From the Braver Institute
Last week I was rambling about a junior high class I had been in called Industrial Design. In this class we designed and built jet propelled race cars—which I wrote about last week—and model rockets, which is what I plan to write about this week if I don’t become too distracted.
As I mentioned last week, Industrial Design was an incredible class and I think the primary reason it existed was because the teacher, Mr Humpula (Hump to people who knew him well), wanted an excuse to play while teaching. I don’t blame him, I would do the same given the chance.
The rocketry portion of the class was either a two-part affair or I took the class twice, because I know I built two rockets. I am pretty sure it was two parts.
The first rockets we built were truly built from scratch. There was no kit involved, only plans. We had to shape the nose-cones out of cork. The body of the rocket was made from heavy craft tape wrapped around a special jig to keep the size right for housing a “C” sized model rocket engine. And finally the fins were cut from balsa wood using a pattern.
This particular design was a sound one. If everything was assembled properly, it would function just like a store bought model rocket kit. As I recall, every one of our rockets launched without fail. Some of them were lost to the woods near the school upon descent, but they worked the way they were supposed to.
The second part of the rocket build involved designing our own rockets using the principles we had learned. Now was the time for my engineering genius to shine.
My rocket would actually look the way that rockets were supposed to look. Sure, the rockets we had just built looked much like the rockets we might see on the evening news, but real rockets looked like they did in movies and on tv. My rocket had long fins that stretched out and away from the body and down, well below the engine housing. The fins doubled as legs for the rocket to stand on. I had seen the design in countless sci-fi productions so I knew it was sound.
I painted this rocket royal blue just like my jet car and I emblazoned it with its name— Food III—on the fins in yellow paint.
All-in-all, the rocketry portion of this class didn’t involve as much work as the automotive portion but it did involve more science (which we were completely unaware of because it was disguised as fun). A jet car with a poor design simply didn’t go as fast as one with a better design, but it still travelled along the track the way it was supposed to. Rockets, on the other hand, if not designed properly would not fly properly, if at all.
I had years of film-studio department prop and set construction expertise to draw on for my design and I knew that Food III would surpass all expectations.
Launch day arrived with much anticipation. The school parking lot looked like a miniature version of the Kennedy Space Center. There were rockets everywhere— most of which loosely resembled the rockets we had built previously, except for one. Food III.
On the launch pad my rocket looked better than ever. Hump had built a special launch controller with a key switch and several other switches that had to be activated before pressing the launch button. The countdown began 10-9-8-7-6- 5-4-3-2-1 liftoff!
Food III shot rapidly and gracefully toward the sky topping out at an altitude of roughly eight to ten feet where it proceeded to do a series of loop de loops before slamming itself to the pavement, where the nose-cone ejector rocket went off and blew the rocket to bits. It took you longer to read that sentence than the flight actually lasted.
It was at that point that I lost all faith in the rocket designs of the film industry.
While the maiden voyage of Food III was a major disappointment, the overall experience of the Industrial Design class was a very good one and it will stick with me for the rest of my days. I will be forever grateful to Mr. Humpula for finding a sneaky way to teach us something by disguising it as fun.
— — —