With the push of a button, weeks of hard work flew high into the sky.
The first rocket soared nearly 200 feet into the sky in a matter of seconds, trailing a trail of smoke. When it reached its maximum height, a parachute deployed and it floated down to the farm field in rural Greenwood below on Thursday afternoon.
Then a few students ran to retrieve the rocket as another team lined up for the next launch.
In 45 minutes, five teams of students from the Aeronautical Center of Technology at Indy South Greenwood Airport leveraged knowledge from weeks of launch class work to model rockets. The launches are part of the Rockets 101 course taught by Greg Hill, an instructor at the aerospace center.
For the course, students first began learning about the four forces acting on a rocket, which are similar to those acting on an airplane – lift, gravity, thrust and drag. They also learned about Newton’s laws, Hill said.
Later they were given some PVC pipes and plastic and told that they had the freedom to design their rocket however they wanted. They then went into a workshop to cut and design their rockets and learn how to keep their rockets’ fins on and how to secure the engines, Hill said.
“As we progressed, they also learned about the components of a model rocket engine,” he said. “There’s a propellant that makes it go up, and then there’s a delay charge, and then there’s an exhaust charge that’s supposed to push the parachutes out when it comes back down properly.”
Ahead of Thursday’s launches, students also learned how launch systems work and how to launch rockets safely. The rockets the students made used a mechanical launch system that ignited propellant via an electric battery at the push of a button, Hill said.
Thursday’s weather was almost perfect for rocket launches, although there was a little too much wind, Hill said. Most students’ rockets were launched without problems, although one team’s rocket did not ignite its propellant at the right time.
Still, this was a learning opportunity.
“Obviously something didn’t quite go to plan with it, but as I told him at the beginning, sometimes you learn more from your failures than you do your successes,” Hill said. “So you design for success, and if things don’t work the way you want, you figure out what went wrong and then we go back and redesign.”
Eighteen-year-old Jed Allender, a home-schooled student, and Lily Lewen, a Roncalli High School student, were the first on Thursday to launch their rocket called Jed Force 1. Allender has been interested in aviation since he was a little boy, enjoying see airplanes.
“I always wanted to be an airline transport pilot,” Allender said. “So after hearing about this program, several different people said, ‘That sounds like a great opportunity.’ So we were able to connect with the program and I’m really happy that I’m here.”
Allender didn’t know there was a rocket course at first, he said. He has benefited from other parts of the curriculum at the aeronautical center, including building an airplane, meteorology and all the work that goes into becoming a pilot, he said.
“It’s a lot more than you necessarily think, but it’s very rewarding,” Allender said.
Like Allender, Greenwood High School student Melanie Rodriguez has been interested in studying aviation for some time and didn’t realize she would be launching rockets as part of the program. The 17-year-old was partnered with Roncalli student Preston Matthews to launch Jed Force 2, their rocket, which they named after Allender’s rocket — sparking a trend of Jed Forces for the rest of the day.
For Rodriguez, the whole process was fun, although she says there were a few mistakes and challenges her team made.
“Our fin fell off a week ago before the launch, so we had to put it back together really quickly,” she said.
17-year-old Sean Stahl learned about the class and the aviation center while at Roncalli. He thought it would be a great way to get more involved in flying and aviation while also getting dual credit, he said.
“I’m half Japanese. My mom’s full Japanese and dad was stationed in Japan; my mom, dad met over there,” Stahl said. “Every year I would cross the Pacific and fly (in) big commercial jets; doing that every year, growing up as a kid, seeing those big jets, just made me fly.”
Stahl, Allender and Rodriguez encouraged all students interested in participating in the program to do so. While times may be tough, if someone really wants to do it, they need to “buckle up” and start looking forward, Allender said.
“Just get in the mindset of, ‘I’m going to do this,’ and use every opportunity you have to do it,” he said.
Stahl echoed a similar sentiment, saying that even those with little thought about getting into aviation should try every opportunity they get to learn and experience more, he said.
Rodriguez encourages those interested to find a spot and try to get in. She felt it was harder for girls like herself to get into programs like this, she said.
“If you can see the relationship as three girls and the rest are boys, then I would definitely tell the girls not to be afraid and just go for it and see if you’re really interested,” Rodriguez said.
Next semester, the students will launch rockets again, but through a computer-controlled launch system. As the name suggests, students will learn how to use computer software to launch rockets.
“So we’re starting our software program and we’re going to stand back,” he said. “They don’t have to press buttons and the computer will take over – just like what NASA does.”
To learn more about the class, Hill says interested parties can contact the Aviation Center for Technology by going online to aerotechcenter.org.