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It's not rocket science, is it?

4-H-‘ers compete in rocketry at Marion County Fair

Staff writer

Even after six years of competing in rocketry, Isaac Perry, 15, experiences a thrill from every launch.

“It’s something so easy,” Perry said, “but you feel so good after you push the button.”

Perry launched three rockets Saturday morning at his home in rural Hillsboro. After each liftoff, Perry and his brother, David, 11, and their friend Matt Regier, 11, watched with wonder as the rockets blasted nearly 1,000 feet into the sky.

Well, at least two of three did.

The middle rocket — a white cardboard tube with square fins — shot off the launch pad as if everything was going to go as planned, but mid-flight, the rocket veered northeast and the engine sputtered out before it was close to reaching its potential.

Perry surmised that the plastic, store-bought fins were the rocket’s downfall.

Though purchased kits are designed by engineers to fly straight, complications are common.

“Every four out of five end up working,” Isaac said.

He competes with the Goessel Goal Getters 4-H club in fairs across Kansas. He recently sent in rockets to the judges for the Marion County Fair. He competes in two categories: rockets he built from a kit and rockets he designed.

The competitions are part aesthetics and part effectiveness. Looks is an important part of the judging. Isaac spends hours sanding, painting, and repainting his rockets. If there is even a bit of wood grain showing through in a paint job, points could be deducted.

Isaac has been in enough competitions to know that rockets featuring multiple colors — increasing the difficulty — score more points.

To maintain the look of a rocket, Perry launches it while it has only a primer coat, then finishes painting them afterward.

Rockets aren’t launched in front of the judges at the fair. Each competitor is charged with launching his or her own rocket and filling out a form detailing the launch including a page of pictures.

Performance of the rocket is important to the judges. Isaac has seen the judges sniff the bottom of rockets to ensure that they were fired.

However, the design and look of the rocket is what the judges have at their disposal at the fair.

Isaac tries to give his rockets a stylized appearance. On Saturday, he displayed a rocket that looked like a stealth bomber and another that was a camouflaged fighter jet.

This year he submitted a rocket that looks like a shark. Because he could give it rocket shape without ruining the design, it performed much better in flight than some of his other creations.

With his depth of experience, Isaac has become his club’s leader and taught fellow club members everything he knows. They also have submitted rockets for the county fair.

Although some of his designs have performed better than others, Isaac can’t imagine taking the time to build the rocket without letting it fly.

“Launching them is the best part,” Perry said. “I don’t build them to have them sit there.”

Last modified July 22, 2010

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