Goes like a Rocket is a presentation I have developed on space and rocketry which will be on the Gloucestershire model engineering show circuit – and maybe even beyond – during 2015 and 2016. It is based on four core diorama boxes each containing 4mm scale models and some larger models, mainly at a scale of 1/144
A rocket is a missile, spacecraft, aircraft or other vehicle that obtains thrust from a rocket engine, the exhaust of which is formed entirely from propellants loaded aboard the rocket before use.
It is often claimed that the first use of gunpowder rockets in battle was by the Chinese against the Mongols in 1232 AD, the Mongols then spreading this technology to Europe. The English word Rocket is derived from the Italian “Rocchetta” or “little fuse” after a firecracker invented in 1379.
Rockets with iron tubular casings were first invented in India in 1792 by Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan of Mysore and used against the British East India Company, after which the concept was further developed by Sir William Congreve, Baronet, of the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, London in 1805. Conical nosed Congreve rockets were used to attack Fort McHenry, Baltimore, in 1814 – hence the reference to “the rocket’s red glare” in “The Star Spangled Banner” – and were also used at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
Incidentally, the tune for “The Star Spangled Banner” was composed by John Stafford Smith ( 1750-1836), son of the organist at Gloucester Cathedral.
Perhaps the ultimate development of this first epoch of solid fuel rocketry is the Sherman T34 Calliope tank, seen in the video clip below and depicted in triplicate within my first diorama box. With a Waco Hadrian glider flying in overhead, the 1943 vintage Calliopes stand on the banks of a tributary of the River Rhine at a French colliery ready to bring their 4 1/2″ M8 rockets to bear on opposing German positions during Operation Varsity in 1945. These models are from the Airfix kit (first moulded by Esci) which incorrectly identifies its outcome as being from the US Army’s 752nd Tank Battalion which served in Italy as opposed to the 753rd which did in fact invade Germany.
Bringing up the rear between the colliery fire station and part of its narrow gauge railway system is one of the US Army’s M3A1 half track personnel carriers. Developed by the White Motor Company of Cleveland from their pre War four wheeled scout car, the half track offered a similar cross country performance to fully tracked vehicles but with a steering system that was simpler and could be assembled from commercially available parts. As a result the M3A1 could offer a mix of armour and mobility superior to conventional wheeled army trucks and was ultimately used as a weapons carrier, signals and command truck and battlefield ambulance by both the US Army and infantry units of the British Guard’s Divisions. In service the 45 mph M3A1 – powered by a 127 bhp White 6 cylinder engine -often towed a trailer although this could be substituted for a 6 pounder anti tank gun.
The first liquid fuelled rocket was flown at Auburn, Massachusetts, by Robert H. Goddard on 16 March 1926, using a combustion chamber with a supersonic nozzle rather than propellant containers strong enough to withstand high pressures. He had previously patented the idea of multi-stage rockets. Rocket research also continued apace in Russia and in Germany, where the military saw rockets as a way of circumventing the restrictions placed on the use of long range artillery by the 1918 Treaty of Versailles. For this reason, in 1932, Captain Walter Dornberger of the Army Ordnance Department recruited from the German Rocket Society a 19 year old scientist named Wernher von Braun – who would go on to develop the V2 ballistic missile and also – after being captured by America at the end of World War 2 – the Saturn V rocket which would take the first men to the Moon. The Saturn V launch vehicle is described in more detail in its own article on this website.
German Rocket Weapons
V2 Ballistic Missile
What was eventually known as Vergeltungswaffen (revenge weapon) 2 was derived from a series of smaller liquid fuelled Aggregat (mechanical system) rockets, of which the 1934 vintage A-2 was the most promising until the first successful A-4 launch on 3 October 1942 at Peenemunde on Griefswalder Island in the Baltic Sea. Mass production was about to begin at Peenemunde when the site was bombed the RAF in August 1943, assembly then being switched to an underground site near Nordhousen in Thuringia. Over 5 000 V-2s were built, resulting in the deaths of 20 000 slave labourers, and between the first examples being fired on Paris and London on 8 September 1944 and the last falling on Orpington on 27 March 1945, 2 754 people in England were killed and 6 532 injured by V2s. The V-2 is thus perhaps the only weapon system to have caused more deaths by its production than its deployment.
With fixed launch sites such as La Coupole near Calais proving vulnerable to bombing and advancing Allied troops, V-2s were transported on Meillerwagen which also hydraulically lifted them through 90 degrees to their start tables. These transporter/erectors were hauled by Hanomag SS-100 heavy tractors also used for towing Luftwaffe aircraft and fuel trailers. Towing the start table to the site and controlling the V2 launch was an armoured vehicle based on a Krauss Maffei 8 ton half track.
Messerschmitt 163B-1 Komet
Because a rocket does not ingest and compress air like a gas turbine but carries its own oxidant, its performance actually improves with – rather than suffers from – extreme altitude. The penalty for this however is that a rocket aeroplane has to carry the weight of its own oxidant as well as fuel, limiting its range and/or performance.
The first man-carrying rocket aircraft to fly was probably a modified tail-first glider which lifted off from Germany in June 1928 with Fritz Stamer at the controls while the World’s first – and so far only – operational rocket interceptor was the Me 163 B-1 Komet.
First flown in August 1941, this entered service in the summer of 1944 and could reach 30 000′ in 2.6 minutes at a speed of 596 mph. However, it only carried enough fuel for 8 minutes of powered flight, after which the tail-less swept wing aeroplane glided back to base and landed on a skid, its main wheeled undercarriage having been jettisoned at take off to improve streamlining and save weight. The shock of such a heavy skid landing often caused the residual fuel in its tanks to explode and more of the 470 Komets built were lost in such accidents rather than in combat.
Once on the ground, the aircraft had to be retrieved by a Scheuch-Schlepper, a converted agricultural vehicle towing a special retrieval trailer with a pair of short tracks supporting twin trailing lifting arms.
While the V2 missile was fuelled by alcohol, water and liquid oxygen pumped together and burned in a combustion chamber, the Komet used a pair of hypergolic chemicals – ones that spontaneously ignite when mixed. Of these, the fighter – designed by Dr Alexander Lippisch – needed 3 parts of T-Stoff oxidiser to 1 part of C-Stoff fuel.
T-Stoff was 80% High Test Peroxide and 20% water with some stabilisers such as phosphoric acid. With added permanganate catalyst Z-Stoff, T-Stoff rapidly decomposed into steam and oxygen and was thus used on the launch catapults for V1 cruise missiles as well as driving the propellant pumps on the V2.
C-Stoff was a mixture of methanol, hydrazine and water but both clear liquids were highly toxic and corrosive. As a result, one tanker truck would fuel the Komet with C-Stoff and be driven well away before another – often an Opel Blitz – would approach with T-Stoff oxidant.
Bachem Ba 349 Natter
Even more extreme as a point defence rocket fighter than the Komet was the vertical take-off Natter.
After sliding up a 66′ tall launch tower, the majority of the flight to the Allied bombers was to be controlled by an autopilot. The primary mission of the relatively untrained pilot – still more reliable than any ground based radio guidance and homing systems available at the time – was then to aim the aircraft at its target and fire its nose mounted rocket shells. The pilot and the fuselage would then land under separate parachutes, while the nose section was disposable. Like the launch, this method of landing avoided the need for both expensive landing gear and runways, which were becoming increasingly vulnerable to Allied tactical fighter bombers.
Erich Bachem’s largely wooden design – built around the same Walter HWK 109-509C-1 rocket motor used in the Komet and assisted by four smaller Schmidding solid fuel rockets – was adopted by and built under the control of the SS : which had grown from Adolf Hitler’s own personal Schutzstaffel (or protection squad) to one of the most powerful organisations in Nazi Germany. However, despite towed and free glider flights, the only manned vertical launch of the Natter (Adder in English) – on 1 March 1945 – ended in the death of the test pilot, Lothar Sieber, as the whole vehicle crashed to the ground. This could have been due to a number of technical issues, including the pilot becoming disorientated by the 3G acceleration force or the centre of gravity of the Natter changing unexpectedly as the booster rockets were released.
Despite this, Sieber had become the first man to take off vertically from the ground under pure rocket power. Today only one genuine captured Natter survives in the USA and the model displayed here is waiting for a port tailplane to be fitted.
Behind it and attached to a six wheeled Krupp Protze truck is a 15 cm Nebelwerfer 41 six tube rocket launcher, harking back to the days of William Congreve and designed to project smoke, chemical weapon or high explosive rockets. Six thousand of these were manufactured during World War II.
Cold War Rocket Weapons
Hawker Siddeley Harrier
Although powered by a Bristol Pegasus vectored thrust turbofan rather than a rocket, Sir Sydney Camm’s Harrier refined the “aircraft without runways” concept of the Bachem Ba 349 Natter and shared some of its armament.
The Harrier could take off vertically – or after a short horizontal run – but with the fuselage still parallel to the ground and without the need for a launching tower. Once the thrust nozzles had been turned aft to allow forward wing-borne flight, the Harrier could also fly like a normal jet aircraft but, in addition, had the ability to Vector in Forward Flight (VIFF) so that fighters attacking from the rear would overshoot their target – the opposite of the Natter’s excessive attacking speed. At the end of a flight, too, a Harrier pilot could choose where to land his aeroplane in one piece, ready for refuelling with readily available propellant and re-arming.
This particular Harrier GR3 is fitted with Sidewinder air to air missiles on its outer pylons and Matra rocket launchers under the wings next to them.
The Type 155 launchers were made by French company Mecanique Aviation Traction (Matra) to house the 68mm folding fin rocket projectiles designed by Societe Nouvelle des Etablissements Edgar Brand (SNEB). Like the solid fuelled rocket projectiles carried under the wing of Sydney Camm’s earlier Hawker aircraft – the Hurricane, Typhoon and Tempest – these SNEBs could be optimised for use against enemy vehicles but were also available in anti-personnel, smoke and training versions.
Unlike the shotgun approach of the Bachem Natter’s nose mounted rocket shells, the Sidewinder – which entered US Navy service in 1956 – is a solid fuelled missile with a seeker head attracted to the heat of an enemy aircraft’s jet exhaust. With a range of up to 22 miles, heat seeking missiles such as the Sidewinder and its British contemporaries Firestreak and Red Top allow aircraft carrying them to engage enemies without the need for the dog fighting of the machine gun and canon era. More recent air to air missiles have used reflections from a parent aircraft’s radar to seek out a target and the most advanced “fire and forget” types have their own onboard radar systems.
3R1 Filin (Frog-1) Soviet Artillery Rocket
The NATO reporting name FROG (Free Rocket Over Ground) was attached to a growing range of single stage, unguided, spin stabilized solid fuelled rockets developed for battlefield use from 1957 by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and its Warsaw Pact allies. The first of these, as modelled, was transported on a tracked vehicle developed from the ISU-152 self propelled gun and could fire a small nuclear warhead 25 kilometres with a 50% chance of it landing within 1 kilometre of its target.
Tactical nuclear rockets such as the 3R1 Filin (“Owl”) were made possible by the miniaturisation of the first atomic bombs, which had required heavy bombers to carry them. In the United States, captured German rail guns provided the basis for the M65 “Atomic Annie” 280mm howitzer, introduced in 1953 and capable of firing a 15 kiloton yield shell. However, the USSR lacked both this technology and an equivalent of the ground transmission microwave guided American Martin MGM-1 Matador cruise missile. Thanks to both indigenous research programmes and the study of captured V-2s however, it was possible for the Soviet Union to produce an unguided artillery rocket to do a similar job: the solid rocket motor obviating the need for fuel tankers and the smaller size of the rocket allowing the tracked transporter – fast enough to keep up with a tank force – to also erect and launch the Filin.
Although the 3R1 Filin – designated FROG-1 by NATO – never reached front line service it laid the foundation for other more advanced FROGs on a variety of tracked and wheeled transporter /erector / launchers. Typically these would be accompanied by other vehicles carrying replacement missiles and handling cranes.
The most direct Western equivalent for the FROG-1 was the truck mounted Douglas MGR-1 Honest John artillery rocket first deployed in Europe by the US Army in 1954 and later to serve with Rocket Regiments of the Britain’s Royal Artillery.
SAM-2 Missile and Bristol Bloodhound
The SA-2 – NATO codename Guideline – was the first surface to air missile (SAM) to be used in anger, en masse, and changed the character of air warfare forever. Known in the USSR as the V-75, the SA-2 was designed to destroy small groups of attacking aircraft.
Powered by a solid lower and liquid fuelled upper stage, the Mach 3.5 SA-2 could turn through 360 degrees on its launching trailer. A typical installation would comprise six missiles on mobile launchers in pre-built revetments grouped around central target acquisition and guidance radar. Both missiles and radar systems could be moved to another site if needed in as little as four hours. As modelled, an SA-2 on its transporting trailer is being hauled by a six wheeled Zil 157 tractor.
V-75s also served with the Red Army although as they needed good roads and time to prepare themselves in new positions. In 1960 an SA-2 shot down the American Lockheed U2 spy plane piloted by Francis Gary Powers which was flying at 68 000 feet – much higher than even the V-bombers of the Royal Air Force which began flying at low level from 1963.
Also guided by radar from a ground unit reflecting off a target, the Bristol Bloodhound was developed under the code name Red Duster during the early 1950s and was powered by two 16″ diameter kerosene burning Bristol Siddeley Thor ramjets, boosted from the static launch pad by solid rockets that were then jettisoned when the Mach 2 Bloodhound went supersonic
In 1957 an early Bloodhound became the first ever British SAM to down an aircraft when it intercepted an unmanned Fairey Firefly target over Cardigan Bay. In 1958 the first RAF Bloodhounds became operational with 264 Squadron at North Coates, Lincolnshire. The last examples were not stood down until the early 1990s by which time Bloodhounds – each with a 45 mile range – had also equipped 98, 112, 242, and 266 Squadrons RAF and the defence forces of Singapore, Sweden and Australia.
From Earth to Space
The aftermath of Germany’s defeat in 1945 would hasten the development of liquid fuelled rockets on both sides of the new Cold War as both eastern and western allies captured both German rocket weapons and the scientists who had created them.
The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, lacking both fast, long range bombers such as the RAF’s Blue-Steel armed Victor and Vulcan and an ability to miniaturise a nuclear warhead, took the technology of captured Nazi V2s and developed the first intercontinental ballistic missile, from which in turn sprang the giant R-7 space launch rocket. Unlike the later – and even larger – American Saturn V, in which a first stage launched two other stages one after another, the engines in the R-7s tapering core and those in four strap-on boosters all fired at once on the ground to maximise power at lift-off.
The 1/144 scale R-7 is presented ready to launch an unmanned Luna probe. In 1959 Luna 2 became the first man made object to impact the Moon while Luna 3, launched on 4 October that year took the first pictures of the dark side of the Moon – just two years after a similar R-7 launched the first Earth satellite, Sputnik 1. On 3 February 1966 Luna 9 became the first spacecraft to soft land on the Moon – sending back TV pictures and cosmic ray data from a shallow crater within the Ocean of Storms – while Luna 15 would have sent a sample of Moon rock back to Earth ahead of Apollo 11 had it not crashed on the Lunar surface in 1969.
R-7s also put six Vostock missions into orbit, with Yuri Gagarin becoming the first man in space on 12 April 1961. A round hole in the coned R-7 fairing allowed the Vostock cosmonauts to eject to safety from their ball-like re-entry capsules if the R-7 failed on launch. By 1967, this had been replaced by an Apollo- style rocket escape tower on the three man Soyuz spacecraft – still used to reach the International Space Station – which also featured a larger service module below the re-entry vehicle and an extra R-7 launching stage
The American Space Shuttle – carried between landing and launch sites when needed on top of a modified Boeing 747 – featured ejector seats for two pilots only while Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo – air launched from its White Knight aircraft – is designed to reach space but not attain Earth orbit.
Landing on the Moon
The idea of visiting Earth’s satellite inspired storytellers for centuries but was only achieved by twelve American astronauts between 1969 and 1972.
The six Grumman Lunar Modules – originally termed Lunar Excursion Modules by NASA and often referred to as LEMs – that they used were all slightly different from each other and so the left hand side of this diorama is an attempt to portray the typical equipment of an early Apollo Moon landing rather than replicate a specific mission down to the last footprint in the dust. The LEM, astronauts, flag, S-band antenna dish and lunar surface experiments were all supplied as part of a 2009 Airfix set with the overall title “One Small Step For Man..” which also included a rectangular representation of the lunar surface.
Although this was a vast improvement on the small injection moulded circle of “Moon” originally supplied with the 1970 vintage 1/72 scale Airfix LEM, I found that the four vacuum formed (aptly enough!) landing pad depressions did not quite line up with the descent stage and so some other lunar features were improvised to represent a level, if risky landing.
In fact, due to problems with the radar altimeter on Apollo 11’s LEM, Neil Armstrong had to land some distance from his intended spot and with only 30 seconds of fuel to spare.
Had “Eagle” come to rest at more than 12 degrees from horizontal, the mission commander and lunar module pilot would have been unable to rendezvous with the orbiting Command and Service Modules and so be doomed to die on the Moon: an eventuality for which US President Richard Nixon had prepared a special speech.
In contrast, Charles “Pete” Conrad Jr was able to put Apollo 12’s LEM “Intrepid” down on the Ocean of Storms just 600 feet from the unmanned Surveyor 3 spacecraft which had made its own automatic landing in April 1967. In fact the spot designated “Pete’s parking lot” – which had been avoided at the last minute for being too rough – had been selected as far enough away for the LEM descent engine not to blow dust all over Surveyor 3, which ended up coloured beige rather than white!
In the same way, talcum powder was blown and brushed away from under the Airfix LEM descent engine bell to represent a slightly hesitant landing made on terrain rougher than expected.
Future Lunar Landings
Unlike a field or aerodrome on Earth, few vehicles have ever arrived on the Moon, none have either completely left or left complete and no footprints or tracks will ever erode due to lack of any wind or rain. As such, a lunar diorama even with an Apollo mission in progress has only limited interest due to the small realistic possibility of change.
As such, I decided to give the crater floor on the right hand side of the diorama – enlarged beyond the Airfix vac-formed base – to a possible future spacecraft that also harked back to both the rounded Soviet style of spacecraft construction and to some of the seriously proposed but unfulfilled lunar expeditions of the 1960s.
Just as the specific provenance of this “fantasy” model rocket was unknown at the time of building ( I acquired it already built and added paint and super-detailing ) I deliberately did not apply any national or corporate markings as from the viewpoint of 2015 the next manned Moon landing may not be American or even be financed by a national government.
In practical terms though, the future lander – like the Grumman Apollo LEM – will have no need of streamlining if it is to operate solely on the Moon or in the vacuum of space and could similarly feature ladders, handrails, access platforms incorporating steering jets, solar panels and even a cargo pannier box for small wheeled surface vehicles or reaction-powered flying machines.
To minimise mass – just as the LEM was built from thin metal foil – the new spacecraft could comprise just of a framework holding together spherical fuel and oxidant tanks with a multi-nozzle rocket engine below and a crew module on top.
This came fitted with its own emergency escape motor as built on the model and I added the air lock to avoid the astronauts having to depressurise the module for every extra-vehicular activity: a luxury not available on the Grumman LEM. The future lander also has larger landing pads and hydraulic legs to allow it to right itself for lift off if it lands on uneven ground.
A chance discovery on Facebook in early 2017 brought closure to the question of the “fantasy” spaceship’s origin. The immediate answer was renowned Gloucestershire modeller Ron Brooks who sadly passed away in December 2015 – but when I saw him last he could not remember where he got the kit from to add to his collection. It turns out it was first moulded in 1958 by Paul Lindberg and was originally part of a set entitled “Five Space Ships of the Future” which included a transport rocket, wheel type space station, flying saucer and Sputnik like satellite rocket. After that it was available on its own as “US Moon Ship” ( maker’s reference HL602), then in 1970 as “Mars Probe Landing Module” and in 1979 as “Star Probe Space Shuttle”. Glencoe Models then re-issued the kit as “Lunar Lander in 1993” before the moulds passed to Round 2 models. Most of the components were moulded in white styrene plastic with a translucent red used for the crew compartment “portholes” and engine nozzles. Decals included the identity USMS (United States Moon Service?) 09661. The functional design was based on an illustration by artist Chesney Bonestell for one of the Collier’s Magazine spaceflight articles in 1952. However, this was for a vehicle to orbit the Moon in the manner of Jules Verne’s Columbiad or the real-life Apollo 8 – hence the absence of any visible crew hatch or, more importantly, access ladders.
Thinking that a Moon lander would make a more exciting model though, Lindberg added landing legs and also some astronauts to stick on to the square base supplied. These were at least to 1/96 scale along with the rest of the Moon Ship – which also explains why the crew compartment seemed so cramped for the 1/72 scale Airfix astronaut figures that I added. Had the original model been moulded in 1/72 scale like the Grumman LEM however, it would have been even taller and required more skill from the pilot astronaut to land. Presumably with his face pressed up against a porthole so that he could see where the feet and surface were while trying to keep the whole vehicle from toppling over! This would have been particularly likely given the small landing feet – which I enhanced by adding four Sterling penny pieces painted black. In economic terms, this is known as quantitative tightening!
Also of interest on the box artwork seen above was Chesley Bonestell’s visualisation of lunar mountains and craters that were much more sharp and jagged than those eventually encountered by the Apollo astronauts. Similarly, Lindberg’s 1/96 scale Moon explorers are wearing Litton suits. Although more like the pressure garments NASA did use than the mini spacecraft with arms and legs put forward by Grumman and Republic, the Litton Industries USAF Mark 1 Extravehicular and Lunar Surface Suit is characterised by the welding mask like visor and corrugated arms and legs around a rigid torso. The Litton suit was tested during 1958 -59 for more than 600 hours at simulated altitudes exceeding 100 miles and development continued into the mid 1960s. Although it did allow a wide range of body movements, the Litton suit did not allow the astronaut to withdraw his arms from the sleeves to pick his nose – unlike Grumman and Republic’s unfeasibly cumbersome offerings.
In the end, an alternative to the early, soft fighter pilot style pressure suits worn during the Mercury and Gemini missions – that was both rigid and flexible enough to cope with walking around on the Moon – was inspired by a suit of armour built in 1520 to allow King Henry VIII to compete in a foot combat tournament. This masterpiece of design with its articulated joints perfectly enclosed the wearer’s body with scarcely a millimetre’s gap yet allowed a full range of movements.