Former rocketeer’s school is competing for international title at Farnborough Airshow
Three years ago, a blast of smoke and flame shot a team of Wisconsin high school students to a national model rocketry championship. For at least one team member, it was just the start of a continuing journey skyward.
Madison West High School graduate Ben Winokur is now studying aerospace engineering at Saint Louis University, learning to fly gliders and doing research into the elastic properties of wings. The 2009 Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC) taught him problem-solving skills that he still uses today.
“TARC taught me how to look at a problem and try different methods to ultimately find a solution that works.”
“What I really took away was basic engineering concepts,” Winokur said. “TARC taught me how to look at a problem and try different methods to ultimately find a solution that works.”
On Friday a new generation of students will launch their rockets during the International Rocketry Challenge at the Farnborough International Airshow near London. Madison West High School is the U.S. champion again and will be competing against teams from the United Kingdom and France for the international title.
“They’re a good team. Madison West has always had a strong performance, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they won,” Winokur said.
The rocketry competition has become a central event at the airshow, which is held in Paris and Farnborough in alternating years. Raytheon is a major sponsor of the contest along with the Aerospace Industries Association and the National Association of Rocketry.
Raytheon’s sponsorship of TARC is part of the company’s MathMovesU® program, an initiative designed to inspire youth to pursue science, technology, engineering and math careers. This year Raytheon is bringing a group of Twitter followers to watch the competition as part of its Farnborough Tweetup.
Competitors try to launch their rockets exactly 800 feet (244 meters) high, and flights must last between 43 and 47 seconds. Points are added for being below or above the target height, or for being outside the time limits. The team with the lowest score wins.
The rockets carry raw eggs, and if an egg is broken the rocket is disqualified.
In 2009 Madison West’s team used an intricate system to eject its parachute. The design bested 99 other teams from across the country during the national finals in The Plains, Va.
“Hard work, perseverance, teamwork and custom electronics are the reasons our rocket performed well today,” Winokur said after the win.
The Madison West team fell to the British national team in the international flyoff later that year, but Raytheon awarded the team a trip to the Paris Airshow for winning the U.S. title.
Since then Winokur’s interest in designing aircraft hasn’t waned.
He is now a third-year student at Saint Louis University in Missouri and hopes to start a career in building unmanned aerial vehicles. This summer he is researching aero-elastic wing designs to find different ways to reduce wind drag.
“Wings can extract kinetic energy from wind gusts in either an active or passive manner,” Winokur said. “We’re looking at ways we can design wings to be flexible in a certain way that gathers energy passively to reduce the drag and speed the aircraft up.”
Winokur has built miniature aircraft for design competitions and is learning to fly full-size gliders as well.
His advice for this year’s rocketry competitors? Get to know all the accomplished people at the airshow.
“Talk to as many of the engineers and pilots as you can,” Winokur said. “As cool as the planes and demonstrations were, I enjoyed talking to the people I met the most.”