In June 2016, Jane Burnell and her fellow members of the Preston British Science Association hosted the Lancashire Water Rocket Challenge. Here she gives a inspiring account of how a small team with little event-running experience, a low budget and limited facilities can deliver a successful and entertaining event within the community.

The preparation

My husband, James, is always launching water rockets, so when I suggested a Water Rocket Competition upon joining the newly-formed Preston Branch (then Lancashire branch) of the BSA, I imagined we’d just need a field and people would just turn up with their rocket kits. It turned out to be much more complicated than that.

Having booked several pitches at the UCLan Sports Arena in November 2015, we set the date for 26th June 2016. As well as support from the Lancashire Science Festival team, who would publicise it as a Fringe Event and donate a box of Rokit kits, a number of BSA members also agreed to volunteer as marshals on the day. In April 2016 enquiries about the event started to come in and so we had our ‘good to go’.

It was going to be a relatively low key event, so I adopted a PTA (Parent Teacher Association) approach – borrow as much as possible and improvise! The BSA members came up trumps, sourcing all kinds of bits and pieces. After a quick trial run, Liz and Leucha, having suggested a need for alternative entertainment, provided some gliders left over from an earlier event, and James developed a number of Heath Robinson gadgets to enable an angled launch if required.  We seemed to have lists and lists of equipment for the day.

The Day of the Event

On Sunday 26th June it was a rainy start but quickly cleared up. My fellow BSA members and I had just finished putting out the gazebos, tables and chairs when across the fields I saw some people laden with bags, followed by more teams making the long walk from the car park. It was happening after all our preparation!

As the eight teams registered, James checked the rockets for safety and compliance with the rules, and followed this up with a quick safety briefing. Then the launches began. I launched my ‘Referendum statement’ rocket first to trial the system with our two timers, an adjudicating camera, slow-motion camera and yet another camera. The air-horn sounded and my blue and gold Rokit kit launched. Next it was Cottam Elf Team’s turn, followed by  Team Thomas and their parachute-deploying marvel. The Weasel Clan had an impressive launch cradle, but their launch mechanism jammed, so had to abort. Team Humphreys, Simon, The Destroyers and Williams all had successful launches, with varying flight times. Then Round 2 commenced. This time the parachute didn’t deploy, but the Weasel Clan did launch this time with such speed that the fins fell off and drifted down extending their flight time. Following that at least one other team attached a strange payload hoping it too would detach and float down. Meanwhile, the gliders Liz and Leucha brought along proved a great success entertaining the younger members of the teams.

After a short conflab the results were in- congratulations to the Weasel Clan with the longest flight time of 8.04 seconds! Other achievements included ‘Most Innovative Design’ awarded to Team Thomas for their parachute, ‘Best Decoration and Payload’ awarded to Cottam Elf for their on-board camera and finally, the ‘Wooden Spoon’ prize awarded to Team Humphreys for consistently short flight times.

What a great morning. With ‘next year’ already in discussion and some fantastic footage quickly edited and uploaded to Picasa by James and Ben following the event, we’re already looking forward to hosting Water Rocket Challenge, Round 2.

Many thanks to our marshals James, Liz, Leucha, Gayle and James G, to Ben for filming and editing, to the UCLan Sports Arena for the venue, to Liz and the Preston Science Festival for publicity and of course THE TEAMS.