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Miami Proud: Aerospace Engineering Program & Rocket Building Competition Prepares Plantation High School Students For Lift Off

PLANTATION (CBSMiami)- Local high school students are aiming sky-high as they take part in a Broward County school program that's literally rocket science.

Plantation High School's room 301 is home to the aerospace engineering program. Teacher Joe Vallone heads the program and shares how it came to be.

Rocket Team (4)

"My students started doing rockets in a physics classroom, we were wildly successful and it turned into a four year aerospace engineering program," Vallone said.

Rocket building is complex and rocket launch competitions are tough, with a lot at stake.

These students work all year leading up to the Team America Rocketry Challenge, sponsored by the Aerospace Industries Association.

Plantation High has competed every year for the last 15 years. Two teams from Western High School are participating as well.

Janiel Douglas is a sophomore and co-leader of one Plantation High team.

Rocket Team (1)

"First, we have to figure out what the structure of what we want our rocket to look like and then we have to figure out measurements so we can fit everything in there without causing any problems."

The competition's objective is to build a rocket to carry three eggs to 'eggsactly' 856 feet and land between 43-46 seconds later.

Just one cracked egg or if anything falls out, and the team is finished.

"Last year one of our teams came in fifth place which out of 101 teams that go to the finals and 800 teams that participate nationwide is still impressive," said senior Adam Sachs, a team leader for the competition. "There was a rocket that went up last year that blew out the bulkhead,"

And there is a lot of pressure.

"It's very nerve wracking, you just want your rocket to win," said Douglas.

The students do more than engineer, design and manufacture rockets. They also develop crucial team-working and trouble-shooting skills.

"Something will go wrong and the next thing I hear is 'you know what we can do different next time' and they will change the design from the ground up and it doesn't even phase them," said Vallone.

"If you look at our rocket it's all cut up, there's just a bunch of different cuts all over it, but it worked out in the end," Douglas said.

Rocket Team (2)

Everyone agrees launching the rockets is the best part.

The teams demonstrate their skills on the field, checking the rockets payload, checking the weather conditions and all the systems.

Once the countdown begins, it's all eyes on the platform. The rocket shoots up and in a few seconds the parachute is deployed and it is floating back down.

This is Sachs' last competition, as he follows his dream, attending the aerospace engineering program at the University of Central Florida.

Rocket Team (3)

He leaves here armed with a lot of useful knowledge.

"Any tool in this classroom, you can ask me and I probably know how to use it," Sachs said.

Douglas has a few more competitions ahead while she aims for a career designing roads, highways and bridges. She wants to become either a civil or a mechanical engineer and credits this program for her path.

Finally, miles away in Virginia, it's competition day.

Countless hours of preparation led the Plantation High team to victory again, with the girls' team taking seventh and the boys' team earning sixth place in the nation.

They are proud of their accomplishments, but humble as well.

"At the end of the day, it's a model rocket compared to what NASA and SpaceX do, it's a good foot in the door," said Sachs.

For more information on these programs and competitions please visit the Broward County Public Schools website and the Aerospace Industries Association website.


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