Altitude + Attitude = Hardy Rocketry Team

By Jacob Duffles, Grade 8


Shouts of joy filled the air in Virginia in late April. The Hardy Middle School rocketry team was launching its final flight during the Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC) out in The Plains, VA. Every year, over 650 teams participate in this nationwide event, and only 100 of the teams qualify for nationals. The competition is mainly a high-school event, making Hardy one of the very few middle schools to participate. Hardy has been participating in the TARC competitions for 3 years in a row.

The Hardy team consisted of 7th and 8th graders Jacob Duffles, Aaron Lin, Destiny Fink-Morgan, and Jalen McKinney, who had been working since mid-October on designing, constructing, and testing a rocket that would eventually qualify to go to nationals. Led by aerospace engineer and coach Marcio Duffles and Air Force Major Bryan Sparkman, the team launched over 40 test flights from the beginning of November to late April. Hardy launched almost every weekend of each month, even during harsh weather.

Students conduct test launches in Virginia on a snowy March day.

Students conduct test launches in Virginia on a snowy March day.

Every year, regulations for the competition change. This year, the rocket had to weigh under 650 grams, be longer than 25 inches, reach an altitude of 800 feet, have a flight time between 46-48 seconds, and carry a raw egg and back without cracking.

Points are added every time the rocket goes beyond the measurement needed for qualification. For example, Hardy’s first official flight at The Plains reached an altitude of 801 feet, giving the team one point. (Remember, you want the fewest amount of points possible.) The flight time was 49.75 seconds, and for every second missed four points were added to the final score. Hardy’s first official launch received an 8.25, which is a very good score. We were already on the road to success.

Finally, with very few engines left and only one official score of 8.5, Hardy team members prepared to launch our final flight along with over other 40 teams gathered at The Plains. We set our rocket on the launching pad, placed the ignition cord into the engines, stepped back, and prepared our timers.

Blast off! The rocket shot through the air. Our team watched in excitement and anxiety. We heard the parachute pop, and the rocket descended. Once it reached the ground, the timers stopped their times. The rocket’s flight was a total of 46.28 seconds!!! This was a perfect flight. The egg was unharmed, but the rocket went 32 feet above the altitude requirement. Although our final official score was about 20 points, we were still very happy.

In the end, we didn't make it to nationals, but we were only .2 seconds away and only 3 spots behind from making the cutoff. If we had made it, Hardy would have been the first DCPS middle school to ever make it into the National Finals. We were not upset; placing 103 out of over 650 teams is not bad. We also beat the famous Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, which had more rocket teams for the competition than Hardy did.

Hardy will try again next year, but for now our team has made a very large mark in TARC history.

Collaborative team efforts get the rocket set up for a trial launch at The Plains, VA.

Collaborative team efforts get the rocket set up for a trial launch at The Plains, VA.