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Alamogordo High School Shockwave Team visits test track

  • Published
  • By Mr. Dwight Harp
  • 704th Test Group

A modified birdchaser monorail rocket test took some highly motivated and enthusiastic Alamogordo area high school students into history on April 18, 2019, at the Holloman High Speed Test Track.

The genesis of this event was a dream of HHSTT chief engineer, John Leslie. According to Leslie, the idea for having high school students design and test a sled was born in 1995, and since then, the momentum for this project has grown.

The track’s senior technical advisor, Kody Sparks, joined the support team in a leadership capacity last year. The plan for implementing this effort was developed with minimal impact to the Air Force and Leslie and Sparks’ individual workload.

Science, Technology, Engineering and Math instructors, their respective classes and school leadership from Imago Dei Academy and Alamogordo High School were very interested and supportive. After determining strong interest at both IDA and AHS, Lt. Col. Matthew Wroten, 846th Test Squadron commander, joined by track leadership enthusiastically supported the idea. Col. Charles Cain, 704th Test Group commander, and Eric Lagier, 704 TG technical director, added their enthusiastic support.

An Educational Partnership Agreement was developed with both schools through the cooperative efforts of Heather Kangas, 704th TG STEM coordinator, and Leslie.
“Kody and I started our school briefings in October of last year and shared the details covered in this project outline,” stated Leslie, as he unfolded his plan. Truly inclusive, it contained everything from introducing a sled design process and the benefits of sled testing to eating lunch at the culmination of the actual test on April 18.

The plan proposed scheduling about 20 meetings between AHS, IDA and the track; carbon dioxide canister powered car races at both schools and track visits by both schools. The AHS group observed an ejection seat test on January 28 and the IDA team saw an impact test on February 27.

On April 18, an Open House with tours of various HHSTT shops preceded the aero-spike modified bird chaser rocket sled test. The aero-spike was painted like a yellow #2 lead pencil to resonate with the students.

Lt. Col. Matthew Wroten, 846th Test Squadron commander, welcomed the project, “For the Holloman High Speed Test Track, also known as the Rail Rattlers, the STEM sled test event represented the culmination of a months-long partnership between us and two local high schools here in Alamogordo. The test involved designing, fabricating and firing a single-stage bird chaser rocket sled, similar to what we often run at the track for bird and other wildlife mitigation.”

The team’s design included an aero-spike on the front, allowing the sled to achieve a greater distance, and setting them on a path to a future design that could cover the entire 10-mile length of the track. This event focused on outreach to high school STEM students, but also yielded real-world data collection. The aero and drag data from this test served as a baseline for the next, possibly two-stage, bird chaser design.

The AHS team presented an out brief to test track leadership on April 29. They also wrapped up the spring semester activities with a brief of project highlights to Alamogordo Public School on the evening of May 15.

Timothy Wolfe, APS Board president wrote, “It was an exciting evening to have the AHS Shockwave Team present their report before the APS Board of Education’s May meeting. It is an extraordinary opportunity these high school students have had to be able to participate with the personnel of the 846th Test Squadron at Holloman AFB, in the design of a rocket powered sled vehicle, observe fabrication techniques used in the sled building process and finally to observe the actual sled test using the sled they helped design. Thank you Test Track and Test Group for your interest in and support of AHS’s STEM efforts. I appreciate your willingness to invite our students into your world of unique STEM applications in your organization. Lead on!”