What Blew By You?
● By Aimee Cormier
Anne B. Minvielle
If you happen to be in the right place at the right time, you may witness a rocket launch worthy of NASA, right here in Acadiana. The scientists behind the launch are young people from South Louisiana who have been bitten by the rocket bug.
Franklin Senior High School science teacher, John Sorrel, is responsible for the interest young students have in the how’s and why’s of rocketry. In the culmination of their study they work on a team that shares the end goal of launching an actual rocket. The students and their mentor Sorrel have made a name for themselves in the study and launch of rockets – and that name is Crazy Cajun Rockets.
John Sorrel says that he has always been in rocketry, throughout his 26-year career in teaching. He has taught at a number of Acadiana schools, including; Catholic High School, Patterson High School, Northside High School and Franklin High School.
In his first year of teaching, he attended a workshop that taught teachers how to use small rockets in science education. Through that bit of knowledge he has led a group of student to explore new heights of science and technology. “I never dreamed of building high powered rockets like I do now with my students,” he admits.
Sorrel recalls that in 2000, a group of students who were interested in physics and rocketry formed a club. In 2005-2006, there was a group of about 10 students who officially named the club Crazy Cajun Rockets and came up with the theme, “Let’s All Get High.” A freshman recently designed a logo and the slogan will be included on stickers for the National Launch. Crazy Cajun Rockets (CCR) has become a statewide physics and rocketry club for high school and college students.
“CCR allows young men and women from middle school to college level to pursue authentic project-based learning in aerospace science and engineering projects. CCR exposes students to projects that often exceed standards of senior college engineering projects,” Sorrel explains. In addition to the rocketry projects, students may pursue projects dealing with robotic hovercrafts, drone helicopters and high altitude balloons.
When Sorrell moved on to Franklin High, he was greeted with well-wishes and a principal who told him to do what was necessary to inspire his students. He brought with him the goals of CCR and went to work. His inspiration was obvious when a group of students decided to build and launch a rocket. The group became the first Louisiana high school team to fly this advanced Level II High Power rocket, which is capable of flights up to four miles in altitude and speeds as fast as military missiles.
Sorrel reports that the rocket was named Blew By U (BBU). It took 3 months to design, build and test the rocket. “First, the rocket began as only a concept. An advanced rocket simulation program was used to create a simulated rocket,” he says. The simulations provided the BBU team with information that could be used to predict the rocket’s performance in the future. The BBU was controlled by sophisticated computers that sent information about the rocket’s location and performance to a ground crew via HAM radio.
Sorrel remembers the day of the test flight. The BBU team flew the rocket to an altitude of one mile and with a maximum speed of over 525 mph. “The weather was great, with sunshine and blue skies, though winds aloft were high. BBU weighed in at 9.0 pounds with the rocket motor. The motor used only provided 1/5th of the power that will be used on its hypersonic flight. It will be flown on the largest Level II rocket motor commercially available,” he said. At its next flight, BBU will be pushed to its maximum capability of over 20,000 feet (4 miles), with speeds near 1,600 mph.
The BBU project team is made up of students from different schools across the state. The six high school students who are a part of Operation BBU are Wynesha Jenkins, Miasia Johnson, Glendon Jones, Ahmad Fears, Landon Landry and Julie McClain. Sorrel is the executive project director
The project manager is Julie McClain who lives in Lake Charles and attends Hamilton Christian Academy. McClain serves as president of CCR. According to McClain, “We didn’t have a physics teacher at my school. So, I took an online class and Mr. Sorrel was my teacher. When I heard what the club was doing, I wanted to be a part.” Sorrel’s rocketry tales inspired McClain, and Sorrel was delighted to learn that she was a licensed HAM operator. She was needed for Operation BBU, and both McClain and the project have benefitted.
McClain is interested in pursuing a career in electrical engineering. She found herself in charge of programming the BBU rocket’s computer wiring. She learned lessons about engineering that other 18 year olds could never dream of. She says, “I have enjoyed meeting people who are experts in math and science, and they have taught me things that will be useful as I continue my education.”
Wynesha Jenkins is happy to be a part of the rocket project. “I know that being a part of this tests my perseverance and teaches me never to give up. I serve as the project historian and make sure that everyone knows the past history of rockets and how it is developing for the future,” she says.
Landon Landry serves as the design and construction specialist while Ahmad Fears is the propulsion specialist of operation BBU. “When we saw our rocket fly that one faithful day, we knew that all of our work was definitely worth it,” Fears says.
Essential to the team is Glendon Jones, who is the recovery specialist. Miasia Johnson is the team’s legal and accounting specialist. She says, “There was no greater feeling than being able to watch our rocket fly and being able to say I was one of the reasons why.”
The team spent more than 100 hours completing the project, which required them to travel between Lake Charles and Franklin. The students learned a valuable lesson; it takes the skill of each individual, and they must work in unity in order for the project to be successful.
Sorrel says that this is by far the best rocket team he has worked with to date
“What an amazing group of young men and women filled with passion, vision and, most of all, a desire to build a legacy that will keep on giving to young men and women in the future.”
The operation BBU team and Sorrel took on another task when they assisted Tony Mclelland, a senior at Franklin High, to become the first high school student in the state to obtain a Level I High Power Rocket License. The 18-year-old designed and built a replica of the Black Bryant II sounding rocket used by NASA. His rocket weighed about 12 pounds and was 7 feet tall with a diameter of 4 inches.
Mclelland had to raise about $1,800 for materials and traveling expenses. Sorrel says that financing is a major impediment for his “rocketeers” to overcome. He writes grants when money is available that way and they rely on the generosity of others to help these science students reach their goal.
Sorrel says, “We have to thank Mr. Tybus Burdett, principal of Franklin High, and all the students and teachers for their encouragement and financial help. Over the past two years, Dr. Brown of Browns Insurance Agency has also provided financial help.” There has also been an outpouring of assistance from many sources. Sorrel says that Julie McClain’s’ parents have provided meals and the use of their church in Lake Charles when the team needed a place to work. Pastor Allen Randle, Sr. of Lighthouse Missionary Baptist Church allowed the team to use the church van. In addition, Sorrel’s wife Lisa was a source of constant support and encouragement.
Sorrel’s efforts and impact do not go unnoticed. All of the students who have been inspired by his knowledge and passion for teaching about rockets, as well as their parents and community thank Sorrel. His fellow teachers thank him for showing them what it means to teach and have fun at the same time.
If the high school students of today are to become the leaders in math and science of the future, they need support today. The Crazy Cajun Rockets is always in need of financial help. Encouraging these students with donations may result in an extraordinary feat by NASA in the future, and you can say you had a part!
For more information on the work John Sorrel is doing, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at email@example.com. He would be proud to show off some of his students’ rockets and discuss means to advance the program.