How can I begin to describe the rocket knows as "Big Stinky"?

It began life as the center core of a large roll of bubble wrap, and as such had a very thick wall of dense cardboard. It had a smell like rotten eggs, which accounts for the name; added to the top was a 9-inch balsa nose-cone and it was stabilized by fairly large reinforced fins.

It's parachute was a whopping 3' of rip-stop nylon. It was designed with heavy-duty engine mount, with a replaceable core, the idea being that it could be launched with a variety of different engine configurations.

It required a reinforced launch pad, which I made out of PVC and a large pizza pan; the launch rod was 3/16" diameter steel and 4" long.

All in all, it was a massive rocket, and I devoted an inordinate amount of my time to it's development and maintenance.


Big Stinky was simply too heavy for the D engines I initially tried to launch it with.

It would sputter on the pad after the engine ignited, rising a little bit on it's launch rod, burning a hole in the pizza plate with it's blow-torch of an engine.

Sometimes it would rise about 10' into the air, and then come down on it's nose, which once required me to trim about 6" from it's top and some re-gluing.


Other times, it would launch about 50' in the air, and just get it's chute opened in time to cushion it's fall.

I tried to launch Big Stinky just about every time we launched rockets throughout the year 2000. Every time I had a different configuration, and we had incremental success.

But I was never entirely satisfied.


One of the more ludicrous ideas I had was to turn Big Stinky into a two stage rocket.

In theory, it might have worked. The lower stage was made of the same bubble-wrap core as the upper stage, and had a cluster of 3 C engines to power Big Stinky into the air, where the D powered upper stage would take it to new heights!

Alas, there was a problem with the ignition. Getting all 3 engines in a cluster to light is never an easy task, and in this case, only one engine ignited.

In retrospect, this was an awful idea. You see, 3 C engines have the lifting power of 1-and-a-half D engines. So, I was adding additional weight to the construct, in the form of a first stage, while only providing a 50% increase in power. Dumb, dumb, dumb!

Anyway, the single C engine ignited, which made the whole thing dance around on the launch pad; next, the Upper Stage ignited (as expected) but there was no separation; the D engine in the upper stage fired downward into the first stage, and the fire caught the remaining C engines (from the top!) and they fired upwards. The whole thing caught fire.

The pressure of the upward-burning C engines finally forced the stages apart, and Stinky flew off the launch pad at much too low a velocity to remain airborne, and it flopped over onto the ground, leaving the merrily-burning first stage smoking on the launch pad.

Amazingly, Big Stinky was undamaged, though we were all about done-in, what with the laughing and all.


Finally, I graduated to E engines, and here's Stinky going up!


... and here's Stinky coming down!

Stinky had an ignoble end.




Stinky always had a problem, which was that the engines rarely ejected the parachute with enough force to push it all of the way out of the body tube.

I thought that this was a problem with the engines I was using, but now I realize that there was a design flaw in Big Stinky. The body chamber was just too big, and the ejection gasses could never generate enough pressure to forcefully eject the recovery device. I should have built it with a "stuffer" tube, to channel the ejection gasses up into the proportionally-smaller chamber.

Well, I finally decided to launch Stinky with an F engine. This is four-times as powerful as a D engine, but considering Stinky's sturdy construction (and disregarding it's "birth defect") I decided that it could withstand the greater forces.

I was right. Stinky flew higher than it ever had before. At ejection, the parachute never cleared the tube. Stinky plummeted to earth, crashing down onto the roof of a house at least a mile down range.

The only one home was a teenage girl who didn't answer the door. We left a note, and I was later called by the owner of the house...a cop! He was cool, and returned the mangled corpse of Big Stinky.

I kept Big Stinky around for several weeks, trying to decide how to fix it. Eventually, I gave up and tossed it into the trash.

Big Stinky remains the "one who got away." There will never be another rocket quite like it.



Last Updated Friday, July 19, 2002