Dr. Jay Lilley, seated center, looks over rocket motor test firing results with summer hire students from Team 1. They include, from left, Monica Kruse (Vanderbilt University), Jessica Chunn (Tuskegee University), Christopher Dickens (Lee University), Katherine Bonenberger (Purdue University) and Jordan Hurt (Auburn University). Christina Blankenship, general engineer, a former co-op student, looks on. Not pictured is Aaron Triplett (Guntersville High School).

REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- The battle lines were drawn. The teams were ready. Four motors lay silent waiting.

Dr. Jay Lilley, chief of the propulsion technology function at Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center, masterminded a competition called Rocket Wars.

In its second year, Rocket Wars teams were comprised of summer hire students from Purdue University, Tuskegee University, Vanderbilt University, Lee University, Auburn University, University of Alabama, University of Alabama-Huntsville, and Guntersville High School.

Rounding out the competition was the team of Lauren McDearmond and Ryan Blank who worked their daily jobs as general engineers in the propulsion technology function, built their own motor and mentored the student teams.

Lilley told the students that the competition would be just like the real world; the Rocket Wars' design parameters would be set up like they were meeting a customer's order.

Let the competition begin.

Each team presented what they predicted their motor would accomplish in the test to a panel of judges.

The next step was the motor firing from a test stand to see if the motor would successfully operate and that the motor's thrust would successfully transition from boost to sustainment.

Blank described boost as when you had your car's gas pedal on full throttle and sustainment as backing off of the throttle to begin cruising on the highway. Of course rocket motors don't have gas pedals, so you have to design it to function that way, Blank said.

All three student teams completed their test successfully.

After all the rocket motors were fired and the statistics had been calculated, Team 2 was declared the winner. But there are truly never any losers in Rocket Wars. Everyone learned a great deal about propulsion and teamwork.

"The opportunity to do something on this magnitude is unheard of," said Katie Bonenberger, Team 1 leader, an aerospace engineering major at Purdue.

"I was glad that it didn't explode," Justice Manson, Team 3 leader, a mechanical engineering major at the University of Alabama, said. "Then, the fact that the motor did as predicted was an added bonus."

Overall, it was a great experience for all the students in the competition. Lilley and all the engineers in the propulsion technology function have made an indelible imprint on the students.

"I would definitely come back and am interested in learning more," Manson said.

Lilley said he hopes this summer program will be able to give students "a leg up." Twenty-eight years ago when he was in their position, there wasn't a program like this and no one really was there for him. So, with programs like this, he hopes he can foster growth in education and make a few new rocket engineers.

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Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16