Everybody's favorite prom date, the Estes Big Bertha, is a rocket that seems to wind up in every fleet at one time or another. While there are a lot of other rockets in her size range that equal her low, slow, and always stable flights, there's something to be said for building and flying the original. Bertha's getting a little long in the tooth these days and in need of an update, but it's nothing that a quick shot of Kevlar couldn't fix.
The kit contains:
The Bertha instructions remain the standard by which other skill level one kits are written. (I'd prefer that the part numbers were still included as a part of the exploded view, but that's a personal nit that I felt the need to pick.) The Bertha has no "gotchas" and is the perfect starter rocket for those with a taste for small field flying. I attached the engine mount with Elmer's Wood Glue and for the first time in a long time, glued in a stock Estes shock cord with a tri-fold paper mount. Normally I would use about six feet of combined Kevlar® and sewing elastic, but I wanted this comparison to be about stock models built the way the instructions said. So for the sake of the comparison, I went retro.
My fin attachment method did have a nod to the new millennium. I tacked the fins in place using LocTite Gel CA, then filleted them in place with two heavy lines of wood glue per joint.
Although the Big Bertha paint scheme I modeled was the 1969 catalog version, the finishing remained the same. Before anything was done I coated the spirals with thinned Elmer's Fill 'n' Finish, then sanded the whole thing smooth. The fins, which were shaped as was directed in the instructions, were then given two coats of the same Fill 'n' Finish with sanding between each coat. The rocket was given a base coat of white, then masked to allow the 1969 catalog scheme to come to life in black and red paint. I used Valspar paints throughout the project with the final touch being an Estes logo decal that JimZ sent me with an order back in 2001. Why go to this much trouble? Because the current Bertha paint and decal scheme is DULL! If ever there was a rocket ripe for updating, the Big Bertha is it.
Construction Rating: 4 out of 5
While this wasn't my first Big Bertha, I wanted to fly the same progression of motors that I flew in the other three rockets in this comparison: a B4-2, B6-4, and C6-5. All three flights were made on a windy day which I knew from experience would make for some long recovery walks, so I started with the C6-5 flights while my legs were fresh. The Bertha on the C6-5 climbed to a pretty respectable height, then drifted downrange 1/4 of a mile or so. The stretch of field we flew on that day has exactly one rocket eating tree on it, and for a moment it looked as if the Bertha might land in it, but a fortuitous gust carried it past the tree and to the left. I was able to cheat a little and do most of my walking on the access road, which cut down my time between flights and made my legs feel less like lead from stomping through the weeds.
The B6-4, while noticeably lower than the C6-5 flight, would still allow you decent small field flights with very little fear of losing the rocket to a tree. The Bertha recovered about 100 yards from the pad and I was back prepping for the third flight very quickly. Flight #3 was on a B4-2, which was suggested to me as a way to get a good liftoff picture. I still managed to get the rocket smoking on the rod, but the flight was interesting in that it took a moment for the rocket to find it's way after clearing the rod. It looked as if it stopped for a moment before kinking noticeably to the right as the wind caught the big fins. Recovery on the B4-2 flight was just past the pad, but windcocking was pretty severe. (Not always a bad thing.)
Recovery was handled by the stock 18" Estes chute, heavily reefed to cut down on the aforementioned recovery walk. That didn't matter though. I walked myself to death anyway. This hobby needs caddies.
Flight Rating: 4 out of 5
PROs: Classic styling, variety of catalog paint schemes to choose from, and foolproof design and instructions.
CONs: Not enough shock cord! And would it kill Estes to come into the 21st century and start including Kevlar® as part of the recovery system?
Overall Rating: 4 out of 5
Background: This spring I ran a build session for faculty kids at the school where I teach. I ended up using the Quest Bright Hawk for the 7-9 year olds and the Quest Big Betty for the 10-12 year olds. After the build session, I began thinking about the types of rockets that would make great first builds for a budding rocketeer. I wanted to select rockets to compare that had the ...
(by Paul Gray) Background The Big Bertha is a classic rocket built and flown by thousands of people around the world since 1965. Its was designed to have a rather impressive size and to develop the skills of people who are advancing themselves further in the hobby of model rocketry. Because of its size and performance, it is a great rocket to fly on a football field on C motors, ...