series kits from the 1990s.

I thought it would be of interest to those who read this forum to provide some history about these rocket kits.

Please note that this is just 'MY' take on the history of these products. I apologise in advance for any errors, mistakes, omissions. Current/former Estes employees are welcome to post any information they have on this subject.

The Damon Company had purchased Estes Industries in 1969 and Centuri Engineering in 1970. This was at the height of the 'Space Race' with the Apollo moon landings. As public interest in the American space program declined, so did interest in model rocketry.

Centuri had a large model rocket division known as Enerjet. Enerjet motors used composite propellant to send hobby rockets higher then most rocketeers had ever seen. The Enerjet motors were expensive for their time, labor intensive to make and with the decline of the hobby, sales dropped.

The Enejet line was gone by 1976 with the remaining parts and components shipped to the Estes plant in Penrose, Colorado. There, Mike Dorffler and Ed Brown experimented with making composite motors using the leftover Enerjet materials but no production motors resulted from their efforts.

Estes was manufaturing large model rocket kits under the Maxi-Brute label but the last of those (Saturn V) was discontinued in 1986.

That appeared to be the end of Estes and their production of large model rocket kits but they were about to get a wake-up call...

(To be continued)
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Old 02-26-2011, 10:29 PM
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In 1988, a new model rocket company named Enertek (TEK not JET) was announced at the 1988 HIAA Show. Enertek displayed a line of larger model rocket kits using E through G motors. Enertek was run by several well known rocketry people including Lee Piester (Founder of Centuri Engineering).

The response of the hobby distributors was overwhelming. Enertek would garner about $5M in orders from distributors at this show. The Estes folks were a bit shocked and called a meeting of the dormant Model Rocket Manufacturers Association. In this meeting, the Estes staff tried to get support from the other model rocket manufactures to have Enertek products banned. Their efforts failed.

As it was, Enertek failed for other reasons but Estes took away the knowledge that there was a market for larger model rockets.

The rights to the Enertek product line was purchsed and incorporated in AeroTech. AeroTech was able to bring to market larger rockets promised by Enertek and begin shipping product in January 1990.

Possibly in response to the Enertek 'threat' Estes released some larger model rocket kits in 1989 including the Super Big Bertha and S.W.A.T.

The Damon Company decided to sell Estes in 1989 and the company sold for $40M+. A new General Manager named Robert Buroker took over running Estes.

The 1990 Estes catalog announced a new large kit named the Optima and designed by Mike Dorffler. Still, the maximum motor for this kit was the D12.

The 1990s dawned with a revitalized model rocket industry.

(To be continued)
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Old 02-26-2011, 10:33 PM
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Bob-

Interest piqued with just your intro post, and I felt I knew a decent amount of this already.

Just one quick question (but not to divert your thread) do you know when the last of the Centuri operations ceased in Phoenix and were transferred to Penrose? I know you have some intimate knowledge of the Centuri history with your past association with Lee Piester and the Enertek effort, so thought you might know when the 'Centuri transfer to Penrose' came to be.

My impression from ordering from both companies in the mid to latter 70s is that it may have occurred in phases, but was not sure when shipments of Centuri orders began to originate out of Penrose.

Feel free to reply in a different thread to keep this thread 'clean' if you like.

Thanks,

Earl
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Old 02-26-2011, 10:43 PM
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1990 would become an important year in the history of model rocketry.

Estes was under new ownership/management.

MRC had revamped their model rocket product line with Concept II (Developed by Bill Stine).

North Coast Rocketry had their 'catalog' and increasing product line.

AeroTech was shipping kits and motors.

(I'm leaving out the HPR side of things).

It was at this point that I take the credit/blame for Estes' interest in larger rockets and motors.

It's June, 1990 and at my place I am busy constructing two of each of the AeroTech kits to take to NARAM 32 outside of Dallas, Texas. One of each kit for display, another to fly at the manufacturer's demo during the meet.

I'll be attending NARAM so I want some new rockets to fun fly.

I had picked up one of the new Estes Optima kits to build but I decided it just couldn't be stock. I decided it should LOOK like a stock Optima kit but really be something different.

I decided to construct it so it could handle a small 'H' motor, if I wanted to go with that powerful a motor. Otherwise, I would fly it on 29mm 'F' & 'G' motors.

By the time I finished the Optima, the only original kit parts were the nose cone, decals and the forward balsa strakes/fins. All other components had been replace with AeroTech kit parts and the fins cut out of plywood and mounted 'through-the-wall' to the motor mount Fin-Lok rings. I spent quite a bit of time on the finishing as I wanted it to look like a display model.

I packed up my Optima and headed off to NARAM 32 which was the first week in August, 1990.

(To be continued)
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Old 02-26-2011, 10:47 PM
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Dallas, Texas. August, 1990.

Hot, humid (rain!?) and hungry fire ants.

The manufaturer's demo was scheduled for later in the week. It turned out to be an excellent demo as there were many manufacturers demonstrating products (Rocket golf, anyone?)

Mary Roberts was there representing Estes and flying their new kits. Also, the new General Manager of Estes, Bob Buroker, was in attendance.

AeroTech demo flew all their kits as did MRC, North Coast and others.

After AeroTech was done flying, the Mantis pad and Interlock controller remained in the launch area.

As Mary announced each of the new Estes kit and described it's features before launch, I loaded up my Optima on the Mantis pad. It would be powered by a White Lightning F25-6W motor. This was a time when high-power flying had not yet become part of a NARAM and even 'F' and 'G' motors were considered quite impressive.

I had worked it out with the RSO & LSO that after Mary had the Estes Optima launched, I would signal them to launch MY Optima.

As Mary worked through the 'A', 'B' & 'C' motor powered kits, she finally reached the Optima. A countdown was given and the Estes Optima launched...
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Old 02-26-2011, 10:48 PM
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As the D12-3 powered Estes Optima soared into the sky, I signaled the RSO to launch MY Optima.

After a countdown, the F25 in my Optima roared to life and sent the rocket racing into the sky, higher than the one Mary had launched.

Several folks were startled by the noise of the F25. They had been expecting another D12 powered flight.

Both Optimas deployed their parachutes and had normal landings.
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Old 02-26-2011, 10:50 PM
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Later, after the 'dueling' Optima flights, I was told that Buroker had commented to Mary that Estes should have composite rocket motors and kits (Or words to that effect).

From this grew an effort by Estes to create a line of composite motors and kits.

At least, that's MY story.

(To be continued)
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Old 02-26-2011, 11:10 PM
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For Estes 1990-1991 would see more changes.

The new owners of Estes couldn't make the payments on the money they borrowed to buy the company and Estes ended up being taken over by the banks/creditors.

The effect of AeroTech and it's products was causing Estes to have hobby distributors ask for similar products.

Into this situation comes a new name: Barry Tunick.

The new owners of Estes wanted someone else running the company, someone who would make them lot's money.

I was working at AeroTech at the time when we received a call from Penrose that Buroker and Tunick wanted to come and discuss a possible business deal with AeroTech. Comments indicated it could mean anything from AeroTech making composite motors for Estes, Estes buying AeroTech or even AeroTech running Estes.

There was quite a bit of curiosity about what Buroker and Tunick would be discussing. They showed up on a weekday afternoon (I don't remember what day it was) and went into the meeting room with the AeroTech owners.

After an hour or so, Buroker and Tunick left. The meeting had resulted in nothing. It turns out Estes was interested in buying AeroTech but wanted AeroTech to name a 'price'. AeroTech wanted to know what Estes was offering. Buroker and Tunick declined to name a price and insisted AeroTech name an amount. This resulted in a stalemate and ended any chance of joint efforts by both companies.

(To be continued)
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Old 02-26-2011, 11:25 PM
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Bob Buroker was gone from Estes in 1991 and Barry Tunick was now General Manager.

Tunick adopted a 'shotgun' approach towards new products for 1991.

He still wanted larger rockets and motors but there wasn't time to develop everything by the October 1991 RCHTA Hobby Show.

This resulted in the original Pro Series products.

A new launch pad and launch controller along with three new kits (Impulse, Maxi-Force & Patriot) were displayed at the Show. The kits would use clusters of D12 motors.

A sign on the back of the booth announced that Estes would soon have composite motors.

Here are some pictures I took of the Estes booth at the 1991 RCHTA Show.
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Old 02-26-2011, 11:56 PM
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While the Pro Series launch pad and controller had some obvious thought put into them, the initial Pro Series kits were at best 'also-rans'.

I ordered one of each kit as soon as they were available. From looking at the kits, Estes worked with what they knew to create them. There was nothing very advanced in their design or constrution.

The Impulse and Maxi-Force were 2.5" in diameter and used clusters of two and three D12 motors, respectively. The fins were die-cut balsa with spruce strips which were to be cut and fitted to the edges of the fins. The centering rings were thick die-cut (lite?) plywood which were poorly formed. The nose cone was nicely made blow molded plastic.

The Patriot model became available many months after the first two kits. Three inches in diameter it featured a cluster of four D12 motors. To cut down on weight/mass, the fins were made up of balsa ribs and sheeted with heavy paper. As I recall, the aft plate on the model was made of aluminum (I can't remember).

Builders of the Patriot soon discovered that the model would weigh well over one pound when painted, decalled and loaded to fly. When one NAR Section newsletter contacted Estes about this, the reply was just don't apply the decals or paint it and the weight will be under a pound!

Thanks to the established Estes distribution system, these Pro Series products ended up in many hobby shops but it never appeared to me that they sold very well.

Two more Pro Series kits would be released, the Terrier/Sandhawk and Jayhawk, both scale models. These models were listed as being able to be flown with E15 and E30 motors. The impression at the time was that these motors would be composite propellant but when an E15 motor was released it used black-powder propellant. The three initial Pro Series kits would be later modified to use the E15 BP motor.

The Pro Series products were last featured in the 1996 Estes catalog. By then, Estes had bought North Coast Rocketry which would eventually produce large model rocket kits powered by composite motors. However, that story is best left to more knowledgeable peeople (Matt, Chas?).

So, there you have it. I hope you enjoyed this bit of history from my perspective.
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