Riding a model rocket to Paris

Teams from US, France and UK compete at international air show

Riding a model rocket to Paris

Students watch as a model rocket whooshes into the sky at the Team America Rocketry Challenge in The Plains, Virginia. Each team was challenged to send its rocket exactly 800 feet in the air, with a flight duration of 46 to 48 seconds. The payload, an egg, had to return to the ground undamaged.

Cady Studdard is a 14-year-old eighth grader from Russellville, Alabama, and she probably knows more about rockets than you do.

She knows how to build one and send it exactly 800 feet in the air. She knows how to make the flight last precisely 47 seconds. And she knows that building things and watching them go is the sort of work she wants to do for a living.

“It’s kind of a career that I want to go into. I want to build things. I want to work with chemicals and work on computers,” Studdard said. “I’m doing it to get ready for stuff that I’ll do in college.”

All that knowledge helped propel Studdard and the rest of the RCS Engineers Rocketry Team to a first-place finish in the International Rocketry Challenge at the Paris Air Show, where they competed against peers from France and the United Kingdom. Raytheon sponsored the team's trip after their victory at the 2015 Team America Rocketry Challenge in The Plains, Virginia.

This is the 10th year Raytheon has supported the winning U.S. team’s trip to the international air show. It is part of the company’s effort to encourage students – particularly girls – to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

"Rocketry requires a strong command of math, a solid foundation of physics and a tremendous amount of patience and determination," said Raytheon Chairman and CEO Thomas A. Kennedy. "The achievement of these competitors deserves a global stage, and we hope to show other students around the world that hard work and a love for science can lead them to great things."

RCS Engineers Rocketry Team of Russellville, AL

The RCS Engineers Rocketry Team of Russellville, Alabama, received first place and will represent the United States at the Paris Air Show. The team, left to right, includes Cady Studdard, Andrew Heath, Evan Swinney, Cristian Ruiz, Katie Burns, Chelsea Suddith and Niles Butts.

Team member Cristian Ruiz, 16, said building rockets with his fellow RCS Engineers has taught him plenty about craftsmanship and even more about working with others.

"Before, I wasn't very social, and it was hard to talk with people and share my ideas," he said. "But now that I've worked with my team for years, I'm much more comfortable doing that."

The International Rocketry Challenge brings together the winners of three separate competitions held every year: the Team America Rocketry Challenge, sponsored by the Aerospace Industries Association of America; the United Kingdom Aerospace Youth Rocketry Challenge sponsored by the UK Aerospace, Defense, Security and Space association, and the French Rocketry Challenge, sponsored by Groupement des Industries Francaises Aeronautiques et Staptiales, the French aerospace industries association.

Each contest requires students to design, build and launch model rockets under rules that test their mastery of the science and simulate the aerospace industry’s design process. In last year’s competition, for example, teams were scored according to how close they came to the goal altitude of 825 feet and the flight duration of 48 to 50 seconds. The rockets also had to carry a payload of two eggs, and return them to the ground undamaged using two identical parachutes.

If that sounds hard, that’s because it is. But a solid grasp of math helps, said Preston Burns, the RCS Engineers Rocketry Team mentor.

“The way I got the kids to approach this is, this is just a big math problem,” he said. “You collect data, and the more data you have, the better answer you can get.”

Still, the team had to fight through failures and false starts to get their flights running just right.

“We had a lot of mistakes. We had rockets land in the road and  get run over by cars,” Studdard said. “I learned how to be patient. I can’t get frustrated when we mess up – I have to be patient and just fix the problems.”

Published On: 05/14/2015
Last Updated: 12/11/2017