Inside The Aerospace Team

Viraj Shankar

Four years ago, Ryan Wescott and a few other students casually assembled an aerospace team at OES, focusing on strengthening their creative interest in STEM through the construction of rockets, while having fun in the process. Their undertaking has grown into something far more profound.

In the upcoming weeks, the aerospace team will be competing in the American Rocketry Challenge, a national competition to build an F-Class rocket which can reach 800 feet in height, and fall for 40 to 43 secs, all while keeping an egg inside the frame. Failure to achieve a launch within these parameters can result in point deductions for the team, so the stakes couldn’t be higher. 

Over the course of the last four years, the aerospace team at OES has ballooned in both size and scale, steadily growing from 4 members in 2016 to the maximum limit of 12 in 2020. Currently, Ryan leads the aerospace team with Walker Jones and Zach Weinstein, and under their joint leadership, the club has focused on integrating several aspects of aerospace engineering into the club. Of the people on the aerospace team, 10 are officially part of the American Rocketry Team. Ryan noted the rapid growth of the team since its creation, saying, “Freshman year the team was very small, sophomore year everyone turned over as a new team, and it was still very small. In Junior year, again, there was sort of a big turnover, but it was a little bigger, and this year we’ve got everyone still continuing on.” Walker quickly added, “We came into this year with the maximum amount of people we could hold.” 

As of present, the aerospace team is divided into two main sections. The mechanical section, which is led by Walker, is mainly concerned with the physical construction of the rockets, while the computational section, which is led by Ryan, is primarily involved with the development of flight software, along with piecing together flight computers that help guide the rockets. 

Throughout their time on the aerospace team, both Ryan and Walker explained that a core commitment of theirs was to invigorate the interests of students interested in STEM-related fields. Ryan cogently noted that, “During the activity period, that’s just the time for us to really have fun, explore engineering and things that fly, and really make sure that everyone has their interests sparked in the realm of engineering.” Yet while they are fundamentally focused on the nascent interests of students, the two also demonstrated a deep passion for the projects they had involved themselves in, saying that the more passionate, committed people in the group meet every weekend for several hours to dive deep into the inherent intricacies that come with building rockets and designing drones. 

The aerospace team has gone through several “units”: building rockets, designing drones, and even teaching drone mechanics. Through these explorative phases, Walker and Ryan said that many have been able to “find their niche”, with some students demonstrating strengths in 3D printing and others showing promise in working with flight software. They also stressed the hands-on nature of the program, with Ryan saying, “It’s a bit chaotic, but we love it.”

Ryan and Walker noted that, for them, the main obstacles that they have faced during their time on the rocketry team was time management. They noted that the complex calculations often force them to spend even more time on designing rockets. Adding to the challenge, Ryan pointed out that there are a plethora of variables involved with engineering rockets, and noted that one variable going wrong can often screw up the entire launch. 

For now, the aerospace team will be testing their rockets at the Hillsboro Airport over the next few weeks, trying to perfect their technique by April 6th, when they have to send in their scored report. They have some exciting new projects coming up, including a proposed high altitude mission, and a custom-fiber drone- both of which are currently in the works. Both encourage students to come for a day and explore the activity, noting that many have found their passions simply by jumping in head-first.