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MDorffler 04-14-2009 02:28 PM

Ask Mike
My name is Mike Dorffler. Some of you know me, or know of me. I have been a model rocket kit designer with Estes Industries for nearly 40 years. I have over these years developed three camera systems, several launch controllers and launch pads, over 250 produced model rocket kits, several rocket motors, and several rocket related electronic items, all for this hobby we collectively enjoy. I have had lunch with Buzz Aldrin, Scott Carpenter, Joe Johnson and John Dyksta, Grant McQuen, and even Lee Van Cleef and Charlie Bronson, during the course of Estes business. I have made motors for movie special affects such as Firefox, aided in FBI criminal investigations, and even designed the model rocket launch system now in use at Space Camp.

I first started at Estes when the main plant at Penrose had just been completed and the parking area was still gravel. I worked with and helped build the company with Vern and Gleda, Bill Simon, Ed Brown, Gene Street, Wayne Kellner, Bill See and several other wonderful people and close friends. Over the years I have witnessed the many changes of management and ownership, and lived through the periods of company success and those of struggle.

As the time is approaching for me to exchange my modeling knives and body tubes for a fishing rod, I felt it might be worthwhile to offer to share my many experiences and rocketry knowledge base with the YORF forum members. With this post today I am opening the ďAsk MikeĒ forum for the purpose of offering you the opportunity to ask me anything you like related to Estes model rocketry history, model rocket kit development, kit designers, Estes personalities, or what happened when. Iíll share what we found worked and what didnít, why certain black powder types work for motors and why others donít, or even what manufacturing tolerances that must absolutely be maintained for certain components.

And then there is so much to tell about the intensity and incredible work ethic of the many people who I have had the pleasure of working with at Estes. These people are the ones responsible for bringing all of you the hobby of model rocketry in a way none of you have any concept of. Many are gone now but you should know about them. And then there are the antics of the R&D guys who purposely and shamefully tested the patience of Emma, our beloved custodian.

There is much Estes history to tell and for the YORF members to learn. This forum is therefore for you, the forum members to enjoy, and I hope all members eventually gravitate to it. Because I want our exchanges to generally be light in nature, I must request the following;

This forum is for the purpose of sharing information, not for bashing Estes Industries. If you want to vent your distain or anger at Estes Industries for any reason, donít do it on my forum as I will refuse to answer. I will not answer any questions regarding any aspect of the financial operation of Estes Industries. If you want to vent your anger at the government, write a letter to your local newspaper editor, donít post it on my forum. Be civil. You will get far more information from me that way.

Okay, who has a question?

A Fish Named Wallyum 04-14-2009 02:38 PM

We're Not Worthy!!! :d

Leo 04-14-2009 02:39 PM

Mike, welcome aboard.

I must say it is great seeing you here. I look forward to many threads relating to Estes rocketry, from the past to the present :)

A Fish Named Wallyum 04-14-2009 02:41 PM

Antics. We're all about antics. How about a story or twenty?

SEL 04-14-2009 02:52 PM


Thanks for joining the forum and giving us this opportunity to pick your brain.

Being a motor junky, I would love to see photos and hear about motors that you've designed
and tested, what propellants were used, what worked and what didn't, and why the ones that worked and weren't produced weren't produced.



mycrofte 04-14-2009 03:02 PM

I would like to know why R&D takes so long. Kinda makes it hard to jump on some things doesn't it?!?

P.S. When you do trade it all in for the fishing pole, can I have your job?

foose4string 04-14-2009 03:13 PM

Mike, welcome. I look forward to reading this segment of the forum.

With over 250 of your designs that went into production, what was your favorite? Which design was the most successful in terms of numbers? What was your least favorite design(or one that came back to bite you in the rear?)

rstaff3 04-14-2009 03:13 PM

I too will thank you up-front for taking away from your valuable fishing time here!

I'm also interested in motors, mostly the ones we can't buy (at least currently :)) at our friendly neighborhood hobby store.

Oh, I'm also curious whether you will fly any rockets after you retire? I.e. is rocketry both a hobby and work or has the latter beat the prior out of you?

DeanHFox 04-14-2009 03:19 PM

I was gonna ask what your favorite design was, but foose beat me to it...

So, I'll go in this direction...of all the "personalities" or "celebrities" you've met in your tenure at Estes...which one inspired you the most? And why?

(and, if you don't mind this question...of everyone you met, which person was most unlike what you expected them to be?)


Thanks for taking time to share your memories with us. Your efforts at Estes gave me a wonderful lifetime's hoping that spending a little time in our corner of the Web will enrich yours a bit, too! :)

Jerry Irvine 04-14-2009 03:36 PM

I have an actual question. When Gary R and I visited Estes on the way to NARAM PA you rushed out to give us news about 110 film availability for the Astrocam that was "incorrect". What's up with that?

Am I correct a 24mm E case D20-0,3,6,9 is practical?

There is a feature on this site that records the original designer for Estes kits. Would you please commit an hour a month for three months to composing an email clarifying as many of those as possible?

May I take you fishing during the next five summers? I would ask Mary Roberts to join us, but she scares me. She can totally handle a gun and dress her prey, and I'm not so sure she considers me human. ;)


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