Picture of compressed air rockets
When I was at the Bay Area Maker Faire earlier this year I saw a display that had a compressed air paper rocket launcher. Kids would make their own paper rockets, load them onto a launching tube and fire them into the sky. I thought it was pretty cool, but wanted something more dangerous different.
So, how do you make compressed air rockets better? By making exploding compressed air paper rockets!!

Using simple Chinatown fireworks, combined with an elastic deployment system to eject a small toy parachute action figure, I designed a rocket which jettisons the parachute man from altitude. I made 3 test rockets which were designed to test and calibrate the compressed air launcher and 6 live rockets which were intended to test the theory and intent of my design. Unfortunately, it didn't quite turn out the way it was supposed to. All 6 live rockets exploded, melted or malfunctioned and no parachute men were successfully deployed.

So, instead of this being a how-to it's more of a how-not-to. Check out the video where all the spectacular failures are captured:
Obviously working with fireworks, compressed air, power tools and rockets is dangerous business. Use common sense and work within your ability.

Enough talk, let's explode some rockets!

Step 1: Tools + materials

Picture of tools + materials

  • hacksaw
  • wood saw
  • drill + bits (various sizes, wood bits)
  • scissors
  • hobby knife
  • PVC glue
  • lighter
  • masking tape
  • bicycle pump

  • pvc pipe
    • 1 x 2" diameter pipe (roughly 24" long)
    • 1 x 2" cap
    • 1 x 2" diam to 1.5" diam. bushing
    • 2 x 1" threaded coupler
    • 1 x 1" diameter pipe (roughly 24" long)
  • launch platform
    • scrap wood uprights
    • scrap 1/4" plywood base
    • scrap 2x4" for blocking
    • scrap 2x4" for launcher stabilizer
  • sprinkler valve (1" ingress/egress)
  • compressed air-gun trigger
  • Schrader valve (inner tube valve)
  • paper
  • cardboard / cardstock
  • elastic bands
  • threaded rod + wingnut
  • cable ties


Is this for beginners? I want a rocket for beginners. Also I want a rocket that flies very high. Do you know how to make a rocket that flies extremely high for beginners?

THX in advance

mikeasaurus (author)  full_court_baller1013 months ago

This project is pretty good for beginners, but there's also this!

ok. THX again

marshall.hird7 months ago

so i made on and the valve seems to release very slow. Batteries are good. anyone

know what the problem may be???

mikeasaurus (author)  marshall.hird7 months ago

The sprinkler valve should have instantaneous release of all stored air. If you are getting a slow release are you using the right valve?

There are no batteries with this system.

ilpug4 years ago
awesome, i saw that very same exhibit at that very same maker faire and thought something along these lines. well done. couple things though:

-slightly larger images of the payload assembly might help

-Did you do this on top of a building? in a city? next to skyscrapers? do you know how illegal and dangerous that is? one of these could have easily blown out one of those shiny windows. im not sure what psi you are using, but if its anything like the rocket launchers at maker faire, they have considerable range. great build, just shoot it off somewhere else next time.

other than that small safety rant, nice job!
DAE (ilpug)
No. Paper "rockets" are not taking out the safety-glass of high-rise buildings. Sorry. Not gonna happen.

The ones the kids typically build, even when over-taped, are 15-17 grams. They might crack window glass at point-blank ranges, _maybe_, but even right up against it they're just going to smush on safety glass.

We've flown them with cameras at more than double the pressure the author of this I'bil notes. Although the muzzle velocity is high, the mass just isn't there.
Yeah, I see that now... Still, not the best place, especially with fireworks attached.
stumitch3 years ago
oh man THAT is absolutely fantastic!
avgas3 years ago
epic i can't wait to build one you should put a smoke bomb or bolt bomb in it !!!!!!
WYE_Lance3 years ago
Using an air nozzle for the trigger is a brilliant idea. Could you explain in further detail how to replace the solenoid with the compressed air nozzle? Also, where did you get the nozzle?

mvonsydow4 years ago
This is my version of the Compress Air Rocket Launcher. I've incorporated the launch stand into the air chamber and added a gauge to control pressure. Using 40 lbs of pressure, the rocket shown here has flown to 300 ft.
Why exactly did it ignight?
I have something much like this but you can buy a kit from the Makershed! These things are awsome. Good work!
jooknon4 years ago
Great idea but I think you need to modify your firework usage to get a better ...explosion. When we were kids we used to make "flower bombs" out of those fireworks you have pictured.
To avoid posting how to make things go boom on a public forum I'll send you a PM.
Plo Koon4 years ago
Did you do this on top of a building??
Where did you buy the valve and the trigger? i cant seem to find one online
You must have a lot of time on your hands. Pretty cool
mikeasaurus (author)  seanthesheep1014 years ago
Nope, the one thing I don't have is time on my hands. But I'm glad you like it.

Also, the thing in Step 7 is an animated GIF, check out how to make one.
How did you make the video thing on step 7
depotdevoid4 years ago
Sound like you had fun at least, better luck on your next project!
splazem4 years ago
Great job, again! I have to make these.
SHIFT!4 years ago
"A" for effort! As long as it's For Science, nothing is a failure!

....unless you accidentally created an overpowering army of intelligent man-apes bent on taking over the world.