<< Virtually none of the X-Prize contestants are going for the strictly
classical rocket design, and yet some of the strangest (eg: StarShipOne) are
doing the best.
How have model rocket folks experienced "odd" designs, and is the "classical"
design really as good as all that? >>
The X-Prize folks are able to combine traditional aircraft with rockets. Using
wings to provide lift gets them a lot of altitude with less fuel.
Doing something like that with models presents some problems. For instance, to
replicate the flight profile of SpaceShip One, you'd need a model airplane with
R/C guidance to lift the rocket to altitude, then you'd have to drop the
rocket, ignite it, guide it from horizontal to vertical, and safely recover it.
Not only is this tricky, but I believe there are rules about launching rockets
from model planes, not to mention launching rockets horizontally.
Parasite staging is a better approximation of that kind of flight. Just mount a
small rocket onto the side of a larger booster rocket. When the booster burns
out, ignite the smaller rocket and it separates from the booster. No horizontal
flight or guidance is needed. It's cool, and is great for photographic payloads
but is probably not as efficient as traditional inline staging.