The Wooddale High School rocketry team practices at the Mid-South Rocket Society launch pad at Shelby Farms Park, across from the bison.
“We’re going in five, four, three, two, one,” said Wooddale High School rocketry team president Darius Hooker. Then Hooker pushed a button. The team’s rocket roared into the air.
The Wooddale team was the only Tennessee team to qualify for the Team America Rocketry Challenge, which will be held just outside Washington, D.C., on May 12. The competition requires that a rocket reach 800 feet above the ground in a flight that lasts somewhere between 43 and 47 seconds. Teams are penalized 1 point for every foot the rocket flies over, or under, 800 feet. And they are penalized 3 points for every second they are outside the time range. The Wooddale team qualified with a score of 2.
There are also two raw eggs packed inside the rocket for the flight.
“That’s the biggest part of competition,” said Hooker. “If you crack an egg, you are disqualified. It’s designed to simulate sending a human up in a rocket and bringing them back unharmed.”
The other half of the Wooddale team is Wesley Carter. Carter flew an airplane before he ever drove a car, or rode on a commercial flight. Carter says when he was in seventh grade, his my mom paid for him to have a discovery flight at DeWitt Spain Airport downtown. In the plane with him was a professional flight instructor and his dad. Now, Memphis City Schools and several local businesses and charities pay for Carter’s flying lessons. As part of the Wooddale Aviation Program both Carter and Hooker fly planes. Wooddale teacher Jeff Holmes is the rocketry team coach, and he’s also the boys’ flight instructor. As a rule, I don’t get in a car with anyone under 20. So, I asked Holmes what it’s like to ride in an airplane flown by teenagers.
“I don’t know if I would want to ride with these guys in a car either, but their airplane flying skills are very proficient, very safe, and they do a fantastic job,” Holmes said.
Both Hooker and Carter will get their commercial pilot license soon. But neither one wants to fly planes for a living. They are both seniors and they’re both headed to college. Hooker wants to design airplanes. Carter wants to manage an air traffic control tower.
“We both want to own airplanes one day, I mean that’s a goal,” Carter said. “But I would say everything that involves the person flying the airplane would be the most important part, instead of just flying the airplane.”