The Estes Alpha, designed by Bill Simon and introduced in 1967, is the prototypical 3FNC that has introduced generations of rocketeers to the hobby. The original Alpha, of course, had a balsa nose cone and fins. The Alpha III (1971) was an easier-to-build plastic version with a one-piece molded fin can assembly. Estes has released several larger versions of the Alpha design, the largest being the 2.6" diameter Maxi Alpha 3, which made its first appearance in 1979 and has been in and out of production since. I bought mine in a 50%-off Estes special in late 2015.
While purists may dismiss its use of plastic fins, the Maxi Alpha 3 has some clever design features. The fin unit consists of two plastic rings that go into the ends of a short section of BT-80 and hold the plastic fins in slots. Two sections of BT-80 form the main airframe, with a short coupler and centering ring that centers the MMT/stuffer tube. The MMT also glues into the bottom plastic ring. A plastic nose cone, standard 24mm motor mount with hook, 1/4" launch lugs, and 24-inch plastic parachute complete the kit, which also comes with a big sheet of stick-on decals.
The instructions are reasonable but could stand some updates. Most importantly, the dimensions for the motor mount are appropriate for a D-length hook, but the current kit comes with an E-length hook and adapter. The instructions suggest that you have to paint the nose cone, but it's molded in red and would be fine as is. Estes inadvisably recommends the use of plastic cement for all plastic pieces, but most plastic cement only works on polystyrene, and as far as I can tell, this isn't used in the Maxi Alpha 3. So I used 5-minute epoxy on all the plastic parts.
The plastic fins in my kit were slightly warped, but I decided to not worry about it and it was no issue in flight.
The original 1979 catalog claimed that you could build and fly the kit in 30 minutes. Perhaps a slight exaggeration, but it was a simple evening's build. One nice touch is that the shock cord attaches to the forward centering ring rather than a standard tri-fold. The down side is that the shock cord is far too short for the kit. I replaced it with about 4 feet of elastic.
Built stock, finishing consists of sticking on the decals, no painting required. The decals didn't appeal to me, so I gave the rocket one coat of white primer and then painted it fluorescent orange, then applied upscaled vinyl Alpha III markings from Stickershock 23. The red-colored plastic parts were a bit of a liability here as the white primer didn't quite cover the red, but the results were not bad.
Ready to fly, my kit came in at 8.3 ounces.
The model's large size makes packing the chute and a generous handful of dog barf simple. I flew it twice: once on a D12-3 and once on an E12-4; despite a stiff 15-mph wind, both flights were reasonably straight off a 3' 3/16" rod, and the delays were just about perfect. (Several larger Estes kits lately, while originally intended for 3/16" rods, have come with 1/4" launch lugs for the newer Porta-Pad E's 1/4" rod. Despite the looseness of the lugs, it flew fine off the smaller rod.)
Estes recommends the E9-4 and E9-6, and while I expect they would work at least in low-wind conditions, the E12-4 is a safer choice.
As noted, the stock shock cord is way too short. The pre-assembled plastic chute is not bad, but I had a shroud line tear out on the first flight. The 24-inch chute brings the model down slowly, but may cause a bit too much drift on a small field.
Pros: fast, simple plastic construction; lightweight, flies well on a D12-3.
Cons: instructions need updating; BT-80 tubes are pretty thin; others have complained about fins breaking off on landing, though I didn't have any problems; shock cord too short; plastic parachute somewhat flimsy.