Last Updated: 06/20/2013*

Take one raw egg, launch it 750 feet in the air for 48 to 50 seconds, and retrieve it unscrambled. That’s the recipe for victory as teens from three countries compete in the world’s premier model rocketry championship on Friday in Paris.

Rocketeers from the United States and United Kingdom are hoping to beat the defending champions, France, as they send their eggs whooshing skyward during the Paris Air Show at France’s Le Bourget Airport. Raytheon is sponsoring the trip for the U.S. team, a 4-H rocketry club from Georgetown, Texas.

On Thursday the Texas teens said they were hopeful they could reclaim the title for the United States.

“If it’s not windy and it’s not raining I’d probably give us a 60 or 70 percent chance,” said Mark Janecka, 13. The other members of the team are Mark’s 17-year-old brother, Matthew, and Daniel Kelton, 16.

The three teams showed their rockets and discussed their construction methods with a panel of judges at Raytheon’s air show headquarters on Thursday. The presentation counts for 40 percent of their score.

They also watched the afternoon’s flying demonstrations from the balcony and toured Raytheon’s exhibit area, checking out a flight simulator and donning the company’s Joint Tactical Air Controller vest.

Members of the U.S. model rocketry team watch the aerobatics at the Paris Air Show.

Members of the U.S. model rocketry team watch the aerobatics at the Paris Air Show.

Earlier in the week the U.S. team visited Paris landmarks like the Eiffel tower and the Notre Dame cathedral. But they agreed the air show was the most exciting part of the trip so far.

“These flight demonstrations have been some of the coolest things,” Kelton said.

The International Rocketry Challenge is the culmination of three separate competitions: the Team America Rocketry Challenge, or TARC, in the United States; the U.K.’s Aerospace Youth Rocketry Challenge and the French Rocketry Challenge. 

The French, British and U.S. model rocketry champions during their first meeting at the Paris Air Show on Thursday. The U.S. team is a 4-H club from Georgetown, Texas.

On Friday each team will launch its rocket for the remainder of its score, with points added for each foot off the 750-foot target altitude and each second off the intended flight time of 48-50 seconds.  The youths can slightly modify their rockets to compensate for wind, humidity and other factors.

Each rocket carries one raw egg, which must return to the ground unbroken or the team is disqualified. The lowest score wins.

The competition enables middle and high-school students to show the world their expertise in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

“The rocketry challenge is designed to give students a cool, hands-on experience to apply the math and science they are learning in the classroom,” said Anne Ward, special events manager for the Aerospace Industries Association, which sponsors the international competition.

All three U.S. team members have been involved with rocketry for a number of years, but they credit Laura Epps, their 4-H leader, for introducing them to the idea of forming a rocket club.  

The trio won the U.S. championship in The Plains, Va. on May 11.

Team USA is ready to compete in this year's international fly-off.

Now they’re hoping to reclaim the title from the French, who won in 2012, breaking the U.S. streak from 2011 and 2010. The United Kingdom won the challenge in 2008 and 2009 but was eliminated last year because one of its team’s eggs broke. 

The U.S. team members said they had been trying to adapt their strategy for the slightly different regulations in France.

The U.S. competition uses a six-foot-long launch rail and allows teams to launch straight up. In France the rail is longer, causing more friction, and competitors must tilt it slightly away from bystanders.

“That took off a lot of height,” Matthew Janecka said.   “If it’s not raining I think we have a pretty good chance. If it’s raining, I don’t know, because we’ve been having troubles getting it high enough.”

This is the eighth year that Waltham, Mass.-based Raytheon has supported the U.S. team’s trip to the international air show.

The program is part of the company’s larger efforts to encourage students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math. The United States is expected to add as many as 1.3 million jobs in those fields over the next five years.

"The ability for us to produce engineers who start out as strong math and science students in their middle school or high school years is critically important for national security,” said Rob Levinson, a senior defense analyst at Bloomberg Government.

In a show of sportsmanship, team members from the British team sign the USA team’s rocket during the 2012 competition.

The Team America Rocketry Challenge is sponsored by the Aerospace Industries Association, the National Association of Rocketry and more than 30 industry partners, along with participation by NASA, the Defense Department and the American Association of Physics Teachers. For more than 56 years, tens of thousands of rocket enthusiasts, including students, have launched model rockets safely.

The Georgetown team already has its sights set on higher goals.

Kelton and Matthew Janecka both want to study aeronautical and aerospace engineering. Kelton says he’s leaning toward Rice University, which has ties to the U.S. space program. Mark Janecka has a few more years before college but is considering a career in STEM as well.

“It’s been exciting to watch them learn and grow,” said Epps, the U.S. team’s advisor. “Going to Paris to compete on the international stage is the experience of a lifetime.” 

 

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