By Hillary S. Meeks
Killeen Daily Herald
Turn the key, hold down the yellow and red buttons, then...BLAST OFF! A group of aviation students craned their heads toward the sky and followed a smoke trail emitted by one of many minuscule rockets launched on a clear but windy Tuesday morning.
During an outside activity, students in the Tarleton State University-Central Texas "Techniques of Instruction" class each had a chance to use a battery-powered launcher to send model rockets speeding into the sky. Other students stood at marked points in the field behind the school's building, tracking the angle of each rocket so its altitude could be determined.
Assistant professor of aviation James Fullingim said all his students use the same rocket kit, but apply whatever modifications they choose to affect its performance. Fullingim said he has used this particular project in the classroom for 14 years. "I've been doing it myself since 1968, and it's always fun," he said.
With shouts of excitement following each blast-off, the fun factor Fullingim promised was definitely present. Students jokingly made bets on where rockets would come to rest, and yelled encouragement as some rocket owners raced to catch their projects on descent.
"I think it's fun. At first, I wasn't really interested in building rockets, but once I did get into it, and launched it, I think it's a good idea. And it's good to get out of the classroom," said Brian Schoen, a senior from Willis.
But there is more to the rocket project than fun and games, Fullingim said.
"This course trains pilots how to be flight instructors, and one of the things in that is developing what we call a training aid – a device that makes learning more exciting," he said. "The model rockets are training devices that do the same thing an aircraft does, but much faster."
The 17 students taking aviation classes from Tarleton this year are unique in that they are enrolled in the only four-year, state school aviation program in Texas, Fullingim noted. Once they graduate from the program, they'll walk away with a professional pilot's degree and most likely go on to fly regional air carriers, he said.
Because of this special program, students drive from out of town to attend. Senior Brian D. Logan lives in Midlothian, where he is a flight instructor during the weekend, but then travels to Killeen and stays with a fellow classmate four days out of the week in order to graduate with his pilot's degree in May.
"I had a childhood fascination with flying, but didn't really think much of it until after I got out of the Navy," Logan said.
All it took was one trip in a Cessna airplane to show Logan the path that brought him to rocket launching Tuesday. While he said some of the class material is reiteration, projects such as the model rocket, "help me refresh and become a better instructor."
For some students, such as senior Laura Miner of Austin, the day was full of trial and error. Her rocket suffered a mishap as it traveled in her car prior to launching, and a fin came loose upon take-off. Despite her rocket's disappointing performance, Miner said she enjoyed the launch as well as building the model.
"I thought it was really great, because we had a stock kit, but Mr. Fullingim gave us a lot of tips on modifications to make it go higher," Miner said.
At the end of the project, Fullingim looked on approvingly and said the only thing he would have changed was the wind. Otherwise, he said, "I am really happy with the results."
Contact Hillary S. Meeks at email@example.com