An air horn warned spectators the launch was imminent.
The rocket blasted off its launchpad, soaring into the deep-blue sky on a clear day April 2.
It reached 835 feet, the best for the day.
The activities served as practice for the Onteora Rocket Club, known as the Screaming Eagles. The club is attempting to qualify for The American Rocketry Challenge, or TARC. The 835-foot launch met one of the qualifications for entry into the contest, in which the top 100 teams out of 700 will be invited to compete in the final fly-off May 14 in The Plains, Va., just outside of Washington, D.C.
With the aid of a windsock and anemometer, the team chose the launch direction and could predict the general area where the rocket should land. An electronic altimeter inside the rocket gives a readout with the highest point the rocket reached. The altimeter reading is used for official contest results, but also helps the team fine-tune the rocket.
The rocket must reach 835 feet, maintain flight for 41 to 44 seconds and must carry a payload of two eggs weighing between 55 and 61 grams. The eggs must remain intact or the launch is disqualified.
The 835-foot flight was the right height, but it flew slightly longer than the allotted time, staying aloft for 50.52 seconds.
An earlier flight was close to the right time range at 45.41 seconds, but was just shy of the height at 812 feet. The team’s instructors hope the two flights are close enough to give them a qualifying score.
The club started in 2019 when parent, engineer and Woodstock Hardware owner Vincent Christofora wanted a way to bring STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) to Onteora students. Christofora partnered with Science and Physics teacher Rich DeRuvo and high school Principal Lance Edelman, who worked to get the club approved by the district.
“Without both of them, the idea wouldn’t have happened,” Christofora said.
Both Christofora and DeRuvo are club instructors.
“We started just before COVID and COVID shut us down for that year-and-a-half, so we started up again in October last year,” Christofora said. “They’ve been building rockets, as a club, to learn construction techniques and the science behind rocketry and weather.”
The rocket used in the contest must be designed and built by the team, not from a kit. The motors are standard for model rockets and are sold by hobby suppliers. Teams entering the contest must use motors from an approved list.
A scoring system takes into account all parameters including the time of flight and the closest height to 835 feet and the top 100 scorers go to the competition.
They find out April 8 if they qualify.
“If they qualify in the top 100, they get to go to D.C. for the national competition. And if they qualify in the top three there, they get to go the international competition.”
The club meets every Thursday in the Physics classroom and comes out to the former Woodstock landfill for practice a few times a week.
“The district supports us with transportation and brings the kids out here during the week after school so they can get more practice launches in to get data to take back to analyze and to fine tune the rocket to the competition requirements,” Christofora said.
“This is a young team. We have 7th-, 8th- and 9th-grade students, and through designing and building these rockets, they’re learning and being exposed to junior and senior high level physics concepts that they wouldn’t even begin to know about now,” DeRuvo said. “And they’re not struggling with conceptual ideas of it there. They see a rocket parachute, they learn about velocity, they know about time, and they’re just picking these things up naturally. That’s exciting.”
DeRuvo pointed out how the community has contributed to help the club continue and thrive.
Architect Les Walker joined the National Association of Rocketry so he could be an observer and judge the qualifying launches. Others have also helped in valuable ways.
“Last week, our very valuable contest rocket landed in the top of a big tree here right before the rain started, and La Tree and Jeremy Wood came out and climbed the tree for us right before the rain came and got the rocket down,” DeRuvo said. “That could have squashed all of our hopes right there.”
DeRuvo thanked the Christofora family, which keeps the hungry students fed and motivated throughout the day.
“Some of those kids eat. They eat at 10:30 in the morning, when they eat lunch. By 3:00, they’re pretty hungry and the pizza doesn’t last,” he said.
Thanks to the town for use of the space
“We were on a search to find the biggest open area that we could,” DeRuvo said. “Mike Stock and I went and talked to (Supervisor) Bill McKenna and Bill approved us using the landfill site, or probably none of this would be going on.”
There are other large spaces in town, but for safety reasons, the club needed something away from traffic or homes.
Team must learn to be self-sufficient
The contest rules forbid any parental or adult help in the design, building or launching the competition rocket, so the team members learn to work with each other and troubleshoot. The teamwork was evident during a couple misfires where the team members had to work out why it didn’t launch. They figured out it was a bad igniter, replaced it and launched successfully.
During the course of the day, the wind shifted many times and the team accounted for this by changing the launch angle and at one point, moving the launchpad to the other side of the field. Each member has a designated role, including one in charge of a pre-launch checklist, another in charge of safety, another executing the launch and another one who retrieves the rocket when it lands.
“The most rewarding thing for me has been, in October they were given a piece of paper with the rules. Go design a rocket, go build a rocket, go glue it together, go do whatever. Put some kind of a motor on it, bring it out here, put it on that rail and launch it and see it go straight,” Christofora said. “And then have them get close… For me, 812 feet and 45 seconds in our first year… I feel like we won.”
The rocket club is open to Onteora students in grades 7-12.
Team members are Nick Bodner, Lucas Bruce, Kai Caswell, Anthony Christofora, Vincent Christofora, Giuliana Frisenda, Max Reimondo, Gavin Rice, and Emmett Stellavato.
The Onteora Rocket Club is an approved section of the National Rocket Association.
Local businesses support the purchase of items such as motors, paint, glue, rocket parts and software. Sponsors include Sharon Fletcher Law, Ametek, Solar Generation, Fishcreek Iron, Lonergan & Lonergan, 28 Storage, Viglielmo Dentistry, Fehr Bros. and Woodstock Hardware.
To support the club, email email@example.com or call Christofora at Woodstock Hardware, 845-679-2862.
Check out news and photos of the club launches on the Onteora Rocket Club Facebook page.