Reviews >>

Apogee Components - Heli-Roc {Kit}

Manufacturer:Apogee Components
Construction Rating:
Flight Rating:
Overall Rating:

Contributed by

Apogee Heliroc

A basic Rota-roc style helicopter (fixed blade), this is a reliable design and definite crowd pleaser. There's just something cool about a true helicopter recovery rocket.

The kit arrived within 3 days of placing my order online and all components were complete and good quality. Parts list includes:

  • BT-5 body tube
  • 10.5mm motor tube and centering rings (optional/see notes)
  • Balsa nose cone
  • Balsa fins (3)
  • Balsa blades (3)
  • Copter hardware (hinges, thread, wire, rubber bands)

Apogee's instructions are very well written, featuring good illustrations, and make this a manageable build even if it's your first helicopter. This was my second Heli-roc kit. My first is a favorite flyer with about 15 flights and still going strong. This one was built for the 2005 EMRR challenge. I wanted to try to improve on its performance a bit and include a few tips along the way.

Apogee Heliroc Construction starts out with prepping the fins. One of the key decisions you'll make on this is whether or not to paint the rocket. Typically, "performance" rockets do not get painted, but need some treatment of the unfinished balsa to avoid warping. For my first one, I painted the blades yellow and the body green (sort of like a flying dandelion). The added weight definitely hurt altitude performance. For this build, I treated the fins with a very thin clear dope after sanding in a simple airfoil.

Apogee Heliroc Next up is marking the tube. This is a bit more complicated than drawing 3 fin lines, so pay careful attention the instructions. This uses a burn string method to deploy the blades, which means vents are needed for the gases. Placement of the vents needs to go above the blades and oriented in a way to avoid the rubber bands. The template included in the instructions helps make sure everything is lined up just right.

After marking the tube and cutting out the vents, you bond the nose cone to the end of the tube. My nose cone shoulder was a bit too long, partially blocking the vents. This was easily corrected with a utility knife. If you want to get more than a dozen flights, you'll want to coat the base of the nose cone with a thin layer of epoxy before bonding it.

The kit comes with an optional 13/10.5mm motor adaptor. Since 10.5mm motors are no longer available (or certified), I skipped this. This kit has obviously been around for a while and the adaptor is of no use today.

Fin attachment is standard, although I used CA to speed things up a bit. Very thin and light fillets are in order here, as they get covered by the blades in flight and are of no aerodynamic benefit.

The instructions call out a split launch lug approach (one low/one high). I chose to avoid the lugs entirely and use the corner formed where blades join as the launch guide. This helps reduce the drag slightly on what is a fairly high drag design.

The blade construction and mounting are by far the most challenging aspect of this kit but the instructions walk you through it fairly well. For starters, helicopter blades do not get the symmetrical airfoil found on most rocket fins. They are only airfoiled on the top surface. Also (and this is not noted in the instructions), you only need to airfoil about 2/3 to 3/4 of the length of the blade, working from the outer tip inward.

After airfoiling, I decided to apply Japanese tissue for strength and color, which adds only a very slight amount of weight. To apply the tissue, brush on a solution of 50/50 Elmer's white glue and water, press and stretch the tissue, and rub out any wrinkles with your finger. After the glue has dried, trim away excess with a knife blade. I finish it off with a light wipe with rubbing alcohol to shrink the tissue.

Apogee Heliroc Mounting the blades is where I benefited most from the "do over" experience between kit #1 and kit #2. The hinges are nylon and bonding nylon to a paper tube requires a good CA (I used the Zap green bottle stuff). Getting even a tiny amount of CA in the hinge will ruin everything but going too skimpy on the CA will result in a poor bond and you might lose a blade as a result. I folded my blades over and dipped the hinged edge in Vaseline, making sure the hinge joint was well coated. This keeps the CA out and was very effective. With the greased hinge joint in place, I then CA'd the hinge to the blade using an alignment template, then tacked the other end of the hinge to the body tube. The alignment is critical because you need a roughly 8 degree angle on the deployed blade for maximum lift. The tack to the body tube is supposed to be light--it just holds the blades in place. Once the blades are in place, you wrap a line of Kevlar® around them and coat the Kevlar® with thin CA to permanently bond them.

Construction wraps up with the deployment stuff. On the blade, this is a balsa piece mounted perpendicular to the blade with a tiny J-hook formed from the included music wire. On the other end, there's a J-hook mounted into the nose cone. A rubber band joins the two and snaps the blade up into place when the burn string breaks. I was pleased that this kit comes with extra rubber bands, as these are too tiny to find at the office supply store when you lose or break them. Of course, between building both kits, my son went through braces and I managed to score about 1000 "free" replacement bands (ignoring the obvious dent to the wallet for the braces themselves).

The last aspect of construction is drilling the holes for the burn string. Since snagged burn strings are a common failure in competition, one tip I'll pass along is to put a drop of thin CA on each hole, then use a small file to smooth the edge.

After drilling for the burn string, it's also a good idea to apply a layer of mylar tape to the underside of the blades where the gasses come out opposite the drill holes.

As noted, I went with a tissue finish. While it's possible to paint this, I tried it on my first kit and was disappointed with the results. The paint is very difficult to keep out of the hinges, adds weight, and really doesn't add that much to the appearance. The tissue approach adds color for a lot less weight.

Construction Rating: 4 out of 5

While I've had many successful flights on my first model, this one's first flight was less than spectacular. I was flying in fairly heavy winds (steady 10-12mph and gusting to 15 mph) and decided to try it on an A10-3. It started fairly well off the rod, but at about 40 feet tumbled over horizontal then quickly nosed down and flopped on the ground still under power. The delay kicked in, popped the ejection charge, and the blades deployed perfectly, albeit way too late to do any good.

No damage, but I'll definitely wait for lighter winds before flying this again. I'd never flown in more than about 6-8 mph winds previously on these models.

My first model generally has had no troubles save for the occasional sticking burn string. #2 never had a chance on its first flight. I'll post a tip/update with feedback on further flights as I'm hopeful the lighter build and improved construction will pay off in better flight performance.

Flight Rating: 3 out of 5

If you're interested in helicopter recovery but not quite comfortable trying the NAR plan or rota-roc on your own, this kit is a great way to start. It's based on the rota-roc design, reasonably reliable, and backed up with Apogee's good instructions, great materials, and excellent customer service.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

    Flight Log

    DateRocket NameMotor(s)AltitudeNotes
    1969-12-31Mike Goss's Apogee Components Heli-RocA3-4- Straight flight, almost flipped over when auto-gyroing, but recovered.
    1999-02-09Mike Goss's Apogee Components Heli-Roc1/2A3-2- Drifted far in wind
    1999-05-20Mike Goss's Apogee Components Heli-RocA10-3- Minor corkscrew on otherwise vertical launch. Traced to loose rotor blades, tie them tighter to ...
    1999-10-10Paul Smith's Apogee Components Heli-RocA2-3- Unstable flight. Ejected just above ground. No damage, but no qualified flight.
    2003-05-25Chan Stevens's Apogee Components Heli-RocA10-3-
    2005-05-07Chan Stevens's Apogee Components Heli-RocA10-3- Very unstable flight, likely due to winds gusting over 15 MPH, deployed blades after crash ...
    2005-05-21Clive Davis's Apogee Components Heli-Roc1/2A3-4- Added nose weight to construction (my last kit was slightly unstable). Rocket had great, stable ...
    2005-05-21Chan Stevens's Apogee Components Heli-Roc1/2A3-2- Unstable flight, good deploy and rotation though
    2005-06-25Chan Stevens's Apogee Components Heli-RocA10-3- Unstable flight, even after adding some nose weight
    2006-01-15Chan Stevens's Apogee Components Heli-RocA10-3- Very good blade deployment and hover/duration
    2006-05-21Edward Chess's Apogee Components - Heli-RocA3-4- Blades deployed perfectly, and rocket helicoptered to a safe landing, but in an inverted ...
    2006-07-15Edward Chess's Apogee Components - Heli-Roc1/2A3-2- Rotation occurred in inverted position, landed upright.
    2006-08-05Clive Davis's Apogee Components Heli-Roc1/2A3-2- Nice, straight boost. Rotors deployed nicely and recovery was good.
    2006-08-22Clive Davis's Apogee Components Heli-Roc1/2A3-4- Delay a bit late. 2 seconds would have been better. The blades deployed fine. Interestingly, the ...
    2006-10-08Edward Chess's Apogee Components - Heli-Roc1/2A3-2- Inverted recovery, no damage.
    2007-06-10Edward Chess's Apogee Components - Heli-Roc1/2A3-2- Nie flight, helicoptered upright for the first time.
    2007-07-01Chan Stevens's Apogee Components Heli-RocA3-4- Squirrely boost with loop around tail at end of thrust phase, worked out to perfect delay to ...
    2007-07-22Brian Wilson's Apogee Components Heli-RocA10-3- Perfect flight. It tumbled a bit after ejection, but started spinning and landed softly on the ...
    2007-08-12Todd Mullin's Apogee Components Heli-Roc1/2A3-4-
    2007-08-12Todd Mullin's Apogee Components Heli-RocA3-4-
    2007-09-09Todd Mullin's Apogee Components Heli-RocA3-4-
    2007-10-14Todd Mullin's Apogee Components Heli-RocA3-4-
    2007-10-14Todd Mullin's Apogee Components Heli-RocA3-4-
    2007-10-14Todd Mullin's Apogee Components Heli-RocA3-4-
    2007-11-04Todd Mullin's Apogee Components Heli-Roc1/2A3-4-
    2007-11-04Todd Mullin's Apogee Components Heli-RocA3-4- As always with this motor, it started to auto-rotate upside down just past apogee. It really needs ...
    2008-03-09Todd Mullin's Apogee Components Heli-RocA3-4-
    2008-03-22Todd Mullin's Apogee Components Heli-RocA3-4- Deployed the blades just past apogee (as always). Autorotated upside down the whole descent.
    2008-04-26Todd Mullin's Apogee Components Heli-RocA3-4-
    2008-08-10Edward Chess's Apogee Components - Heli-Roc1/2A3-2- String fouled against rotor blade and rotors did not deploy. Lawn darted and crumpled front end. ...
    2008-08-30Todd Mullin's Apogee Components Heli-RocA10-3-
    2008-08-30Todd Mullin's Apogee Components Heli-RocA10-3-
    2008-10-12Todd Mullin's Apogee Components Heli-RocA10-3-
    2009-03-28Todd Mullin's Apogee Components Heli-RocA10-3- HD-A 30 sec.
    2009-03-28Todd Mullin's Apogee Components Heli-RocA10-3- HD-A 38 sec.
    2009-03-28Howard Smart's Apogee Components Heli-RocA10-3-
    2009-03-28Howard Smart's Apogee Components Heli-RocA3-4-
    2010-04-03David Sindel's Apogee Components Heli-RocA10-3- Motor ejected; recovery was upside down. One blade broke off at landing, but was repaired.
    2010-04-18 Matt Shoemaker's Apogee Components Heli-RocA3-4- Ejection charge came out the hole the thread passes through and blew off a rotor. However, it ...
    2010-06-22David Sindel's Apogee Components Heli-RocA10-3- One rubber band failed; no spin but no damage.
    2010-08-14Edward Chess's Apogee Components - Heli-Roc1/2A3-2- Helicopter function worked, but came down upside-down. No damage.
    2010-09-18David Sindel's Apogee Components Heli-RocA10-3- Nice flight. Helicopter recovery was good but upside down.
    2010-12-12Howard Smart's Apogee Components Heli-RocA10-3-
    2010-12-12Howard Smart's Apogee Components Heli-RocA10-3-
    2013-07-13Edward Chess's Apogee Components - Heli-Roc1/2A3-2- Straight boost, good prop deploy, inverted recovery.


    M.G. (January 1, 2001)

    In constructing this model I found out that the nose cone covered the ejection exaust vents, I then trimmed the nose cone to clear the vent holes. I also found that the body tube was 13" long and not the 12" that the kit plans call for. Unfortunately this was right at the rotor attach step, and I wondered why the rotors were not as long as the ones in the pictures. They were, it's just that the body was longer! As a result my Heli-Roc rotor blades do not reach the bottom of the body tube. This hasn't effected the flight characteristics of the model at all. It still is a great flier on the Estes "Mini" motors.

    DBM (February 13, 2006)

    I ordered a Heli-Roc kit as a re-intro to helicopter recovery after 25 years on hiatus (I had good success in the 70's using my own design based on Dave Griffiths' "Griffithcopter"). This is an easy to build kit and flies really well, however it is heavy for a 13mm rocket. The cast resin NC is the main culprit; I lightened mine significantly. Using 0.125" to 0.3" drills, I hollowed the NC down to about 3/32" max wall thickness (watch out for the wires embedded in the NC - and DO NOT do this with a hand drill, use a drill press and soft jawed drill vise!). You could also use a Dremel with a round cutting bit but but again, be very careful when getting near the 'roots' of the embedded wire hooks. I also used CA and Kevlar® thread (for the hinge wrapping) and thinned nitrate dope to seal the bare wood. Using colored tissue on the bottom side of the rotors would be a good idea! It flies great on everything from 1/4A's to full A's. I have not timed mine yet but I am getting consistently good flights, the only prang was a rotor hang-up that was my fault; no damage. After the first couple flights you'll see some burn marks on the rotors. I applied 3/8" squares of metal foil tape (real "duct" tape) on the scorched spots and it has prevented any further damage. You could probably use some tin foil and CA or epoxy to do the same thing. It also builds quickly, mine was done in only a few hours. I have found that pre-stretching the rubber bands helps in installing them and reduces the tension enough so that the rotors do not bow too much in the closed position. I take them off between flights and when in storage, they'll last longer that way. I drilled the thread holes in the BT out to 3/32" as it allows the burn thread to be installed much easier. I've also found that elastic thread burns through quicker and is much easier to use. All in all a fun build and great flyer; my success with it has inspired me to work on a 48" rotor diameter, 24mm version.

    - Post a Comment -

    What You Can Do

    - Link to this Page -


    Up to 87% off.