What Is a Model Rocket?

A model rocket is a small-scale, non-professional rocket designed for safe, educational, and recreational flight. Often constructed from lightweight materials, these rockets are propelled by solid fuel engines, soaring skyward before deploying a parachute for a gentle return. Intrigued by the thrill of launch? Discover how you can start your own journey into the exhilarating world of model rocketry.
Dan Cavallari
Dan Cavallari

A model rocket is a small, powered craft that can be built from lightweight materials such as wood, plastic, or cardboard. The model rocket is usually designed in a similar fashion as larger rockets. Hobbyists can build model rockets and launch them to lower altitudes, then recover the lightweight crafts as they fall back to the earth. Specially designed, one-use engines are inserted into the rockets to propel them skyward, and a parachute is usually attached to the inside of each rocket; it is deployed once the rocket reaches its peak altitude.

A launch pad is necessary to properly launch a model rocket. The rocket is attached to the launch pad rod, which extends vertically from a metal base. A guide tube attached to the outside of the rocket allows it to launch straight off the vertical rod and into the air. The process of launching the model rocket starts with properly packing the internal components of the rocket: an engine is inserted into a special cradle at the bottom of the rocket, and batting are loaded in from the top of the rocket to build up pressure that will eventually deploy the parachute. The parachute is loaded in at the top of the rocket, and the nose cone is inserted into the top of the body tube.

People can build model rockets and launch them to lower altitudes.
People can build model rockets and launch them to lower altitudes.

The model rocket engine must be ignited, so a specially designed electric match is loaded into the bottom of the engine prior to the launch. This match features metal leads to which metal clamps can be affixed. The metal clamps are attached to a long wire that ends in a launch control unit; this unit usually has three features: a lock, an activation light, and a launch button. The lock must be inserted into the control unit to make launching possible. Once it is inserted, the button can be depressed. The light will activate if an electrical current has passed successfully through the wire, and the rocket will launch.

Once the rocket takes flight, it will reach certain altitudes based on the size of the rocket's engine and the overall design of the model rocket. It will reach a peak altitude, before deploying some sort of recovery method, often a parachute that will allow the rocket to fall gently back down to the earth. This part of the recovery process can be problematic, since parachutes tend to get caught in trees, power lines, and other obstructions.

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Discussion Comments


@JimmyT - Luckily, both of the things you mentioned have pretty easy fixes. As far as the paint goes, if you put on a good model primer beforehand, that should help to cover up the lines when you put the paint on. Multiple coats of paint might help, too.

For the nose cone not popping out, there are a couple of things to check. Like the article mentions, making sure you are using wadding and the correct amount is very important. A lot of people disregard this, but they shouldn't. If you're already doing that, you might just try using a model knife and shaving a line layer of the plastic away from the nose where it fits in. My test of a good diameter is that you don't want to nose to fall out when you turn it upside down, but if you shake the rocket a couple times, it should dislodge.

As far as buying models goes, I get most of mine from a store called Hobby Lobby. I think they are scattered throughout the US. If you don't have any, you might just have to order online.


Does anyone know of any good stores to find model rocket plans? The Wal-Mart where I live just has one or two different types, and my son has gotten both of those and put them together. I don't even know what types of places would sell model rockets.

I'm also wondering if anyone here can give us some tips. The first problem we have been having is with the painting. It is really hard to get the paint not to run. I'm not really sure what the problem is. A lot of times, too, the model rocket tube lines are still visible under the paint. I'm wondering how to stop that, as well.

Besides the lines, there has been a problem with the nose cone not coming out at the right time and crashing to the ground. Has anyone ever experienced this? Any help solving that problem would also be helpful.


@titans62 - I think you're right that most of the kids that get started making model rockets are in 4-H. Maybe part of the reason you don't see it as much anymore is because as many kids aren't in 4-H in your area. I know clubs are shrinking and losing funding recently. I help out with a club, though, and it is still going strong.

I love going to the fair every year and watching the kids set their rockets off. They always have a lot of fun with it, even if they don't always end up finding where they end up.

The biggest problem I see is that kids will use large model rocket engines that are way too big for the rocket itself. They usually think bigger is better, but unless you're launching it in a big, open field or there is no wind that day, there is a good chance the larger engines will end up with your model a long ways away.


I don't think I can count how many trees I climbed as a kid trying to get my model rockets down. I really had a lot of fun building them, though. I got interested in it through a friend that was in 4-H. I eventually joined and made a rocket every year that got judged at the county fair. I was lucky enough in my last two years to have my rockets get selected for the state fair competition. I never did win, but I did come in 2nd place one year.

I don't hear about as many kids making model rockets now, though. Maybe I just don't know a lot of kids that age, but even when I was little, there were a few stores in my town that had model rockets for sale and sold the different components. I just don't see stuff like that anymore unless you go to a hobby store that sells a lot of models and those types of things.

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    • People can build model rockets and launch them to lower altitudes.
      By: ClintonIowa
      People can build model rockets and launch them to lower altitudes.