My fascination with the Thunderbird missile first began around 1975. I found a 2" x 2" black & white photo in a book I had checked out from the local library. There was very little data about the missile, other than a mention that it was a surface to air defense weapon deployed after WWII and into the cold war. My memory is understandably fuzzy, but my best recollection of the photograph had the missile depicted in a camouflage motif, and the caption described its deployment as part of a NATO defense structure.

Using that tiny photograph, I set out in 1975 to construct my first scale model of the Thunderbird. It was built out of Estes components, and it seemed really hefty for a model rocket of its time. I used a BT-60 (~1.5" diameter) for the sustainer airframe and BT-50's (~1" diameter) for the boosters. It stood about two feet tall and was powered by a single 24mm motor. I entered the rocket in the Estes Design of the Month contest and won a $50 gift certificate (which was a fortune to a 15 year old kid in 1974).

Fast forward to the summer of 2000. By this time I had begun flying mid-power rockets and once again caught the bug to build the mysterious parallel staged Thunderbird.

This time I intended to make the boosters functional, not decorative. And I wanted them to drop off after burnout. I would vector the motors toward the center of gravity like the original Thunderbird. This would add the advantage of stability if one of the motors failed to ignite. Also for reasons of stability, I would air-start the booster motors after the rocket had achieved a stabile velocity. (I used this method on the prototype only - the later version used only AP propellant, which I chose to ignite all at once on the pad.)

I would have liked to do some additional research, but I encountered one major obstacle - I couldn't remember what the missile was called! Brother Rick was convinced that it was named Pegasus, but searching for information using that title that was a boondoggle. A Web search with this lack of accurate information was very frustrating. I did find my way to the British Royal Air Force web site and found reference to the Bloodhound Missile (photo at left). It was familiar (parallel boosters, similar aft sustainer fins, vectored booster nozzles, etc.) but it wasn't the design I remembered - no asymmetrical nose cones, it had ram jet boosters, etc. But it was the closest I could come to the missile I remembered.Bloodhound Mk1 Missile

So, in the spirit of similar but different, I named the project the RAF Basset and I moved forward with what I had. Rick found the battered remains of the 25-year-old rocket in his basement in Minnesota and shipped them to me in Arizona. More accurately, these remains included one nose cone, one intact sample of each balsa fin, and a few brittle body tubes. This was the basis for my high-powered design.

My first attempt at recreating the Thunderbird (a.k.a. RAF Basset) from a fading memory was really not too bad, considering that a quarter century had elapsed since I last saw a photo of the missile. Compare the photos below of the actual missile in flight to the picture of the RAF Basset and you'll see what I mean. This 'prototype' flew five times, and now stands retired on a shelf over my workbench.

After our first round of RAF Basset launches, my brother Mark had a brainstorm and did a missile search using European search engines instead of an American version. This turned up a web site featuring historical photographs of the Farnborough Air Show, and one of those showed a picture of the Thunderbird (photo at top left). Ironically, this web page referred to the photograph as the Bloodhound Missile, misinformation which only added to our confusion. Then brother Rick finally found a website maintained by a British model rocketeer and fellow Thunderbird SAM enthusiast Adrian Hurt. Adrian had created a flying semi-scale version of the Thunderbird SAM. So now I finally had access to the data I needed to make a more accurate working model. His web site was a treasure-trove of information and all the detailed photographs I used for my scale recreation are courtesy of his web site. I also learned that, while the Bloodhound was indeed a weapon of the Royal Air Force, the British Army deployed the Thunderbird SAM, so it is inappropriate to include RAF in the title.

There is much useful information in the RAF Basset link, even though the later Thunderbird design proved to be more accurate and mechanically ingenious. I explain more completely how I used RockSim to simulate the complex design on the Basset page, so if you skip directly to the Thunderbird SAM page you may want to look that part over at some point.

Click here to go to the Thunderbird SAM Design page

Click here to go to the RAF Basset 'Prototype' page

Click here to return to the Thunderbird Mk1 Index

Click here to return to the RAF Basset Index

Here is another link to more Thunderbird information. It isnt really very clear to the rest of us how Mark stumbles across some of this information, but he keeps finding web sites dedicated to the Thunderbird. This is a great collection of stuff, but of course it comes too late to do me any good in building my scale version. Maybe it will help you.

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