Ex Wing

Since most of you know from this blog what a nerd I am now, in late adulthood, you can only imagine how nerdy I was when I was a teenager. Nerdy enough to be part of a rocket club. Not sponsored by the school. Just five of us who got together and built solid fuel rockets. This was 50 years ago. We had a test stand and everything. We experimented with nozzle configurations we machined ourselves on a lathe we had access to. We tried different burst diaphragms and fuel mixtures. No one sold kits for this then. We made everything ourselves. We entered a science fair and we had our pictures printed in the newspaper with Werner von Braun. Hard core. We were lucky we didn't kill ourselves or someone else.

So no Schadenfreude here. From Gizmodo, October 2, 2007:

Andy Woerner and his crazy rocketeer friends have built a 21-foot long X-Wing model that can actually fly. Yes, this is a real X-Wing powered by four solid-fuel rocket engines complete with radio-controlled moving wings. It blasts off in California next week, and we talked with Andy about the project, and how they expect it will do.


The X-Wing model is huge. At 21 feet long and with a wingspan of over 19 feet it is, in fact, big enough to fly a kid in. However, knowing that it will be powered by solid-fuel rockets, they wouldn't put a kid, dog, monkey or Gizmodo editor inside, even if it uses three full parachutes to land.

After drawing the plans using CAD software, Andy's team and his friends at Polecat Aerospace (with the help of RMS Laser and Aerotech Consumer Aerospace) used laser cutting to make the pieces out of Baltic Birch wood. They also used solid aluminum for some parts, like the rods which are the pivot point for the wings.


They used an electric motor from a RC helicopter, reducing its 40,000 revolutions per minute to generate enough torque to move those massive wings. Still, the wings will take 35 seconds to travel from open to closed. Hopefully, they will be able to change before the flight ends, so they can get the full effect in the air.

The wings also hold the engines. Andy told us they are using "four solid rocket motors which are Class M, the kind that produce a red flame"--which as you probably know, it's also the same color of the X-Wing engines' glow.

Even with the aluminum rods, however, there's the possibility of structural damage. We asked Andy about how he expected the flight to go: "it's likely we will have a structural failure in the wings, but we are hoping it will hold."


The X-Wing will launch next week, on October 6, and we can only wish the project the best of luck. Godspeed Andy and friends, godspeed. (Gizmodo)

October 6 was yesterday.


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Some things, especially the identity of Revere and company should remain anonymous.

Looking at the X-wing and how much force four solid rockets would generate I would suggest an air launch rather than a ground launch. There is no way to meter solid fuel hence the reason the shuttle does a roll over and you hear them say "Go for throttle up." The aerodynamic forces at the point of the throttling are about 1/3rd of what they are at the surface. E.g. the wings/tiles on the shuttle will tear off at 18,000 mph (big surprise?) due to aerodynamic drag.

Moreover they shouldnt open the x until its at least past 10,000 feet. Supercritical wings such as the F-14, F-111, Concorde were designed to sweep back as altitude increased and the need for controlability lessened. Thus presenting a limited surface that the engine had to push. A 1 inch surface extended at 100 mph isnt much. Extend it at say 650 mph and it has a tremendous force on the airframe. I wouldnt want them to blow their toy but if they just wait until the engines are out, they could extend it for a long time and glide back down. Extend it when those beasts are running and its going to become a sled in all likelyhood.

Droop leading edges on the B727 and 737's are good examples. They provide more lift when they are in close to the landing or takeoff environment. Then as speed and altitude build, they retract them so they can take advantage of less surface and more engine.

As for putting someone into it, can I volunteer my mother in law? I would of course assure her everything would be fine. Especially with an aeronautics and technology degree. Hell, she might even buy it

Revere, if possible see if you can get a video from these guys. Its going to rip the wings off without a doubt but it will be fun to watch. I would say just about the time it passes 250 it will start to shudder. Somewhere between 250 to 350 it will be in pieces.

Heady days of the 60's. It wasnt all bad now was it? Time for a little Earth to Mars, rather than Earth to the Moon...again!

By M. Randolph Kruger (not verified) on 07 Oct 2007 #permalink

Randy: "Heady days of the 60's. It wasnt all bad now was it? Time for a little
Earth to Mars, rather than Earth to the Moon...again! " Unfortunately, the events for me were in the fifties.

a link to the video of the short-lived flight may be found here...

By Peter Lombard (not verified) on 07 Oct 2007 #permalink


Your prediction was spot on. Look at the first item on the Read More list on the Gizmodo site. It's a video of the flight. Aw gee, looks like your mother in law wouldn't have made it.

Alas... I wasnt up on the launch date or R2 and mother in law would have been R2 and doo doo.

I was interested that the chutes did open before the ill fated rocket went into pieces. I would have suggested stabilization gyro's, a rail launch and for everyone to be a lot farther back. Revere milling nozzles in a turning lathe? Solid rocket motors are a controlled explosion. Everything from the housing to the nozzles can blow. Its a wonder he is still with us.

I was near an F4 that a tech hadnt put the safety pin into the aircraft lockout in the late 70's and he managed somehow to set off a AIM-9 while it was still in the rail with the pins in. Theoretically with those pins in it was at the time unable to fire... UH, they found out that it was indeed able to fire post of this. Picture M. Randolph and friends about 20 feet from a revetment and the tech whose feet have been sticking up from the inside of the canopy suddenly start to jiggle. Screams too. He fell backwards out of the plane and screamed "Run!"

I think it was about 1/2 second later I saw a bright red glow start and that missile still in the rail spun that airplane around about six times. Did I mention it was chained on the tie down points? They lasted less than a second. The guy got out from under and said its going to blow. Now he tells me? Well it didnt blow for some reason but the flight line was down for the entire day as they waited for the armed airplane and weapons batteries to fail.

A good non war, war story ended happily with EOD driving up like they were going to McDonalds and putting the missile onto a trailer and hauling it off to an end of the base where they fitted it with a small charge and detonated it. I guess the batteries were dead in it after all. Closest I wanted to get to a rocket launch after that.

As for Revere and rockets? Nutzy and Gutzy. It never gets crazy enough for me.

By M. Randolph Kruger (not verified) on 07 Oct 2007 #permalink

As a Star Wars geek, I was sorry to see the results. Actually, I was reminded of another 70s icon:

"I can't hold it! She's breaking up! SHE'S BREAKING UP!!!"


(voiceover) "We can rebuild him...."