In love with "science that shoots flames out the back," Ingraham High School Rocket Club teams battled for a national title in Virginia.

Share story

If you’re a rocketeer, there’s nothing as satisfying as “science that shoots flames out the back,” says Ingraham High School’s Aidan Farr.

Farr and five other Seattle students were among 100 teams from around the nation that competed Saturday for scholarships and the chance to design a bigger, faster rocket with the help of NASA scientists.

The competition, Team America Rocketry Challenge, is held annually on a grassy field in The Plains, Va. To qualify, some 6,000 students competed, with the winning teams selected based on their ability to shoot a rocket as close to 800 feet high as possible and then land it intact in between 43 and 47 seconds. The payload: two eggs. Unscrambled.

Last year’s national winner, a team from Texas, went on to compete with French and English high-school teams at the Paris Air Show. While the Texans failed to make the final round on Saturday, one of two teams from Ingraham High, Team Foxtrot, did make it.

Akira Murphy, 17, Phillip Quinn, 15, and Lara Grevstad, 18, placed 15th overall, earning them a spot in next year’s NASA Student Launch Initiative in Huntsville, Ala., where the team will learn about designing rockets from NASA scientists.

Students will be able to build a rocket capable of flying a mile high.

Saturday’s winning team was from Wisconsin’s Madison West High School, which will compete this summer against teams from France and the United Kingdom at the Farnborough International Air Show in England.

Ingraham’s Team Echo, with Farr, Maggie Hargus, 17, and Theo Arden, 15, failed to make it out of the first round.

While Team Foxtrot’s rocket fared better, it still “flew too high,” said Quinn. “We probably should have used more Velcro,” a trick that adds drag without much weight. The rockets had to weigh 650 grams or less — that’s not quite 1 ½ pounds. Both Ingraham rockets were built from cardboard and slim strips of wood.

For some of the Ingraham students, Farr among them, it was their second time at the national competition, and culminated a year of preparation.

“We all eat lunch in the classroom to work on rockets, or after school. We work on it whenever we can,” he said.

“There was one time when the nose cone popped out, and we basically had eggs free-falling from 800 feet. … One time the propellant burned through. But part of science is figuring out the failures and figuring out how you’re going to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” he said.

Hargus, also of Team Echo, agreed. “I started high school and heard there was a rocket club,” she said. “I made friends with a ton of people at the meeting. It was nice to have an activity to do with all my friends that was interesting and cool.”

But, she said, her favorite part is always the launch.

“You’ve spent so much time building it, and it’s when you fail or you don’t. It’s a huge rush to see these rockets go,” she said.

She’s thinking of a career in aerospace, as is Farr and some of the others.

“I’m thinking about doing aerospace in college and then a law degree. I was also thinking space law. It’s a developing field,” Farr said.

The club, which is advised by science teacher Kurt Spann and Carl Hamilton, a volunteer who is president of the Washington Aerospace Club, has triumphed over the challenges brought by weather, technical setbacks and struggles for funding.

The group has two corporate sponsors, Aerojet, of Redmond, and Esterline Technologies, of Bellevue. The rockets cost about $500 each in materials, Spann said.

The students also give presentations to elementary-school students, inspiring the kids to form their own teams.

The Aerospace Industries Association sponsors Team America Rocketry Challenge, along with NASA, the Department of Defense, the National Association of Physics Teachers and others.

Nancy Bartley: 206-464-8522 or On Twitter @BartleyNews.