I have loved model rockets since I was a kid, but instead of building from kits I prefer to make funky ones from scratch. About a year ago, I got the idea to make a dual-engine model rocket in the shape of Iron Man. The idea presented a lot of unique challenges--which I've enjoyed working on--but this was one project I was happy to finally get out of the way.
I spent many nights lying awake trying to figure out how to make a man-shaped model rocket flight-stable, how and what to make him out of (to keep the weight down), how to construct the parachute deployment system, how to mount him onto a launch rod, what kind of launcher I would have to make, and on and on. I resolved most of the issues, and I'll show you how all of these ideas came together.
There were plenty of missteps and failures along the way throughout this project, but I've cut most of that out in order to keep this as straight-forward as possible. Please excuse the shoddiness of the exterior details on the finished rocket. This is less about the actual Iron Man character, and more about my journey and the process of trying to make and fly a crazy man-shaped rocket. In the end, you'll see that I had mixed results with this project.
I began by making the head, which I figured would be the hardest part. You can see the details of that here.
Step 1: Body
I laid out a design for the body by copying details from photos of Iron Man and an Iron Man toy I borrowed from a friend. If you're feeling ambitious, I've included a PDF with the front and side lay-outs that I created. The total height of the finished rocket is 36 inches.
I ordered rocket supplies from apogeerockets.com, which has been a very nice company to work with. I ordered a bunch of 24mm tubes (which hold D- and E-size Estes model rocket engines), some tube couplers, engine block rings, launch lugs, and kevlar cord.
My first attempt at making the body was with layers of pink insulation foam glued together with the rocket tube structure sandwiched inside. I used a sharp knife to carve out the body shape, which was tedious and messy. In the end it weighed too much to use and I had miscalculated the proportions, so the head which I had already finished was too small for the body. After plenty of cursing, the pink foam body ended up in the trash... in very tiny pieces. I re-sized the lay-out, and waited a few months till I was ready to work on it again.
For my second attempt, I decided to build the body up using foam board (1/4-inch foam sandwiched between paper). This proved to work very nicely for making a lightweight skeletal-type structure, but led to some difficulties in covering.
Step 2: Rocket Tube Structure
The rocket tube structure was assembled with regular white glue. The 45-degree cuts were made using a miter saw.
The parachute deployment system I came up with is basically a hatch attached to the back of the rocket with a long cord that is shot off when the engines backfire. The parachute is attached to the cord, but is stored in a compartment all its own outside of the actual rocket tubes. This is a technique I've used on other oddball rockets and it seems to work well, if I make sure there is no way for the parachute to get stuck once the hatch is blown out of the way.
Step 3: Exhaust Tube
The two main tubes lead to one exhaust tube. Prior to gluing, surfaces of the tubes were roughened up with sandpaper.
Step 4: Building Up the Body
The foam board body cross-sections were glued to the rocket tubes to build up the body. White glue was used for this. Notice the slight space left at the bottom of the tubes where the foot pieces were added.
There was a lot of shaping, reshaping, and moving things around from this point on. This was very much a sculpture, and required quite a bit of eyeballing and continually adjusting things to suit my tastes.
Step 5: The Launcher
Before I got too far on the body, I had to figure out how this was going to be launched, and where to put the launch lugs (the little tubes that hold the rocket to the launch rod to guide the rocket on take-off).
I paused here and built a launcher, and figured out how to have the rod go right up through the middle of the rocket without coming out the top of Iron Man's head.
This launcher design was made specifically to accommodate some giant removable fins I was going place underneath Iron Man's feet when it was time to fly. These were going to be added to increase flight stability.
Step 6: Finishing Up the Skeletal Structure
I made individually shaped pieces out of foam board to fill-out and define the body. I tried lots of things prior to this, but this method seemed to produce the lightest, most effective results. These pieces were all glued on with hot glue. This step required some modifying to the body cross sections to get a shape I was ultimately satisfied with.
I've included a couple of photos of some failed tries at finishing the body. For various reasons, neither idea worked very well.
Step 7: A Layer of Skin
I used masking tape to create a skin over the body shape. This took two rolls of tape, and added quite a bit of weight.
Step 8: Craft Foam Covering
I probably should have just painted the tape and called it good. But I thought it would look nice to give him a clean covering of craft foam.
I cut individual pieces to fit and used 3M 77 spray adhesive to glue them in place.
I thought the legs turned out looking pretty slick. But I realized how dumb it was to add this extra weight to a thing that was probably going to crash, so I didn't completely finish covering the body with the craft foam.
Step 9: Painting
This was a messy, heavy, primerless single coat of crimson red, immediately followed with a few spots of gold and spot of white. I used a thick permanent marker to draw in some details, and glued the head in place.
Even though it seemed like I was trying to make this look crappy, it still turned out decent... if you're squinting from about 10 feet away.
Step 10: Flight Damage
I launched it and it crashed and broke his neck. The video quality was so bad it's not even worth sharing.
It was a fun project anyway, and one I'd like to revisit some time.
Grand Prize in the
Krylon Summer Projects Contest