The South Wolverhamtpon & Bilston Academy

Special Report by Mr Corcoran

Problem solving has always been a major component of Design and Technology lessons and when three students approached me and asked if they could build a rocket I was keen to take up the challenge.

Building rockets and electronically firing them has been around for a number of years, but the rockets themselves are supplied in kit form which can be purchased from specialist model shops. These students wanted to design their own.  So the challenge was on. Materials were collected and the rocket motor housings were made, the nose cones shaped and the model constructed over a number of weeks, the students giving up their Wednesday afternoons to work in the technology department.

The three students, Charlie, James and Prosper, then approached me and asked, “Can we build a bigger one sir?” Somehow it was decided that the rocket had to be bigger than the smallest student! This meant that the rocket had to be taller than 1.5 metres!   This was a new challenge. How could we keep the weight down, house and fire multiple rocket motors which would lift the rocket to about 500ft and bring it back down safely?
A brainstorm session took place and it was decided that the main body could be made by joining pop bottles together; a card tube would run up the inside to hold the parachute that would eventually bring the rocket down to earth smoothly.

Wednesday afternoon now became a hive of activity. Pop bottles were joined together using a jig to try and keep them straight. The nose cone was shaped, fins were cut, tubes were formed and the launch pad constructed. The whole thing came together in about 8 weeks and the rocket was finally painted in a bright silver colour and named “Silver Bullet”.

Having decided that the launch day would be May 4th at 1.00pm, the school television monitors were used to advertise and promote the event with a countdown being flashed up on the screen. The whole school was invited to watch.
As the launch date got nearer final preparations were made and the rocket motors inserted. The launch was eagerly anticipated.



The day of the launch was sunny but windy and a large crowd gathered, keen to watch the spectacle. The smaller rockets were fired first and flew well, parachuting back down to earth and landing in the school field.



Now it was time for the Silver Bullet.  The ignition system was connected, the students at a safe distance, and the countdown given. 5-4-3-2-1-lift off. The whole school was cheering.

 

At first all seemed well. The rocket cleared the launch pad and headed in the right direction, clearing the tree line. However, the rocket didn’t go as high and fly for as long as expected and soon crashed down to earth a few metres from where it had taken off without deploying the parachute.

The whole flight was being filmed from various angles so we could watch a repeat of the event. It was observed that only three of the five engines actually ignited on take-off. I suspect this may have been caused by the wind blowing off the connections to the rocket motors in the seconds before lift-off.

Although personally I was a little disappointed that the rocket launch didn’t quite go as planned, I think it was a fantastic inspirational learning experience. The students observing were so excited and the boys involved could not have been more thrilled with their achievements. They have already started to evaluate the flight and asked if they could design and make another rocket with various modifications. Watch this space!

Quote from Faculty Assistant Principal Mr Middelton
“Seeing the excitement on the faces they will remember today for their entire lives and I’m sure it will be a topic of discussion with their grandchildren when they come to SWBA”.

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