Pictures and Drawings




I first decided to write this paper late in 1995 because it looked like privately-funded manned spaceflight was never going to happen. There has been a lot of talk about the subject with various space development societies promoting their ideas. Ideas, dinners and galas will not put someone in space -- someone has to act.

I first learned of the X-Prize shortly after I sent this paper to various individuals and small rocket companies. There are now 15 officially registered competitors for the X-Prize

I met one aerospace engineer who was interested in working on the manned rocket named Joe. Joe came up with a design, introduced me to hybrid rocket motors, and became my mentor. He would design rocket motors on his computer, then go to his garage and cut them out with lathes, drills, saws, and elbow grease. I felt like Luke Skywalker being taught by Obi-Wan Joe the rocket master. I have yet to meet anyone who held the fire and passion from that better vanished time that everyone calls the "glory days" of manned spaceflight. To put it simply Joe is my hero.

Nineteen ninety-seven looked to be Joe’s and Glen’s best year yet. The design of the craft was nearing completion, the skeleton structure was under construction, Joe had the materials to build a thousand-pound thrust motor and had already fired a 100-pound test motor, but there are more things in life more dangerous than experimental manned rockets; Joe was involved in a tragic car wreck during the Christmas holidays. A 3000-foot manned rocket launch has been trivialized by some people as a cheap stunt, but no one yet has accomplished it. The Germans tried in 1933 to launch a man to 3000 feet and their project ended in chaos. Evel Knieval failed to fly over the Snake River Canyon, and others have started manned projects and lost interest.

If a privately funded 3000-foot manned rocket launch was such a cheap stunt, it would have been accomplished by now. What N.A.S.A. and the military have done is great, but they will never let us buy tickets to ride their rockets, but we will pay for them with our taxes.

The X-prize is mankind’s greatest hope to reach the stars. When I first heard about it, it humbled me. I was glad that the future of civilians in space now had a bright new shinning star of hope, but I also felt a little dejected because it was now really hard to sell a low-altitude manned rocket built in a garage and flown by a novice skydiver. But Joe cheered me up and was determined to drive forward with the project hoping to fly our rocket before the aerospace company heavyweights could get their spaceships off the chalkboard. Joe did not believe in leaving anything to chance or fate.

This is the story of the little rocket that could have -- and still might.



The Barnstorming

Air Show Rocket

By Glen May



The purpose of this short paper is to promote a manned rocket flight to 3000 feet, organized and constructed by rocket experimenters. The year 2000 is rapidly approaching and no privately sponsored manned rocket has yet to rumble off the launchpad. Evel Knieval made one valiant attempt to jump the Snake River Canyon in the 1970’s, but the parachute deployed before the " Sky Cycle" left the ramp. Evel survived and he and the engineer Bob Truax made a considerable amount of money. The technology exists to accomplish a 3000 foot manned launch; all that is needed now is the vision, funding, purpose, teamwork, and a willing rocket pilot to accomplish this daring deed.



The manned rocket will be propelled by a solid propellant engine and recovered by parachute. After the parachute opens, the rocket pilot will open the capsule section of the rocket, bailout, freefall for 5 seconds, and open his own parachute.

A engine burn time of about 7 seconds and a speed of 280 mph will be needed to attain an altitude of 3000 feet. Complete deployment of the rocket main parachute should be completed by 2600 feet, bailout by 2300 feet, and the pilot’s parachute deployed by 2000 feet.

The fueled rocket should weigh no more than 1500 pounds and be capable of lifting a 250 pound person. Acceleration should not exceed 5 g’s ( 4 G’s actual acceleration + 1 G Earth). The total liftoff weight should not exceed 1750 pounds. The engine or engines will need to develop 5500 pounds of thrust at liftoff.


The rocket will have the following characteristics:

  1. The rocket will be all one piece unless there are stages
  2. The rocket will be fin stabilized
  3. The rocket will have a capsule section on top that will be wider than the engine section
  4. The engine section will be attached to the capsule section
  5. The engine section will have large fins to keep the rocket stable
  6. The capsule section will be able to be opened to allow the pilot to bail out at low and high speeds
  7. The pilot will be strapped in until the rocket parachute opens
  8. The rocket parachute will be big enough to slow the rocket and pilot down to 12 mph in case the pilot blacks out and / or is not able to bailout
  9. The rocket parachute will be activated by a preset timer, but will also have a manual override for the pilot in case of an emergency
  10. The parachute will be made of flame resistant material
  11. The capsule section will have a window so the pilot can see the horizon
  12. The rocket will resemble a 60 or 81 millimeter mortar round, large at the front with a skinny body, and fins


  • Rocket Flight Profile:

    1. The rocket will accelerate for about 7 seconds or about half of the flight
    2. The engine will burn out at about 1600 feet with the rocket traveling about 280 mph
    3. The rocket will coast and slowly start to arch attaining a peak altitude of 3000 feet
    4. At the peak altitude, the parachute will deploy from behind the capsule section of the rocket
    5. When the parachute is fully open, the pilot will unbuckle his seating harness, open the capsule section and bailout
    6. The pilot will freefall for 3 to 5 seconds and deploy a ramair parachute
    7. The pilot will then fly the ramair parachute to the designated landing area and land
    8. The total time in the air from liftoff to landing is estimated to be about 3 minutes



    The Funding

    Funding is probably the hardest part of the project to conceptualize. This paper is going out to many rocket and experimental aircraft enthusiasts, and I hope generates many ideas. Some that I’ve thought of are pretty conventional, but some may be far-fetched.

    1. Appeal to rocket manufacturers to exchange materials and services for advertising of their company. A decal of the company logo could be placed on the side of the rocket much like race car promoters do
    2. Sell stock to bring in capital for the rocket and launch. The share holders can make a profit from the launch and the marketing that follows
    3. Find out prior to launch if any TV program would consider airing the launch
    4. Ask pop music stars if they would like to use the launch as a back drop for a music video
    5. Sell videos, T-shirts, hats, posters, coffee cups, comic books, etc. of the launch
    6. Ask former Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo astronauts to come promote the launch by being present
    7. Ask the astronauts if they would donate us a short speech
    8. Using imagination, obtain the capital by any honest, moral, and legal means necessary
    9. Ask Coca-Cola or Budweiser if they would be interested in making a commercial using the launch
    10. Ask any other companies if they would be interested in making commercials using the launch


    I anticipate this project to be relatively inexpensive. We are not going to the moon, just to 3000 feet with all the fire, smoke, and thunder that NASA once shot for the moon. All that is needed is a rocket that will not fall apart at 300 mph, an engine that develops 5500 pounds of thrust reliably for 7 seconds, a surplus Army cargo parachute, a comfortable flight seat, a used sport parachute rig, the courage to believe in our work, and a willing pilot to strap himself inside a flame spitting missile.

    The Purpose

    The reason we should launch a manned rocket is simple we can do it. Other reasons:

    1. It will be great fun
    2. The technical challenge
    3. Gain respect
    4. Inspire the youth of today
    5. Achieve another first for Americans
    6. Make money from marketing the launch
    7. Generate more interest in rocketry
    8. It will be spectacular
    9. Begin with a small step private manned space flight
    10. Set a world record
    11. Give an affordable option to those who would like to ride a rocket and go into space
    12. Because we love to watch rockets fly and we are going to build them anyway

    The Team

    In the beginning, ideas for the construction and design of the rocket should be freely shared between enthusiasts. The Internet, telephone, and the postman should be our couriers.

    All involved should elect officials like president, vice president, and treasurer, etc. to organize the efforts. Action steps will be voted on just like any organization.

    Various talents will be needed, some of them are:


    1. Aerospace Engineers
    2. CNC Milling Machine Operators
    3. CAD-CAM Technicians
    4. Welders
    5. Parachute Riggers
    6. Simulation Software Operators
    7. Accountants
    8. Legal Advisors
    9. Photographers
    10. Propellant Chemist
    11. Materials Engineers
    12. And other craftsman that I haven’t thought of



    The Willing Rocket Pilot

    Well, if you haven’t already guessed, I’m one volunteer. I’m 34, 185 pounds, 5’ 11’’, and in good health. I am not just a thrill seeker; I just have dreams that will not die. I know I can survive this and I believe and trust in parachutes. I have made over 300 parachute jumps, mostly sport, and some in the Infantry of the 82nd Airborne Division . I do believe this project is potentially dangerous, but it is a necessary rite of passage. Manned rocket flight is the wide open highway we must travel for the growth of privately funded experimental rocketry.


    Why 3000 Feet?

    1. Low cost

    2. Lowest altitude that a bailout can reliably and safely be


    3. Low speed makes for a safer flight

    4. To give the crowd a good show since the whole flight will be

    clearly visible

    5. Not much is needed to set a world record in this


    Development Outline

    1. Share ideas via telephone, Internet, and mail with those interested
    2. Build scale prototypes and scale launches. The challenge to those accustomed to building long skinny rockets will be to build a "mortar round" rocket that is stable accelerating at only 3 to 5 G’s
    3. Incorporate, elect officers, gain capital
    4. Find a willing backup pilot
    5. Build two rockets, and one mock capsule section
    6. Suspend the mock capsule section in the air about 10 feet and practice bailouts over a lake, swimming pool, air bag , or trapeze net
    7. Launch one rocket with a 225 pound dummy (not me) and an accelerometer to determine the G forces the pilot will have to undergo
    8. Set up a launch date, sign waivers
    9. Light the candle



    Every conceivable danger must be openly discussed. Some of my own concerns are:


    1. The parachute system for the rocket must have a manual override. If the rocket breaks up in flight, the pilot needs to have a way to stop it.
    2. The safety restraint that keeps the pilot in the seat needs to have an easy single point release
    3. The capsule section needs to have an easy exit
    4. The capsule section should be free of protruding objects that could snag a reserve ripcord handle
    5. The most reliable solid propellant engine should be used
    6. A method of inspecting the propellant grain before launch needs to be invented


    The parachute for the rocket will be stowed behind the capsule section. The fins could snag the pilot chute and prevent parachute deployment. I would recommend a ballistic parachute deployment at a 90 degree angle to the rocket so that the pilot chute will clear the fins.

    The fact that the rocket is fat at the top and skinny in the main body makes it difficult to use a launch lug like a conventional model rocket would use. Some method of keeping the rocket stable during its first few moments of flight needs to be conceived.


    A possible solution to the rocket parachute deployment would be to use a parachute with a long bridle line . The parachute shroud lines would not start unstowing until the bridle line is fully stretched out and the parachute and its deployment bag are behind the fins of the rocket. This should prevent an entanglement.

    Target Specifications

    Engine burn time 7 seconds + /- 1 second

    Powered flight distance 1600 feet + /- 200 feet

    Rocket speed at

    engine burnout 280 mph +/- 20 mph

    Coast distance 1400 feet + /- 200 feet

    Peak altitude 3000 feet + /- 250 feet

    Maximum acceleration 5 G’s

    ( Earth plus rocket engine)

    Loaded rocket weight 1750 lb.

    with pilot

    Minimum liftoff thrust 5500 lb.

    Estimated flight time of

    rocket before parachute

    deployment 20 seconds

    Estimated total time in air 3 minutes

    Maximum pilot weight

    with parachute 250 lb.

    Stabilization method fin

    Engine solid propellant

    Ignition method electrical



    Allow your imagination to soar. You walk towards the launch tower with flight suit and helmet on. Pause a minute and look at the strange rocket that will carry you into the blue sky. Climb into the capsule, strap yourself in, and say a quick prayer before the countdown begins. As the countdown ends, hear the sound of rolling thunder when the solid fuel ignites and you are pushed into your seat. The roar of the engine becomes deafening as the fiery rocket defies the earth and goes whizzing through the sky. The crushing G forces are replaced with a euphoric sense of weightlessness as the engine spits its last flame. The ship coasts for a few precious moments. You are relieved when you feel the jolt from the main parachute opening. It is time to eject the canopy, bail out, give a good "Airborne" hard arch and pull the ripcord. The beautiful red, white, and blue parachute opens. Spiral down and land in front of the clapping crowd. You and the team are steely-eyed missilemen.


    For Krafft Ehricke and Max Valier- The boldest of the bold

    To Phillip for keeping the dream

    To Joe for everything

    And the crew of Apollo 1, Challenger, and all the cosmonauts, engineers, and workers who lost there lives aiming for the stars


    Have Parachute

    Need Rocket

    UPDATE: This paper was first mailed on Jan 27 1996. I have had several responses to this paper. I have been advised that a liquid fueled engine or a hybrid would be a better choice for this task..

    I now believe solid propellant engines should not be used .

    A hybrid engine would be safest.

    The rocket altitude goal has been moved to 4000 feet to give a extra margin of safety.

    This paper has been altered from the original


    Copy at will



    Glen May

    118 Tamin Cove

    Byhalia, Mississippi 38611


    Phone (662) 893 0240



    The Counter Proposal

    Dear Glen:

    My name is Joe, I have a degree in Aerospace Engineering with a background in propulsion. I am writing in response to your "Manned Model Rocket Project" proposal which you submitted to my company RPS. I must admit that when I first opened your package and read the title I was highly skeptical. As I read your proposal however, and did some number crunching with your various specifications, I came to the conclusion that the task probably could be accomplished for both reasonable cost and risk.

    If you will bear with me I do have some comments and suggestions for you.

    My first suggestion is you change the name of the project. I believe that you may have trouble convincing potential (non technical) corporate sponsors that you want to launch yourself in a large model rocket! I also feel that the term "Model Rocket" does not reflect the serious challenges that this project will pose.

    I’ve enclosed some copies of photos that I took at Edwards AFB in 1979 when Budweiser sponsored a rocket powered car to break the sound barrier. I believe if they were able to obtain corporate sponsorship so should you.

    While your proposal to use a solid rocket to boost a mortar type vehicle is certainly feasible and probably could be done safely, I have drafted a proposal that I think would have some advantages.


    Although solid propellant rockets are certainly easy to use, just light the candle and go so to speak they are not easy to design and build.

    Some of the factors that must be considered are....

    0 What type of thrust time curve is desired?




    0 The trust time curve will determine the propellant grain geometry.

    0 The propellant must then be mixed and cast into the motor casing while molding the proper grain geometry and avoiding the formation of void spaces.

    0 Ideally the propellant should be degassed in a partial vacuum, and curved in a temperature controlled oven.

    0 This all must be done with approximately 200 pounds of highly flammable propellant.

    0 of course the one major operational disadvantage of solids are their lack of controllability, once lit there is no stopping them!

    For the last year I have been developing hybrid propulsion systems for high powered rockets and have been very pleased with the results. The fuel grain (HTPB) is very easy to cast. With the use of plasticizers it can be poured easily like any liquid. A simple port burning fuel grain exhibits neutral burn characteristics. The fuel is virtually inert under normal conditions and poses no combustion hazard. the oxidizer, nitrous oxide, similarly poses no hazard under normal conditions and requires no preparation. The Nitrous oxide is simple injected into the combustion chamber and the motor is ignited! One of the other features I like about this system is its controllability. The motor can be started and stopped at will, a handy feature if your were to find yourself veering way off course. My test stand is computer controlled and I have consecutively started and stopped a motor up to three times. The motors can be throttled to some degree, and with some work I believe they could be throttled over a fairly wide range. (Not suggesting we necessarily develop throttleable motors for your project). Another attractive feature of the hybrid system is that it is reusable, and can be designed to be expandable, in the event a higher total impulse were desired at a late date!

    I’ve enclosed sketches of two preliminary designs of hybrid motors for use in your project. The 5500 LB thrust motor design to be used with your mortar type airframe, and the 1500 LB thrust motor to be used in an airframe I propose and will discuss below.


    I assume that the reason you specified the large diameter crew compartment and small diameter afterbody is to reduce the chance of striking the vehicleif you had to bail out while still in forward flight during an emergency situation. (e.g. if the parachute failed to deploy properly). One problem you may encounter in such a situation are the recirculation zones that exist behind bluff bodies like the crew compartment. These recirculation zones would tend to pull you in, putting you on a possible collision course with the fins or afterbody.

    One way to avoid this hazard would be to build a vehicle that had no fins or afterbody. I propose building a conical shaped vehicle that is inherently aerodynamically stable and requires no fins. The vehicle would have an open canopy, and in the event of an emergency egress situation you would simple pull yourself up onto the head rest and lean backwards to let the slip stream slide you off the back of the vehicle like a sliding board.

    Another advantage of the conical shaped vehicle is it structural stability. The load from the smaller forward sections are distributed over the larger areas of the sections immediately behind.

    A conical shaped vehicle would also be very easy to build since it is composed entirely of straight lines. With the low acceleration involved (3 to 4 Gs) it could be constructed of anything from aircraft grade lumber to composite materials.

    Please keep in mind that all calculations and proposals are preliminary and are not etched in stone. For example upon further examination it may be decided that a hydrogen peroxide solution or liquid oxygen may be preferred to nitrous oxide. Or perhaps a closed canopy may be desired over an open canopy. There is a lot of work ahead to be done! Please review this, and let me know what you think.

    Good Luck




    Ram Propulsion Systems