The Conquest of Space, by Chesley Bonestell and Willy Ley, was one of my favorite books as a child; I checked it out often from the library. Bonestell’s artwork has always been an inspiration.
I recently obtained my own copy of the 1958 edition of The Conquest of Space and one of the ships illustrated is the Transcontinental rocket, which is shown in flight in several of the plates. The Transcontinental rocket is only vaguely described; it’s basically a suborbital passenger rocket.
The Spaceship Handbook (Google search for Jack Hagerty and Jon C. Rogers, ARA Press, 2001) describes the Transcontinental Transport in some detail, and I thought it looked like a fairly simple model to make. I didn’t want to make an exact copy of the design, but use it as an inspiration for my own variation.
Many of the drawings from The Spaceship Handbook were available for sale at Rogers Rocketship, which is now closed. They’re very useful for scratchbuilding the projects in the book, or for framing.
Ron Miller’s Spaceships: An Illustrated History of the Real and the Imagined includes the original and the Ley-Bonestell versions of Tsien Hsue-shen’s design. The picture of this model appears on page 99.
I had a package of Estes NC-5 nosecones, which is a random assortment of five small diameter plastic nosecones of about 13.8 mm (0.544″) outside diameter. I used two of the pointy ended nose cones end to end for the body of the rocket and cut the end (or tip) of one of the nose cones. I made the wings and tail fin from fake credit cards that are often included as enticements in credit card junk mail.
These two images show the two nose cones and wings attached. I’d hoped that by using a butt joint I could reduce the amount of putty, sanding and polishing required to finish the ship; I would just polish the major components, glue them together, paint and decal and I’d be done.
Alas, even though the joints seemed fairly strong, the wings fell off repeatedly during priming and painting. This method would have worked better if the wings had been thicker (with a larger attachment surface). I ended up removing the wings and using my Dremel to cut slots into the body to take the wings and fins. The engine nozzle is from a mecha model accessory kit that I got from the Starship Modeler store.
After much puttying and sanding, I was ready for the painting and decals. My father worked for Western Airlines, so I put the Transcontinental Rocket in Western Airlines inspired livery as a tribute to his memory. The decals were made to mimic the livery used on Western Airlines airplanes in the mid to late 50s, only I changed it to “Western Spacelines”.
My wife Lisa is a former journalist, so the first image in the gallery above shows the model sitting on her 1942 Woodstock typewriter. She found it at a junk shop in Yellow Springs Ohio when she was 12. The model is resting on a press release for the inaugural flight of the Western Spacelines Transcontinental Rocket.
The image of the rocket in flight is a composite of the model with a picture of the Grand Canyon area taken from the Space Shuttle. It represents the inaugural suborbital flight of the Western Spacelines Transcontinental Rocket flying from Los Angeles to New York, on October 4, 1956.
updated February 17 2020