‘Black Dragon’ Rocket Team Puts Theory to the Test

‘Black Dragon’ Rocket Team Puts Theory to the Test
Aerospace engineering students built the Black Dragon rocket for their senior project.

With Cal Poly Pomona's learn-by-doing philosophy, it's only natural that aerospace engineering students put their hands to work and build a rocket. For their senior project, a group of seven students set out to design, build and launch a 9½- foot rocket, named the Black Dragon, that can fly at least 12,000 feet and reach near supersonic speeds.

After months of preparation, students successfully launched the rocket on Feb. 21 during a test flight in the Mojave Desert to check its stability and structural integrity. Painted black except for a white nose cone, the rocket reached 13,000 feet and traveled at nearly the speed of sound. To watch of a video of the flight, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-wTS5cLZCY.

“We encourage students to do something hands on,” says Aerospace Engineering Professor Don Edberg, the team's faculty adviser. “We like projects that combine the theoretical and the experimental.”

During fall quarter, students researched the rocket's propulsion, structure, software and control systems. Throughout the next few months, they concentrated on building the rocket and used a borrowed M1000 hybrid motor tank that combines liquid and solid fuel. Each team member supervised a specific area, from control systems to aerodynamics to propulsion.  The team members are: Richard Aguilar, Anthony Becker, team leader Robert Lundy, Ashish Patel, Viranga Perera, Eriberto Silva and Steven Xu.

In addition, the student engineers designed a computerized control system that guides the rocket.

“We're trying to make the rocket go straight up,” Perera says. “Without a control system, the rocket will fly into the wind. Anybody can make and launch a rocket, but not everybody can make it go straight.”

Students are planning a second launch of the Black Dragon to test the control system on April 11 at Lucerne Dry Lake.

Edberg says the team is quite ambitious in taking on a large project that includes all the disciplines in aerospace engineering — avionics, control systems, aerodynamics, propulsion, software, structure, vibration and feedback control.

In particular, Edberg says, the computerized control system adds a layer of complexity that has many real world applications. Not only will the rocket fly straight up, but it will also make a turn mid-flight and then resume its vertical path straight up.

“We like to make things more complicated than it needs to be, but that's where the learning comes,” Perera says.

After they leave Cal Poly Pomona, the students hope that discussion of, learning about and developing rockets will continue through a newly formed student club called the Bronco Institute of Rocket Development (BIRD). They're hoping the club will inspire more students at Cal Poly Pomona to build and launch their own rockets. For more information about the club, visit www.cpp.edu/~bird.