GEORGETOWN – A 4-H team from Georgetown, Texas blasted into first place at the 11th annual Team America Rocketry Challenge 2013 national finals held recently in The Plains, Va.
The 4-H team, consisting of Matt Janecka, 17, his brother Mark, 13, and Daniel Kelton,16, was one of 735 teams entering the challenge, which is touted as the world’s largest student rocket contest.
The Aerospace Industries Association, National Association of Rocketry and more than 24 industry partners cooperated to present this year’s event. Each year, the challenge, designed to motivate students toward careers in aerospace, draws in thousands of seventh to 12th grade students.
“This year 735 teams, our most since 2003 and representing over 4,000 students, entered TARC 2013 from 44 states,” said Arthur “Trip” Barber, former National Association of Rocketry president and founder of the challenge. Barber was instrumental in establishing the partnership between the rocketry association, the Team America challenge and 4-H at a national level.
“Four hundred and seventy (teams) made at least one qualification flight attempt, which also was our most ever, and the 100 teams that came to the finals represented 29 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands,” Barber said.
Two other 4-H teams – one from Kentucky and one from Michigan — placed in the top 10 and a total of five 4-H teams placed among the top 25 contest winners.
Prior to the challenge, teams of three to 10 students worked for months to design and build their rockets, based on aerospace industry design, fabrication and testing processes. Team members collaborated to meet specific design parameters and objectives.
The challenge required teams to achieve “mission-oriented” goals, including climbing to an exact altitude, landing within a specific flight-time window and returning an undamaged payload to earth. The payload, which in this case was a raw egg, was to be launched to an exact altitude of 750 feet and returned to earth unbroken within a 48-50 second time frame, using a 14- to 16-inch parachute. A unique task is included in each year’s challenge, and this year’s task was to transport the egg horizontally.
The Georgetown 4-H team placed first with a combined score of 29.24 in what contest coordinators said was one of the most competitive final fly-offs in the history of the challenge.
“We actually started our project in August of last year,” said Kelton, a sophomore at East View High School in Georgetown. “We used a computer program to help with the design and made 40-50 rocket test flights. Probably our biggest design challenge was transitioning from a larger tube to hold the egg horizontally to a smaller one that would reduce the amount of drag during the flight.”
Kelton said while the project itself was fun, he also enjoyed meeting other young people with similar interests.
“It was really cool meeting these other students who were interested in math and science and talking to them about their projects,” he said.
Matt Janecka also enjoyed the camaraderie and ability to meet others interested in aerospace at the challenge.
“It was fun talking to other team members about their designs,” he said. “I’ve always been interested in aerospace engineering, and my 4-H club manager was the one who got me involved in rocketry.”
Janecka said he used to build remote-control airplanes from scratch, so rocketry was a natural transition for his interest in aeronautics.
Youngest team member Mark Janecka was in charge of rocket design for the project.
“I used a CAD program to do the initial design and then the other two tweaked my design,” he said. “It was fun working with my brother and my friend in designing the rocket.”
He admitted, however, that his favorite part of rocketry was the launch.
“It’s great to stand there and press a button and watch the rocket go up into the sky,” he said.
Georgetown 4-H club manager Laura Epps said the club has had a very active aerospace and rocketry component for years, but also has programs and activities related to robotics, food and nutrition, animal science, photography, public speaking, horticulture, housing and more.
“Matt has been a real leader as team captain for the rocketry team over the past three years, and Mark went from ‘team mascot’ to full-fledged team member this year,” she said. “All three of the boys apply the teamwork and character traits we strive to promote through 4-H, and I know they appreciate the opportunities it has provided them to grow and develop.”
James Duffy, a retired Apple sales executive and 40-plus-year rocket hobbyist who has mentored the three 4-H’ers since the spring of 2011, said the team’s work ethic was the foremost reason for their winning at a national level.
“They got together frequently to discuss issues and were always methodical in their data collection and analysis,” he said. “During launches, they accounted for all the variables and kept detailed analyses using their math skills. In addition, all three have learned some valuable fabrication skills from their fathers, who are themselves exceptional craftsmen.”
Duffy added that he was impressed with the improvement in the quality and refinement of the team’s designs and rocketry work.
“Just over the past two years, the boys have gone from novices to rocketry experts,” he said.
As a result of taking the title of national champion, the Georgetown 4-H team has been given the opportunity to travel to Paris to represent the U.S. at the “international fly-off” on June 21 at the 50th annual Paris Air Show — the world’s oldest and largest aviation show.
In the meantime, for other seventh- through 12th graders interested in aerospace, Matt Janecka is coordinating a rocket-building workshop July 11-12 at the AgriLife Extension office in Williamson County, with a launch to be held July 13, weather permitting.
“The teamwork and dedication by Matt, Mark and Daniel shows what can be accomplished with skill, focus and determination,” said Megan Kruger, AgriLife Extension agent for 4-H and youth development, Williamson County. “We’re very proud that the Georgetown 4-H team will be representing the U.S. at the air show in Paris this summer.”
According to Aerospace Industries Association president and CEO Marion Blakey, the Team America Rocketry Challenge has inspired thousands of bright young minds to expand their interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics over the past 11 years.
That is true with the Janecka brothers and Kelton, as each of them said he plans to pursue a career in aerospace engineering or a similar field.