The Nike-Smoke sounding rocket flew hundreds of times in the 1960s, used to measure high-altitude winds by ground photography of its smoke trail. It has also become one of the most popular subjects in model rocketry history -- the first kit I know of was the Centuri 1.6" version introduced in 1969. With kits covering the size range from tiny Micromaxx to high-power full scale, almost everyone has at least one of these rockets with its distinctive long conical nose in their fleet. Part of their Pro Series II mid-power product line, this kit is Estes' entry into the Nike-Smoke family. It's a 1:5.5 scale version, 42" long and 3" in diameter with a 29mm motor mount. The plastic fins are molded with the classic Nike hexagonal airfoil, making an accurate scale appearance a snap.
The kit contains a blow-molded Nike-Smoke nose cone, four molded plastic Nike-style fins (in two halves each), a body tube, a 29mm motor mount tube, three 1/4" plywood centering rings, an elastic shock cord with large Estes tri-fold mount, and a 24" nylon parachute. The kit also includes an Estes plastic screw-on motor retainer and plastic launch lugs with integral standoffs (for a 1/4" rod) and the required "UNITED STATES" waterslide decals.
Note that the body tube is thinner and slightly smaller in diameter than standard LOC 3" tubing, so the nose cone is not interchangable.
The kit goes together in a fairly straightforward fashion. I used yellow glue to attach the centering rings to the MMT and then into the body tube, thick CA to bond the fin halves together, and 5-minute epoxy to attach the fins and lugs to the rocket. Make sure to dry-fit the fins both before you install the motor mount and again just before you glue the fins on, because there may be interference from glue fillets or molding flash. The center centering ring is slotted to accept matching slots in the fins, so proper fin alignment should be guaranteed. Small fin fillets of yellow glue finished construction.
Bonding the plastic fin halves together should be done with care; make sure you have some CA fairly close to the leading and trailing edges of the fins since they have a tendency to pull apart a little otherwise, but don't use too much or it will slop out. It's possible that some type of plastic adhesive would work better on the fins, but I couldn't tell exactly what kind of plastic they were -- they seemed a bit slippery and springy to be polystyrene.
I used JB Weld on the motor retainer, though this is probably overkill since the retainer itself will likely melt before the bond will.
The kit includes a motor block in case you want to use the new Estes BP 29mm motors directly. I didn't install this so I could use longer motors; you can always add a tape thrust ring to a motor without one.
One minor complaint on the motor retainer: the Aerotech hobbyline 29/40-120 RMS case fits well with it, as does the CTI Pro29 case, but Aerotech high-power 29mm motors have a longer rear closure, and you can only get about a thread's worth of engagement. Similarly, 24-29mm adapters with thrust rings stick out a bit more and limit the number of threads you can get. I've had no problems so far but it is a potential issue.
There's no wood, so no filling is required; I left the tube spirals alone as they weren't very noticable. The scale paint scheme of all-white with three fluorescent red-orange and one fluorescent yellow fin is easy enough to apply. I used white primer on the whole rocket, masked the fins and shot semi-gloss white on the body and NC, then remasked and did the fins in two passes. As always, make sure to use a white primer base for fluorescent paint. I didn't do anything special to the plastic nose cone or fins and Rustoleum Painter's Touch 2X primer (now advertised to bond to plastic) seemed to adhere OK.
(By the way, I have much better luck with Rustoleum fluorescents compared with Krylon. Just saying.)
The waterslide decals worked fine and are fairly thick and robust.
Estes recommends 29mm SU motors from their own (rebranded Aerotech) line: F26-6FJ, F50-6T, G40-7W, and G80-7T, and claims a maximum altitude of 1500 feet. My kit weighed in at just under 1 pound ready to fly without a motor, about 1.5 ounces lighter than the Estes specs. For the first flight, I chose an Aerotech F40-7 reload and drilled a couple of seconds off the delay. In mild winds, the boost was straight and fast, and the motor ejection was a couple of seconds late, likely either because of inexact drilling or a long delay from the motor. My Estes altimeter read 1002 feet, about what I expected from simulations.
The instructions don't give any information about CG/CP locations. A simple OpenRocket model says that the CP is 34.2 inches from the nose tip.
Later that morning, I flew the rocket again on an Aerotech F35-8 with a couple of seconds drilled off, using a 29-24mm adapter. The wind had picked up a bit and the rocket weathercocked slightly but flew well, reaching 729 feet.
The recovery harness is a supersized version of the standard Estes tri-fold and elastic, but the elastic is both long and wide and seemed completely adequate. The nylon chute is reasonable quality, fairly thick non-ripstop. There is no thermal protection so a large handful of dog barf was added below the chute.
On both test flights, the chute opened cleanly, the descent rate was not too fast or too slow, and there was no damage to the shock cord or the rocket from snapback, so the recovery system works fine.
The motor retainer was just slightly scorched, either by the exhaust plume or the heat of the aft closure of the motor, but was still completely functional.
The kit is a reasonable scale model (the pre-shaped fins and the detailed cover plates on the nose cone are big advantages) but it could be more detailed. For example, the nose tip is missing the pipe and check valve, the launch lugs are non-scale, there's no fin attachment detail, and none of the exterior markings other than the UNITED STATES are provided. But all of these could easily be added, so we can expect to see this kit appear in scale competitions.
Otherwise, the rocket is a solid performer and the kit is well-engineered. I wonder a bit about the long-term longevity of the plastic retainer with reusable motors (clearly it was designed for and would be fine with single-use motors, which have slightly longer nozzles) but that is a minor point.
If you're in the market for a lightweight midpower Nike-Smoke with good scale lines, this kit is definitely worth a look. It fills a useful niche between several 2.6" options and some 4" kits that are solidly in the high-power category.