Alabama Students Crowned National Champion in World’s Largest Rocketry Challenge

The Plains, VA – Tharptown High School from Russellville, Alabama, today launched their way to first place and earned the title of National Champion at the world’s largest rocketry competition, the American Rocketry Challenge, at Great Meadow in The Plains, VA. Tharptown High School bested a record-breaking 922 teams that entered the competition at the start of the year and the top 100 teams competing at National Finals on Sunday, designing, building, and launching a model rocket with greater precision than any other team in the country.

American Rocketry Challenge alum turned NASA Astronaut Warren “Woody” Hoburg joined the thousands of people in attendance. It was a full circle moment for Hoburg as he competed in the National Finals of the inaugural American Rocketry Challenge in 2003 as a member of his high school team.

Tharptown High School students will take home $20,000 for their engineering prowess and will represent the United States in the International Rocketry Challenge at the Farnborough Air Show, outside London, in July. The school also gets $1,000 for the team’s accomplishments.

“We all work together as a team and come together to give input,” said Kylee Beard, Tharptown High School’s team captain. “We have one senior on our team, one sophomore, and the rest of us are juniors, so we’re looking forward to success in the years ahead. To prepare for the Farnborough Air Show, we plan to launch more during the summer – but we need a lot more supplies! But at the end of the day, it’s going to be YOLO [you only live once], because that’s what we do best.”

Tharptown High School has become a rocketry powerhouse, sending a team to the National Finals six times since the program started in 2018. Tharptown High School has now placed in the top 10 four times, including a second-place finish in 2023. The team is mentored by Andrew Heath, who was the team captain of the Russellville City Schools team that won the International Rocketry Challenge in 2015.

Tharptown High School Team members, with team roles in parentheses, are Kylee Beard (team captain and motor builder), Angie Chavez (parachutes), Shyla Martinez (payload), Angel Franco (launch setup and retrieval), Adrionna Ashley (team helper), Jessie Mitchell (launch setup and retrieval), Isabella Hall (flight sheets), and Frank Gutierrez (launch setup and retrieval).

“Twenty-one years ago, I walked on the same field as today’s competitors, preparing my home-built rocket for flight,” said NASA Astronaut Hoburg. “These competitions are catalysts for innovation, challenging young explorers to collaborate and get their hands dirty building a real flight vehicle. Congratulations to all the National Finalists for their ingenuity, hard work, and perseverance. These skills will serve students for years to come, as they embark on their careers and create technologies to solve the world’s biggest challenges.”

The team’s victory follows months of preparation designing, building, and testing a rocket capable of meeting rigorous mission parameters set by the contest’s sponsors – the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), National Association of Rocketry, and more than 20 industry partners. To qualify for the finals, each team designed, built, and launched a model rocket that safely carried one large hen egg to an altitude of 820 feet, stays airborne for between 43 and 46 seconds, and returns the rocket to the ground safely. At the National Finals, a Friday night coin flip determined that competing teams had to launch the rockets to 850 feet with a flight duration of 43-46 seconds in the first round of competition. The top 24 teams conducted a second launch that was required to reach 800 feet with a flight duration of 43-46 seconds.

“Congratulations to all the participants and winners of this year’s American Rocketry Challenge,” said Pam Erickson, senior vice president & chief communications officer, RTX. “They took on a big challenge – working as a team to employ ingenuity, creativity, and perseverance to design, build and launch each model rocket. The dedication and skills they have demonstrated are the foundation for future success in engineering solutions for complex problems.”

“What an incredible day for all 100 teams who competed today; it’s clear we are witnessing the ascent of the next generation of aerospace innovators,” said AIA President and CEO Eric Fanning. “Tharptown High School’s journey to the top required teamwork, innovation, and hands-on problem solving that will be valuable for decades to come. Can’t wait to see what they do on the international stage at the Farnborough Air Show in July!”

Teams at the National Finals represented 28 states from across the United States and competed for a total of $100,000 in prize money and scholarships, split among the top 10 teams and winners of the Marketing Competition, Presentation Competition, and Best First-Time Finalist. In addition, the top 25 finishers receive an invitation to participate in NASA’s Student Launch initiative to continue their exploration of rocketry with high-powered rockets and challenging mission parameters.

Now in its 22nd year, the American Rocketry Challenge has inspired nearly 95,000 middle and high school students to date to explore education and careers in STEM fields.

For more information and content check out #RocketChallenge on Twitter and Instagram pages. You can also learn more about many of the National Finalists in the “In the News” section of the American Rocketry Challenge’s website.

See the full results of the 2024 National Finals here: