The Venus Probe is an unusual Estes kit to build and fly. There are two pieces to the completed rocket - a booster and a three-legged lander, complete with an alien on top.
This is NOT an easy rocket to build, and should only be built if you have built several rockets already.
The Venus Probe's instructions, at first glance, seem to be complete and well illustrated. But, when you read them, you find that they are numbered strangely. The assemblies have numbered sections, but these are not consecutive through the entire instructions. For example, the lander has steps 1,2,3 and so on; the booster has steps 1,2,3 etc. The pages are not numbered, so it is easy to get confused.
Instruction sheets should always have every single step numbered consecutively from beginning to end. Estes does this with most of their kits, so they should know better.
The usual tools were needed, including plastic cement for the lander. Wax paper is needed to lay the fins on while they are drying.
EASE OF BUILD:
Again, this is not an easy kit to build. The fins come in sections, so they have to be glued together and put on wax paper to dry. This is not as easy as it sounds, as they must be lined up precisely.
The lander stage is also somewhat complicated, as the landing legs must be assembled from many small pieces of dowel and plastic.
An assembly hint: Make sure the alien's back is directly in line with one of the lander legs. The alien's back is where the parachute is attached, and it does not make a three-point landing, the front side of the alien lands first. You want two legs to cushion the blow and stabilize the landing, so make sure there is only one landing leg behind the alien's back.
All the parts were in my kit and alignment was very good.
This kit is a sturdy one. I have never had any problems with the lander or the booster unit, despite several launches and many hard landings. Another reviewer indicated a problem with their body tubing, but the body tubes on my Venus Probe are still in fine condition.
The only possible weak link is the BT-20 body tube which connects the top tube and the bottom tube of the booster. Again, I have had no problems with this. But, you could strengthen this tube by making "cooling fins" that extend the length of the body tube.
Decals are excellent and help improve the look of the model. This model looks great with the recommended black and white paint job, which is easy to do by masking the model.
The only complaint I have in this area is that Estes recommends that the alien be painted fluorescent green. Everybody knows that REAL aliens are gray, so I painted mine accordingly, with gloss black eyes.
My Venus Probe is a veteran of several flights, including some hard landings. The alien has landed on his head, with no other apparent damage than a possible headache. The booster has lawn-darted, collecting a 3" core sample for the alien to bring back to his home planet. But this is a sturdy rocket and has survived all of these Roswell-type landings, without any alien autopsies to date.
Before I built my Venus Probe, I noticed that other people had lackluster performance with their Venus Probes and the recommended Estes C6-3 engine. I do not recommend this engine combination, it barely gets the alien high enough to eject. There are two different ways to solve this problem: One is to use Aerotech 18mm engines, which will give your Probe more power. The other is to re-fit the Probe with a 24mm engine mount and use Estes D12-3 motors in it. I chose this method, as D12-3's are less expensive than Aerotech D's.
I designed my own "D" motor mount and used the existing body tubes, but if you need plans for a "D" motor Venus Probe, they can be found in the September/October 1997 issue of Sport Rocketry, on page 19. My Venus Probe flies magnificently on "D" motors, powering up to a respectable height and putting on a crowd-pleasing show. I recommend using "D" motors in the Venus Probe.
Recovery is tricky with the Venus Probe. The upper body tube is not very large for two parachutes. I had several chute failures until I figured out the solution: don't use any 18" chutes. I use a 12" chute for the booster and an 8" chute for the lander. These are dusted heavily with talcum powder before flight, to prevent sticking. Since I started using smaller chutes, I have had successful landings.
The Venus Probe would have gotten 5 points from me, except for two problems, the instructions and the underpowered motor mount. It also appears that Estes rates this as a Skill Level 1 kit, which would be an error. This kit is at least a Skill Level 2.
I rate this rocket at 3 ½ points.
I recommend the Venus Probe to anyone who wants an exotic, X-Files kind of rocket. It is a real crowd-pleaser, and fun to build and fly.