A Millersville teen-ager whose first model rocket didn't even get honorable mention in his third-grade science fair has won the national rocket launching championship for youths.
Andrew Miller, 14, left the National Association of Rocketry's contest, held earlier this month in Las Vegas, Nev., with a payload of 10 trophies -- six of them for first-place -- from the 12 events he entered.
"He knocked 'em dead," Andrew's father, Paul Miller, said. Mr. Miller himself won seven awards in the adult division, but only one first-place.
The Miller youth's winnings were in Division A, for youths 14 and under. His first-place wins were for a scale rocket, duration a "streamer" rocket stayed airborne, parachute duration, "helicopter" duration, altitude attained by his 12-foot long super-roc, and egglofting -- launching and landing a rocket containing a raw egg without breaking the egg.
Standing out among the 200 or so model rockets that pack the basement in the Miller house is a 1-pound, 50-inch high Patriot missile, built to quarter-scale, replete with the missile's deep red band and markings. It soared about one-half mile high before landing, winning first place in the scale model category.
Andrew has been working on model rockets most days after school for for more than three years.
The boy's enthusiasm even nudged his father into the hobby. As members of the National Association of Rocketry Headquarters Astro-Modeling Section (NARHAMS), the two spend many a Saturday at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, where the club holds launches -- occasionally with astronauts watching -- twice a month.
Model rockets are built much like other models, but the thrill is in launching them. Tubelike rockets hold motors filled with black powder, similar to gunpowder, which are electronically ignited to power the rockets skyward.
Andrew, who is about to start ninth grade at Old Mill High School and hopes to become an aerospace engineer, loves the competition and says he relishes the satisfaction that comes from "proving that what you build can actually do something."
His parents, both teachers, take another pleasure in it: Competition develops other skills and knowledge, such as public speaking and applied science. Contestants are asked about rocket design by a panel of physicists -- including talking about trajectories, drag, amount of power needed to reach azimuth and the like.
Mr. Miller teaches science at Chesapeake High School. Shirley Miller teaches kindergarten at Millersville Elementary School.
The hobby doesn't come cheap: The scale Patriot, for example, was made from a $54 kit plus about $10 in spray paints -- which does not include the cost of a few motors, a launch tower and electronic launcher to get it airborne. Fortunately, Andrew's winnings included $300 in gift certificates from kit manufacturers and 16 kits. That should make a dent in the cost of the hobby, which has run about $1,000 so far this year.
Andrew's current rocket project: building a rocket shaped like a hamster. The NARHAMS refer to themselves as NARHAMSters.
With about 45 active members, the 26-year-old NARHAMS is the nation's oldest model rocketry club in continuous operation. Members hold launches at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt starting at 1 p.m. on the first and third Sunday of each month. The public and new members are welcome. NASA astronauts and rocket scientists often attend. The club will conduct the national competition next summer in Middletown. For more information on NARHAMS: (410) 855-9457