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An Integrated Design Competition Using Model Rockets

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2002 Annual Conference


Montreal, Canada

Publication Date

June 16, 2002

Start Date

June 16, 2002

End Date

June 19, 2002



Conference Session

Innovative Laboratory Instruction

Page Count


Page Numbers

7.186.1 - 7.186.15

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Paper Authors

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Martin Morris

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David Zietlow

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Martin Morris and David Zietlow Department of Mechanical Engineering College of Engineering and Technology Bradley University Peoria, IL 61625


The principle objective of this design competition is to provide upper-level students with an opportunity to integrate the use of engineering measurements and analytical modeling techniques to accurately predict a priori the performance of a miniature rocket system. A secondary objective is to provide these students an opportunity practice and improve communication, leadership, and technical skills while grouped in small competing teams. Each engineering team is challenged to predict the performance of a miniature rocket by developing an analytical model of the rocket trajectory using engineering principles and laboratory measurements. The student teams also participate in the hands-on activity of building and launching the prototype rocket system. This prototype is ultimately used to test the predictions of the analytical model. It is launched for the first, and last, time as the concluding event of this design competition. To add realism to the activity, the student teams are given imitation money that is used to buy the materials (e.g. the rocket) and services (e.g. wind tunnel time). Points are awarded based on the analytical model, the results from the component testing, the aesthetics of the rocket, the weight of the finished rocket, the costs of the project, and finally, the performance of the r ocket. This design competition provides the students with an open-ended design problem that emphasized the importance of employing the engineering design process in the development of a functioning prototype.


The genesis of this design challenge for the upper level engineering students is rooted in the first flight of the McDonnell Douglas F18 E/F fighter plane. The F18 E/F is a significant upgrade of the F18 C/D. The E/F featured a stretched fuselage, new more powerful engines, new low- observable inlets, new wings, and new flight control software. The E/F was essentially a new airplane. Yet the first flight for this plane originated at Lambert International Airport located in the center of the St. Louis metropolitan area. The decision to take-off and land at Lambert with a new airplane might at first be considered a somewhat reckless disregard for public safety. However, after considering the preparation and engineering activities leading up to the first flight, the decision was based on confidence in a thorough engineering development program that had determined the airplane performance a priori. The F18 E/F successfully departed and returned to Lambert with minimal deviation from the flight plan. The first flight was a success.

The engineering development program had produced a detailed understanding of the aircraft’s performance prior to the first flight. The airplane design was developed with over 15,000 hours of wind-tunnel testing. The flow field bounding the airplane was calculated in detail using computational fluid dynamic techniques. The engines were thoroughly tested in ground based test programs. The flight control system was developed and refined through thousands of hours

Proceedings of the 2002 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright Ó 2002, American Society for Engineering Education

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Morris, M., & Zietlow, D. (2002, June), An Integrated Design Competition Using Model Rockets Paper presented at 2002 Annual Conference, Montreal, Canada.

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