In my first incarnation, I had built the Centuri Vulcan, a body-wrap design of marginal performance. I had liked the looks of that exotic, so when I ran across a Quest X-30 in my local hobby shop's "buy this stuff or we'll throw it away" bin, I snapped it up. The reduced price of $10.99 over their original asking of $16.99 didn't hurt either. (Discount Rocketry had them for a paltry $7.) Being an almost exclusive Estes buyer as a BAR, I thought this would give me a chance to see what Quest was all about without too serious an investment.
The Bad Points
The kit was unopened, but was still missing the engine hook; I used an Estes standard engine hook that fit just fine. The model has a great deal of paper cut-outs, some requiring a steady hand to trim properly. The balsa fins are poorly die-cut, needing a sharp knife to be extracted successfully from the stock. The stock, BTW, appears to be a notch below Estes' almost competition grade, as are the 'chutes, which are flimsy, poorly printed, prone to deformation and tearing and not easily packed. All three bulkheads were uniformly over-size, requiring careful sanding to bring them to the proper dimensions. The key phrase here is 'dry fit-up'; and not just once, but numerous times. Over-all, fit was poor, loose some places, tight in others.
The 'bag art' is misleading on a number of points; the images are retouched, showing some details where there are none (the cockpit, for instance) and hiding others (e.g., the air scoop joint). One downright incorrect illustration shows the shock cord attaching to both the front and rear of the model, and recovery as belly-first. Don't believe it; this bird recovers tail- first, just as with every other conventionally recovering rocket. The instructions are clear and easy to follow, though little technique is discussed and at least one dimension is a total gaff. On the other hand, the printing on the body wrap and sheeting was good except for one glitch; I've seen much worse.
The Good Points
There are a few things about this bird I did like, though. The Kevlar shock cord is great idea, I'll be using on my own designs in the future. Strong and light-weight, its primary advantage is its extreme heat resistance. This allows the designer to mount it darn near anyplace, even right in front of the engine, as is done on the X-30. (You can buy bulk cord from Rogue.) I also appreciated the pre-cut shroud lines.
The Body and Bulkheads
The dual sided adhesive strip that joins the body wrap is amazingly strong and easy to apply. As with all wrapped designs, care must be taken in the joining step, but even though the strip provides less working time than white glue (practically none, in fact), I didn't have too much trouble at all. No paper swelling as with glue, and extremely thin, keeping the joint darn near invisible. Why there isn't a similar strip for the air scoop joint is beyond me.
Unlike the body wrap, the bulkheads were a big disappointment. All must be sanded, the ones in the body just to fit and the one in the nose to match. Failing to do so will result in creases in the body which will require special attention to the fins to get a good mount. Don't believe the placement dimension given in the instructions for the stern (i.e., larger) bulkhead; fit it up last, after you make sure the bow bulkhead is even with the edge of the body wrap. Even with careful work, my X-30 looks like a golf shoe.
As I do with all plastic-to-paper or -balsa attachments, I used CA on these instead of the suggested plastic model cement, and also as usual, with much greater success. For the cockpit, I used masking tape to form a holding tab on the upper surface, letting me apply the glue and place the part without ever touching the edges. Sand the edges of the cockpit smooth and even, it'll look real crummy if you don't. Care must be taken when placing the nose bulkhead; you only get one chance with CA. If you don't screw it up too much, sanding the bulkhead might bring the surface back to square, but don't count on it.
Sheeting the Fins
Balsa sheeting adhesive (the "glue stick" mentioned in the instructions) is available from your local RC shop. Drop by for a bottle and ask how they use it (most RC planes have some type of sheeting), and be sure to mention your sheeting is pre-printed paper. If you'd rather go it alone, thin some white glue about 2:1 and brush it on, paying special attention to the edges. Don't be surprised to see the fins warp after you've applied the glue; set them in a warm place to dry and they'll come back. Trimming the sheeting and plastic can be done with a good pair of scissors and a final light sanding.
For construction, I'd rate this model a 2 points on the Essence scale, 'Needs Improvement'.
As with all tapered body designs, extra nose weight is required, and when combined with her wide body, the X-30 is less than a stellar performer. Only two engines are on the recommended list, B6-2 (~110') and C6-3 (~210'), though I wouldn't recommend the former myself. The Quest versions of these are "hotter" than their Estes counterparts, so I'd suggest using them; this bird needs all the impulse she can get. An Estes C5-3 also works (~220'), and if you've been able to get darn near all (1 oz.) of the nose weight clay installed, I'd also recommend the Apogee D3-3 for a flight commensurate with the X-30's namesake (~490'). If your bird comes in heavy as mine did (3.25 oz. vs. the stated 2.75), don't be surprised to see her nose over before ejection on the three second delay engines.
For flight, I'd rate this bird a 3 points on the Essence scale, 'Average'.
This model is listed as Skill Level 4, Quest's highest, "Recommended for the Expert Modeler", and rightly so. It contains a number of hurdles and techniques most Estes rocketeers will not be familiar with, such as sheeted balsa fins and ill-fitting parts. RC aircraft modeling experience is more suited to this ship's design, but with attention to detail and patience, it can be conquered without too much difficulty. And under D3-3 power, she's bound to be impressive once she's airborne.
Overall, I'd rate this bird a 3 points on the Essence scale, 'Average'.
Would I buy another Quest model? Probably, but only because I know what I'd be in for and felt I could handle it. If you're not used to improvising on a design or lack of quality, go with the more thoughtfully produced products of the better-known manufacturers.