Mike Dorffler Posts
I was contacted the other day by Vern Estes. He and I talked and we decided that it would be great to have the posts that Mike made in the old Ask Mike forum easily accessible for everyone. I've made the posts he created or replied to sticky's here in the Model Rocket History forum.
These are only the messages Mike wrote in as MDorffler. He also has and posted/replied to under another pseudonym here on YORF, but he expressed back when he created it that he wished that handle be kept secret. I continue to honor his wishes.
All of the sticky's in this forum area other than the one discussing Danny Sagstetter's Rocketeer Collector's Journal have posts made by Mike and contain a lot of great historical info on Estes Industries.
Thanks for paying forward, Mike.
Have good days Mike, I had hoped to meet you someday.
MAKE Magazine's webmaster, Gareth Branwyn, is an olde-timey rocketeer and posted a tribute to Mike Dorffler:
The link in the previous post is broken. Here's the new link:
Within that article is a link to an article on Rocketry Planet, which also no longer exists, but thanks to the Wayback Machine, here's the article. Hope it's not too long for the forum software:
Mike Dorffler, a unique visionary whose life mattered
Flier Tribute by Planet News
SUNDAY, OCTOBER 03, 2010
CAÑON CITY, Colorado USA — To many he was a friend, to others he was a mentor, but most people within the rocketry community don't know the man as much as they do his lifetime of contributions to the hobby of model rocketry, a man taken before his time by an aggressive form of pancreatic cancer.
Mike Dorffler, a visionary who brought ideas, concepts and unique products to life while working at Estes Industries, is often referred to as the Father of the Cineroc, a video camera model rocket product that launched his career within the model rocketry industry at the young age of 21.
Dorffler's idea was to mount a Super 8 format movie camera in the nose of a model rocket and film the rocket's flight and recovery, so he submitted his idea to Estes Industries for consideration, an event that led to a job interview.
"After Vern had asked me to speak with him about developing my camera for Estes," Dorffler wrote in a 2009 posting on Ye Old Rocket Forum, "my wife and I made the drive from Nebraska over one afternoon. We showed up at the plant at nine the next morning as requested, and then sat in the lobby almost three full hours waiting for Vern to get off the phone. I was ten minutes from getting up and leaving."
Fortunately for both Estes and the hobby community, Dorffler didn't leave. He stuck around and the two spent time talking about where Estes wanted to take the company and wanted to know what contributions Dorffler thought he could add in addition to the camera idea.
"I think I was probably already hired before I showed up for the interview because he asked if I could move my family and start work in about two weeks," Dorffler continued. "'Uh, yeah, I suppose I could do that...' and then he pointed downstairs and said I needed to fill out a questionnaire and that was it."
From that small start sprang the most prolific model rocketry design career in the history of the hobby. Earlier this year, the National Association of Rocketry awarded Dorffler with their first Lifetime Achievement Award for Rocket Design, an award recognizing the contributions over his 40-plus year career in the field.
The presentation, made by Vern Estes himself on behalf of the NAR, thanked Dorffler for his contributions to the hobby, "noting that his work ethic and unique approach to product creation allowed him to make a lasting imprint on the model rocketry hobby," the NAR press release stated.
In the presentation, NAR President Trip Barber thanked Dorffler for the legacy he left behind.
"I want to recognize and thank you for your extraordinary contributions to our hobby through your work as the longest-serving and most prolific rocket designer at the world's largest model rocket company," Barber said. "Your creative design skills and your ability to translate this creativity into more than 250 successful mass-produced kits, plus a wide range of other products have shaped our hobby for more than 42 years. When those of us who have been in the hobby for many years reflect on the greatest products ever introduced, the names of your creations are always at the top of the list — from the Cineroc to the Astrocam to the Alpha III. America likes to fly what you have designed."
Born Michael Keith Dorffler in York, Nebraska on December 6, 1946, to parents Clifford J. and Irene (Chrisman) Dorffler, Dorffler would grew up in the state of Nebraska, eventually becoming a 1965 graduate of Hastings Senior High School in Hastings. Dorffler went on to graduate from Milford Technical School with a degree in Engineering.
Dorffler's achievements may have began with the simple idea of mounting a movie camera on a model rocket, but during the course of his career, the skills he contributed grew to cover many different types of electronics, rocket motor design including propellant, model packaging layout and design, as well as radio-controlled airplanes, all in addition to his model rocket design work.
Over the years, Dorffler made many friends in the hobby and touched most of those people's lives in profuse ways. One of those people is Tim Van Milligan, owner and founder of Apogee Components. It was with great sadness that Van Milligan told about learning of Dorffler's battle with cancer earlier this year.
"If you don't know him, Mike is a man whose life mattered," Van Milligan said in a news article in May. "It mattered to me, and he probably touched your life too, even though you don't know it."
Van Milligan worked with Dorffler when he joined the Estes team in the early 90's, and he and Dorffler struck up a friendship that changed Van Milligan's life.
"When I was brought on to work at Estes in 1991, Mike quickly became my best friend at the plant," Van Milligan said. "We car-pooled to work every day, because we lived only a few blocks apart from each other. He taught me a lot about model rocketry, and how to market it to customers."
Dorffler obviously had the magic, because according to Van Milligan, Dorffler's contributions made the products Estes produced stand out.
"While I worked at Estes, I can't think of a single rocketry product that Mike didn't touch in some way," Van Milligan said. "And his ideas always made the product better. Where I was good at aerodynamics, Mike [was] phenomenal at electronics and anything photographic. If a product came out of Estes with electronics inside it, you can bet that Mike designed it."
Van Milligan went on to start Apogee Components, using Dorffler as his mentor, and quickly built a formidable company in the small niche hobby market, where Dorffler made more contributions by helping Van Milligan design and release some astounding kits there as well.
Dorffler's designs were everywhere. The EZ675-5K altimeter, a 2.5 inches by .5 inches unit Dorffler built and sold to friends only cost $39.95 plus $3.00 shipping and was good to 17,000 ASL. Sales in excess of 100 units were quoted in early 2009.
"He did three great rockets for me, the Apogee Aspire rocket kit, and both 1/70th scale Saturn V and Saturn 1B kits," Van Milligan said. "I still remember the first time we flew the Saturn V together. He was holding the video camera of the launch, which is on the DVD of the instructions."
When NAR decided to present Dorffler with the lifetime achievement award, it was unknown just how long he had before the cancer would finally take his life. In Van Milligan's May news article, he said it may only be weeks before the cancer took its toll. The future was very unclear yet definitely bleak.
The NAR's 2010 Annual Meet, NARAM-52, was scheduled to be held in Colorado from July 30, 2010, through August 6, 2010, at the Hudson Ranch, which is located southwest of Pueblo off Colorado 78, a drive somewhere around an hour from Cañon City, depending on the traffic. Not knowing if Dorffler would live until the event, a ceremony was held at the Dorffler home a month before that where Vern Estes made the special presentation.
As it turns out, Dorffler did survive long enough to see this NARAM, and he even made it to the event where, although wheelchair bound, he enjoyed two days surrounded by people gleefully experiencing his hobby.
Friends gathered around him, new introductions were made, all talking about model rockets, and days gone by, some asking for his autograph. It was a memorable time for those fortunate enough to be able to say thank you and possibly goodbye in person to a friend of hobby rocketry.
Dorffler passed away at home a month after NARAM-52 was over, on September 7, 2010, finally succumbing to the terrible cancer that attacked his body. Following services at the Vineyard Church on South Raynolds, Dorffler was laid to rest at the Lakeside Cemetery of Cañon City on September 11, 2010, a day already known in infamy.
Mike Dorffler's contributions to the hobby are legion, the products he designed that went into production innumerable. The people's lives he touched indirectly are unable to be counted. In our lifetimes, we may never see another individual who gave so much to so many in our hobby, but there is no doubt that Mike Dorffler left behind a legacy of achievement, a life that mattered.
We will all miss Mike's contributions to the hobby.
Thanks for so much, Mike!
Manofsteele on 10-03-2010 09:51 PM
His designs were the inspiration for me to follow his path and become a rocket designer and eventually run a rocket kit company. Godspeed Mike.
Binder Design on 10-04-2010 11:40 AM
Thanks so much for posting that! Great man!
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