US High School Rocketeers Take Second Place at Farnborough Airshow

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Raytheon-Sponsored Team in Strong Showing at International Competition

With clouds of smoke and loud whooshes, U.S., French and British teenagers sent model rockets streaking high over England on Friday in the world’s premier contest of its kind.

A team from each of the three countries competed in the International Rocketry Challenge, with the French winning first place and the Americans coming in second. The UK team placed third. A team from Japan also fielded a rocket during the event, in hopes of competing in 2015.

 “I had a great time being out here with all of the other people from different countries, and meeting people with similar interests,” said U.S. team member Amanda Semler, a Canton, Ga., native who spent the last three years building rocket nose cones, calculating wind speeds and packing parachutes.

Semler, 18, competed alongside four fellow members of the Creekview High School Aeronautics Team in the event, held during the Farnborough International Airshow in London. “I hope it will inspire other women to get into the industry and reach their dreams,” she said after the competition. 

View the photo gallery.

This is the ninth year that Raytheon supported the top U.S. team’s trip, part of the company’s MathMovesU® effort to encourage students to pursue careers in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). 

The competing teams designed, built and launched rockets designed to reach an altitude of exactly 825 feet during a 48- to 50-second flight window. The payload of two raw eggs had to return to the ground undamaged, using two identical parachutes. Scores were determined by how close teams come to the required height and time. If the eggs cracked, the flight was disqualified.  

The competition was held in a field near a British army base. The teams were judged on presentation and, of course, the flight itself. The U.S. team rocket had a smooth launch and ascent. It reached a peak that was just nine feet from the target altitude for the top flight score of the day.

“I think it went really great,” Semler said. “We were only nine feet off!”

Tim Smyrl, the U.S. team’s coach, seemed pleased. “Is Raytheon ready to add us to your R&D?” he asked on his way to the award ceremony.

The French school’s mascot, wearing a rooster costume, was with the team as they made their way to the field. The team placed first despite some turbulence during the rocket’s descent.

The UK team was almost able to serve breakfast. Its payload of two eggs caught fire in front of more than 100 British student spectators. Still, the eggs arrived intact.

The Japanese team’s rocket was a bright, neon orange. Its parachute was decorated with pink hearts.

The competing teams had come to Raytheon’s airshow headquarters the previous day to show their rockets and explain their designs to judges. The American youths visited Harrods Department Store in London, and then spent most of Thursday at the airshow. They climbed into a Black Hawk helicopter, sat in a mock-up of an F-35 fighter and watched jets perform aerobatics from the balcony of Raytheon’s pavilion. That night, the team had dinner with U.S. military flight crews.

Some two-thirds of Raytheon’s employees are engineers who “invent, design and create things that matter,” Tracey Gray, Raytheon’s vice president of global business development communications, told the students in his welcoming remarks at the dinner.

“We know we need more engineers in the future to help drive innovation,” Gray said. “We hope that this experience will inspire you to share your knowledge and curiosity about rocketry with others and encourage them to pursue an exciting education and career as a scientist, technologist or engineer.”

The students from Creekview previously won the Team America Rocketry Challenge, the world’s largest student rocket contest, to qualify for the international event. In the U.S. competition, Semler and her teammates beat more than 700 other teams representing 5,000 students from 48 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Semler joined the Creekview High rocket team when it was recruiting more girls. Now the team captain, she gets a lift every time one of her rockets heads skyward – the payoff after many hours of calculations and preparations. “That’s the most thrilling part, actually seeing the rocket go up,” she said. “Because when you build and launch a rocket, you never know what’s going to happen.”

The other members of the high-flying Creekview team are Nick Dimos, 16, Andrew White, 16, Austin Bralick, 16, and Bailey Robertson, 15.

Dimos said teamwork and persistence helped the students make it through practice launches foiled by Georgia winds and rain. That’s not to mention the man-made obstacles.  One time, Dimos recalled, a telephone line seemed to reach out and grab their rocket. The team had to cut it down.

“You just have to push through and deal with the rough times and keep taking the punches,” Dimos said. “You can’t ever let them get in the way of that goal you’re dreaming of reaching.”

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